Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
December 17, 2008
“I don’t want to scare you, I just want you to be aware,” my brother says.
It’s at least the fourth time he’s used that line since I arrived in the jungle to visit him. I say “jungle” because that’s what it is, even though I fully realize saying “Costa Rica” sounds a lot more glamorous.
I decide to take a little detour on my way back from Brazil because I just don’t feel like going home yet. I’m loving being on the road, in different countries, speaking different languages with people I’ve never seen before in my life and will probably never see again.
So I book a round-trip ticket out of Miami even though I really have no idea how, ultimately, I’ll get home.
But then again I’m thinking I might not want to go home.
“Just make sure you don’t put on your shoes without checking them for scorpions,” Dan says as he shakes his sneaker upside down. “Oh, and you also might want to check the bed before you crawl under the sheets.”
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This is after he killed the scorpion that confronted us in his kitchen with his little stinger thing raised full-bore like a peacock displaying its feathers. Then there was the tarantula that paid us a visit a day later, a big, ugly furry thing with thick legs and eyes so big it looked like it might open it’s mouth and start talking to us.
The next day it’s, “You might want to ride your bike in the middle of the road so a tree branch doesn’t fall on your head and kill you.”
That’s because every November, the Guanacaste winds blow something fierce for a week or two, turning the lush, tropical green jungle into one big brown dustbowl. It also has the tendency to blow branches, trees and other tall objects into power lines so we are often without electricity and telephone.
“I don’t want to freak you out, but …” Dan begins, putting on his headlamp so he can go cook our dinner on the gas grill outside now that the power’s out. “There’s been a few break-ins in the neighborhood the past few nights. Make sure you lock the deadbolt even when you’re home just in case someone decides to come in and try to rape you when you’re in the shower.”
“Nice,” I say.
Between the wind howling and the blackout and the creepy crawly houseguests, I’m loving life in the jungle so far. The best part is how nothing ever works, especially the Internet connection, which I sort of need because I’m on deadline with The New York Times who wants my article, like, yesterday. Needless to say, if there’s one thing my editor’s not interested in it’s excuses.
Of course there are lots of good things to be had in this country, like the perfect surf that holds up all day long with offshore winds shaping even the smallest waves into rippable, smooth, wide-open faces. There are the Technicolor sunsets, the kind that deepen in color and intensity like a fire that’s been doused in kerosene, flames dancing up toward the night sky. There’s the fresh, simple Tico food, the gallo pinto
and fried plantains and salad and fish that make you feel clean inside, all full of light and energy. There’s the unforgettable lobster dinner my brother’s friend Sarah made for us with coconut brandy cream sauce and rice pilaf.
There are long runs on the beach and surf sessions and that motorcycle trip we took up the coast. I realize how free I really am, as cliche as it sounds, from the back of a motorcycle, careening across metal bridges over rivers precariously suspended from cables and up and over dirt roads riddled with pot holes, rocks, and fearless, crazy drivers.
There’s the community of ex-pats from all over the U.S., Europe and Israel who have these amazing stories about where they came from and why they’re here and what they’ve run away from. With eccentric people comes unexpected wisdom and revelations that hit you hard and fast, like a bee sting or that nerve pain that shoots up your arm when you slam your funny bone.
My brother begged me to stay and live with him. He offered me a free apartment and the lowest cost of living I could imagine. He had his short board fixed so I could surf whenever I wanted. We talked about finding a small dirt bike for me so I could learn to ride my own motorcycle. I considered staying and writing my book, those three little words I throw out there when I don’t know what else to do, or better yet, know exactly what I probably won’t do, which is actually sit down and write my book.
One night we’re out with a bunch of our friends and I watch my friend Jasmine get more and more upset, her dark brow twisted like an untied shoelace, like she is literally coming undone. I watch as Bob, her lover, flirts with other women, stinking drunk, his shirt unbuttoned, big beer belly spilling over his unsnapped shorts, lit cigarette dangling from his mouth.
“Honey, what’s the problem?” I ask. “It’s clear as day you are way too good for him.”
But I know she can’t hear me, even if she is listening. And that’s when I realize it’s like I’m watching myself, doing the same exact thing just in a different place at a different time. And that’s when I understand that even if Nosara, Costa Rica, is a long way from Aspen, there’s no sense in running away if the only person I’m trying to get away from is myself.
I guess I didn’t have to travel halfway around the world to find out it really is a jungle out there. But I’m really glad I did.
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