One time in Costa Rica my friends Laura and Tiffany and I trespassed through a farm to a nice little waterfall in the middle of the rainforest. It was fun to be in the rainforest without supervision.
We walked through a creek for half an hour to a small swimming hole. A pretty waterfall fell into it, and a bunch of us climbed up the cliff and jumped, then fell with the water into the pool below. One girl, Anastasia, a 20-year-old Russian pessimist from Canada, climbed to the top of the waterfall, then decided to pause. She was nervous. She had to talk about being nervous. Really, a lot. She had to talk about the dynamics of her fear—how it kept mutating. First this was keeping her, then that; now she wasn’t sure she could do it, now she was so, so determined. The cliff was her couch; we all had clipboards, bowties, and spoke of Freud with determined reverence.
It then started to rain. Fat plopper-type rain drops, ones that shook the foliage and made the forest look like eight-year-olds dressed as leaves in a ballet. I started to clap. Slow at first. Others joined. I’d been waiting my whole life to start a slow clap. I hid my excitement as a respectable applause joined the clattering rain and Anastasia glared down, crossed her arms, and said, You go, I’ll jump when I want to. So a number of us left, a number stayed behind, and on the way back up the creek, I slipped and gouged my foot on a rock. I have a scar to prove it. It festered for a while and I wondered if foot-gonorrhea was a thing, then I wondered why I thought rivers had gonorrhea, then it healed.
This all happened when Tiffany, Laura, and I were volunteering on a farm. It was a small farm that produced various fruits. The income gained from volunteers’ $10/day fee helped to keep it running. Marcos, our boss then, was 26, just married, absurdly capable, very friendly, and quite English proficient. He set us up with everything we needed to make a raised seedbed out of bamboo stalks. We used a power saw, the kind that is a big wheel with teeth that you hold, which, in retrospect, was terrifying. In the end, our creation was beautiful and practical. We had to go into the forest to get good soil to put in the seedbeds. Then we planted mustard and cilantro. We worked for five hours each day.
While staying at the farm, we slept in cabañas in the rainforest, some three hundred feet down from the farm. When it rained, the tin roofs made lots of noise. One morning on my way up to cook breakfast, I saw a black and green poison-dart frog, which was thrilling, because when I was ten I had a 400-page book about them. We were warned that any footsteps we might hear were those of armadillos, not evil people. I didn’t hear any, though. I’m a pretty sound sleeper.
The farm next to ours was a chocolate farm. They made most of their money from selling chocolate in the neighboring towns. They also made money from silly privileged white kids like us who paid $10 to learn about how chocolate is made, and to eat some. We learned about the chocolate fruit, how the seed casing tasted like candy, how the cocoa was roasted, how it was ground (with a machine pieced together and powered by a car engine), and how it was sweetened and formed into chocolate shapes.
While on the tour, we met a 24-year-old North Carolinian named Alex. Alex was volunteering at the chocolate farm. Alex was going to the Peace Corps after this, in the Ukraine. He was probably 6’5”, and his weight was distributed poorly. His gut seemed to cause him to sway precariously over his ski pole legs. Alex was also a pathological liar.
Alex left town the same day we did; he was on our bus. He talked a long time about things he had never done, such as the time he went swimming under a waterfall and it tore his clothes off. When we reached Manuel Antonio, our destination and his, we asked the surf-bum waitress where our hostel was. He did the same. They were across the street from each other. Alex said, “Now we can always be together!” in that way that people sometimes do, when they say the exact thing that you would say if you wanted to mock them, and in the exact same voice you would use if you wanted your friends to laugh really hard.
He kept popping up. The day after we arrived, Tiffany, Laura, and I were walking down a steep road to the beach when his hoary voice called out to us. As he sauntered toward us, I could only mumble, “My goodness, what, how.” He spent the day with us at the beach. We wanted to visit the national park the next day. We made the mistake of telling him this. He decided we should meet at the bus stop outside our hostels at 7:30 am. We relented.
That night, at around 4:30, Laura started to bang on the walls of our hostel to get the mice in them to be quiet. As the pounding slowly woke me up, I was quite convinced that 1) we had overslept, 2) Alex was confused and upset by our absence, and 3) he had come to exact his revenge, which he had begun to exact on the flimsy door that kept him from us. In my awaking limbo he was outside, distraught and moaning, wailing away on the door, demanding answers. I had none to give, only that I resented his presence with greater fervency than I could reasonably explain, and so I felt fearful, until I heard Laura telling Tiffany that she thought the mice would be quiet now, at which point I went back to sleep.
The last place we visited was Monteverde, a cloud forest. We saw a resplendent quetzal, a great green snake, and two dung beetles, amongst other things. It is difficult to be there and not feel like there are dinosaurs afoot. The fog and the vines conspire to be of another time. When giant blue butterflies glint through them, you know things are different here. It’s a wonderful feeling.