The Jungle Community of Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

 

It’s “todo bien” this, and “como no” that, always  followed by “Pura Vida!” Everyone knows each other – lots of hugs and other forms of warm greetings. But after all the chillin’ it’s all about business here, with tourism being numero uno.

 

At the top of Hell’s Hill, not far from the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park is “La Terraza” – an outstanding restaurant with an open patio (the new normal), overlooking an ocean dappled with mini islands just offshore.

After the first storm I encountered upon my arrival in Quepos  – apparently tied to the tail of the hurricane that struck New Orleans a few days prior – the weather calmed down and began to feel rhythmical. Mornings are consistently sunny, while in the afternoon things get questionable with thunderstorms that can be momentarily intense yet very manageable.

It is still hot and intensely humid; that sensation never seems to lift. It’s all about life inside the sauna here in Manuel Antonio, in late July 2012.

Eventually I broke down and purchased my new uniform: Flip flops, classic rubber baby, for $8 a’ la Rite Aid, and a sarong which cost me a whopping $11 US from a vendor at the entrance to the park. But hell, I was desperate; even a one-piece bathing suit is suffocating here.

In this heat and humidity you might guess it’s a bit tough getting motivated. Another angle on Pura Vida: Just chill, because with the slightest movement you will soon be drenched in sweat, glorious downfalls of pure white water oozing from every one of your pores from head to toe. And you will feel exhausted from it all! So chill baby, chill…

That’s when one understands the important significance and influence that climate and environment has on the culture of a people. It’s refreshingly obvious.

Hanging out on the beach today, where service happens in the sand on lounge chairs surrounded by Coconut and Banana trees, I met Ryan and Marta from Tri-Cities Washington.  They gave me the skinny on the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant there – the “accidents” and  “the cleanup process” that according to Ryan who worked as a general contractor, “would take over 150 years just to get to a safe spot.”

“We sure won’t see it in our lifetime, you can bet that,” he said. Marta sat beside him and nodded with a defeated and sarcastic expression. “Yeah, you can tell everybody back home that you met two glowing, radio-active people,” she added.

Marta explained how her own father, an engineer on cleanup duty, had to wear hazard gear each time he went out into the fields surrounding the plant. I was shocked to hear about these accidents at this nuclear plant, and why I’d never heard about it. “They try their best to keep it under wraps, but the locals know what’s going on,” Ryan said with the air of a spy.

“Kind of like Erin Brockovich?”  I asked them.

“Exactly,” said Ryan.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” Marta said.  “I’m really dreading going back; I don’t even like my job anymore.”  A lawyer specializing in contracts, Marta worked for a large engineering firm, the one involved in the “cleanup” of the Hanford Nuclear Plant.

Marta explained that one of the top computer techs responsible for in-house security measures had been found with over 1000 rounds of ammo stashed in his office, and subsequently he’d been fired. It happened last week, the day before Marta left for vacation to Costa Rica.

“It was really creepy. Everybody was scared he was going to come back and kill us all. The company put file cabinets in the hallways – just in case we needed someplace to duck and hide if he returned on a shooting rampage.”

“Yeah, as if a thin piece of metal and some papers is enough to save you from an AK 47 Riffle.” Ryan said in disbelief.

“And one of my colleagues was sent home because she had open-toed platform shoes on.” Marta added eyes wide open.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you can’t run in those shoes. It’s too hard. You can’t run for your life in high heal shoes.”

What a crazy world we left behind, I said. “Pura Vida is all one can say.”

“Yeah, Pura Vida,” Ryan answered and Marta nodded as they said good-by and headed off the beach and back up the path I call Hell’s Hill that leads to the main road.

* * * *

Hell’s Hill has now been baptized Hell’s Highway. This ex-hill should be a training route for the marines the grade is so severe. This steep driveway looks more like the 405, after you’ve had a few days to climb up and down this, this, you-know-what. With my apartment situated smack in the middle, I’m forced to climb and descend this highway twice a day, just short of 1200 steps round trip. I know; I’ve counted.

Let’s start with the small guys carrying big loads. Armies of ants that defy logic regarding what they are able to support on their backs.  You can see them from a distance: big clumps of oddly shaped green leaves and twigs moving across the highway at top ant speed! I have to broad jump just to pass by that intersection – daily.

Next are the lizards of all shapes and sizes that sunbathe, always in the same spot, and their numbers are staggering. You can’t see the small ones, zillions of them, because they are so well camouflaged against the pavement.  You only notice them when you almost step on one, or when you frighten them.

Suddenly it feels like something from a horror movie under your feet as the ground comes alive and starts moving rapidly beneath your unsuspecting body. It just gives you the shivers for a moment.  It’s very startling. But they are all harmless, and it’s just the visual, constant startling of your senses that gets your attention.

In the trees above, monkeys play, and sloths do what sloths do. Not much. Pura Vida!

Walking up Hells Highway tonight, I could hear Jordan’s music. He comes to play on Tuesdays and Fridays at the restaurant La Terraza. He’s also a nature guide at Manuel Antonio. I ran into his tour the other day. I spied on him, a few feet from his group. He was a good guide. It was cool to see him in playing in the restaurant that same night.

Jordan was playing Eric Clapton’s song ‘Here in Heaven’ as I rounded the corner on Hell’s Highway, drenched and exhausted, with my computer in my backpack eager to get some work done.  It was heaven to finally reach the patio and set up my office with a 180-degree view of the ocean, despite the humidity.  After about an hour the sky changed, and dark clouds moved in fast.  We were perched on a bluff above the ocean, with a clear view of angry waves.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, an enormous gust of wind flew in through the patio like an invisible energy wave from beneath the hillside sending dishes, glasses and flower vases flying, crashing to the ground. The lights went out and instantly rain fell in massive sheets as the wind continued to whip through the delicately constructed structure. I dove on top of my computer, grabbed the tablecloth for cover and ran for the bathroom. Inside I carefully dried it off and wrapped it with layers of paper towels and put it in the backpack.

It wasn’t a hurricane but it felt like one. Exciting, but I didn’t make it home for over an hour even though my house was a five-minute walk down Hell’s Highway.

 

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