Saturday, January 22, 2011

heart of darkness

I must admit, our first trip to a Central American shore was a bit of a disappointment. The water was a grey mix of roiled sand that resented our trespass. The beach, however, was empty. We had some company from that group of a half-dozen American teenagers and their chaperone, who were apparently on the greatest field trip ever. But even their brief hollering was drown our by the noise of the surf and we didn't even notice their exit. After that, we had the beach to ourselves and we lounged around until we got hungry. Then we took another amazing walk through the jungle and had a very civilized little lunch at the thatched-roof, open-air restaurant in the center of the resort.

Perhaps "resort" conjures up an image of a much bigger complex than Hacienda Baru actually was. There was a front office, a guide post, some small maintenance sheds, the restaurant, a netted butterfly sanctuary, and about a dozen well-built little cabins (some duplexes, others stand-alones) surround a small, bean-shaped swimming pool. A complex system of tiny drainage ditches crisscrossed in every direction to draw the ample amounts of daily rain into the jungle.

It was getting late now and we decided to take another jungle trail before it got too dark. Jack, the soft-spoken American who'd owned the resort for twenty years, told us to make sure to bring flashlights. "You don't want to get caught in the jungle at night," he warned us,"it happened to me once, but never again." After our hike to the beach, we took this advice very seriously and took two flashlights.

The trail on the northside of the resort was different from the southside trail we'd taken to the beach. There were savage looking trees whose bark could bite, as it was covered entirely by giant, razor-sharp thorns (we would find out later that the trees had been planted by ranchers years before as a way to deter monkeys). The terrain here was flatter—there was less canopy, sparser trees and more high grass. But it was no less exotic or intimidating, and as we ventured further from civilization, the twilight crept in and the jungle began again to surround us. The darkness spread from the black corners of the trail and quickly covered the detailed green jungle in a grey haze. We walked briskly and with greater purpose, not knowing exactly how long the trail would take to lead us home.

Deb walked past some fallen palm fronds when something stung her ankle. I took a look, fearing the worst kind of jungle insect, and was relieved to see only a couple of long thin needles sticking out of her ankle. After finding out she was okay, I took a photo for posterity's sake before carefully extracting the offending foliage. As the blackness of night completely consumed us, we tried in vain to illuminate the black trail with our tiny flashlights. Seemingly, on cue, we came to a small, muddy road that we knew from the map would lead us back to Hacienda Baru. We walked along the road in the inky darkness and listened to the orchestral din of the jungle's inhabitants, relived to be out of the canopy. Slowly, we made our way down the road towards dinner.

Before leaving the cabin that morning, I had killed a wasp on the windowsill and left it there. While we were out in the jungle, the jungle had found a way to permeate our room. Hundreds of the tiniest ants I've ever seen had swarmed through the screen to devour the wasp's corpse. I was too impressed to try and stop it; this tiny microcosm of nature presented for our approval. By the next morning, the wasp had been entirely picked clean and only a husk with wings remained.

Despite the fact that it was barely nine o'clock, we were both exhausted from the wealth of experience we'd managed to pack into our first full day in Costa Rica. We turned in after a leisurely swim in the pool and rested up for tomorrow's guided tour of the jungle.

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