There’s only this one last month of newness to experience and then the cycle begins again. I’m already noticing a change in the dawn, the light, the sounds of outside, the air. It’s all much more alive, much more active and much more noisy! I remember thinking then how I never could have imagined just how loud nature could be. My ears got tired of all that listening! Not to mention the double-headed weed whackers. More on those in June I suspect. Suffice to say, if you thought everything was bigger in Texas – just wait until you get to Costa Rica. My ears were not the only one of my senses exhausted by all the new inputs to smell, touch, taste and observe in an attempt to recognize and categorize them into something useful before the next wave and a whole new round of experiences. By the way, did you see the size of that chicken?!
The Howler monkeys are back and with them the strange noises on the roof at night. It’s only slightly disturbing to have animals walking on my head all night long now. The sounds never ever stop. I have had to teach myself how not to listen to the kennel of dogs barking at demons in the middle of the night, the deafening locusts’ whir, the thing above me that claws and scratches every night in pitch black darkness so deep I often wonder if I only dreamed I opened my eyes. The sound is something between calamity and cacophony.
I would begin to speculate what it is—like I did last year—some new insect hatch attracting opossum perhaps? But I fear it’s just a waste of time and no one seems to care. Last year I thought maybe the fallen fruit from the mango tree may have attracted a smallish animal that attracted a larger one to prey on it. I may never know exactly what the heck is up there having a fiesta on the roof above my bed every night. I have to concentrate now on how to let it go. How to sleep when it sounds like a medium-sized four-legged creature with long claws clatters and snorts about chasing and killing things for sport above my head. This is going to sound crazy but sometimes when the echo inside the house is just right—between the acoustics of the high-ceiling ceramic floor interior of the house and the thin layer of made to look like clay composite roof tiles—it sounds like the things are running around IN my head. There I said it.
It starts out around dusk with a couple of clattering bats who fly away the moment I open the door to investigate. The house is situated on a steep incline, so from the top of the driveway I can see the top of the roof. There’s never anything there which only adds to the feeling of impending insanity. At first, I invited people over to experience it for themselves but inevitably, the things would not show up that night or they would be there but be only slightly noisy and not anywhere near calamitous, much less cacophonic. Eventually, the sounds became softer or I got used to them or they never existed at all. At some point during the winter months there was very little noise and I remember thinking, “Ahhh. It’s so peaceful. I wonder if I’ve died.” When the owners came to visit in February only the few bats made themselves known but the dog barking which I hardly notice, almost drove them batty. Along with the Howlers, intense rain storms, lightning, thunder and nightly power outages are also back.
I remember how hungry, tired and truly frightened I was when I constructed a tool belt and wore it to bed when the power went out the first night and every night for the following week. Combine this with the fact that it’s going on dark in a place I’ve never seen before and that so far doesn’t exist even in Google maps. Some friends I’ve never met picked me up from the bus stop and delivered me to my new home. They tell me there is a grocery store nearby and point away from the house into a stand of trees so dense it’s already night beneath them. They tell me there is a “town” about 12km away that has “everything you need” and maybe, “if we get hungry, we’ll come back and take you to dinner”. I have a few almonds, some cream of wheat and a bit of banana bread that I brought for the trip in my two large suitcases full of everything I could think to pack in under 50 lbs. each for a three-month adventure in Costa Rica. Choosing those items, now that’s a blog post in itself. Here is your new home! Welcome!
The tool belt
Between the Howlers and the scratching on the roof and the lightning and the thunder and the rainfall that got amplified to decibel levels beyond my ability to “hear” myself think I probably did lose a few marbles that first night. I’m thinking now maybe better off without them. One less thing rolling about up there. I had every reason to be frightened, stressed and freaked right out of my gourd! And I was. The only reason I wasn’t curled in a corner crying my eyes out and hyperventilating like the chick who dies first in the horror movies is that A. I didn’t want to be the chick who dies first, because she’s usually the one who no one likes anyway and B. Time slowed down just enough for me to hear only what I needed to hear and do what needed to be done.
I couldn’t have explained it to you then but it was as if I was seeing things for what they are for the first time and instead of fear, I had a very strong feeling of what I have come to know as clarity. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t even know I needed it. It was just there. Sometimes, I’m still scared to think “but I’m all alone!” and then I realize even if there was someone else here what could he do? Same as me. Watch, wait, be prepared to take action and meanwhile, just be. And even as I lay there in the pitch black, prone and stiff with both arms at the ready to bolt should the need arise, I felt unassailably relaxed. My shoes were strategically placed at the side of the bed so I could find them even if my phone’s flashlight ran out of batteries. The phone charger was plugged in to the outlet near the bedside table where I had a bottle of water and my keychain. The keychain was attached to a gift one of my more practical friends gave me before I left—a palm-sized can of pepper spray in a handsome leather holster. Keep in mind, I had been prepped for the trip with every horror story about jungle rot, disease, death by venomous insect or snake, kidnapping, human trafficking and slavery that my friends could think of before departing for a ten-hour layover in Mexico where 55 beheadings had occurred the day before my arrival.
The first sentence I constructed in Spanish was supposed to be, “There are strange noises on my roof at night.” But I think it was closer to, “In the darkness, loudness is on the tiles.” That first night, with the windows open and only the screen and the bars on the windows to protect me from whatever from hell was surely out there in the middle of the dark, dark darkness I clearly heard the sound of the screen being torn by something that latched on to it as it fell from the roof, bumped loudly into the window and dragged itself up and through the bars, fell with a thud on the floor and scurried into the kitchen on tapping feet.
While freaking the f%&* out, I calmly lifted my head from the pillow, bent my body at the waist and found my phone (flashlight) with an outstretched arm being cautious not to make a sound. I already knew the bed creaked so I was trying not to notify the thing of my livelihood. I listened as it found its way into the other bedroom and had a quick thought to run and close the door on it. It would be trapped in that room until morning and I could get some sleep. Brilliant! But I wouldn’t be able to do it without making more light and possibly alerting the thing to my tasty blood. So despite a life-long fear of putting my feet down in front of the underneath of an unknown bed in the dark, I coolly swung my legs over to the place where my shoes were supposed to meet my feet feeling the creeps creep up the back of my knees. Virtually levitated the rest of my body off of the bed and crept ninja style on the sides of my flip-flops to the place where I remembered my own door existing before the power went out. My exposed arm reached out again in the black and closed against the little thing with claws that for all I knew was Satan himself taking residence in the master bedroom.
In the morning, there was nothing there. No tear on the screen, no animal trapped in the master bedroom, nothing under the bed and in the daylight I could see that I was in what can most aptly be described as a small suburban neighborhood complete with neatly manicured St. Augustine grass yards surrounded by white picket fences backing up to the jungle with three neighbors in front and one to the side—all within screaming distance. I vowed to learn how to say “help” or “fire” in Spanish as soon as possible. And to research the local medium-sized mammal population, their eating habits and nocturnal behavior patterns. I had a lot to learn already and I had only been “in country” one night.
Good thing another one of my very helpful friends gave me some advice worth all the pepper spray in China. He said, “Jessica, always remember that no matter how dark the night, the sun will come up again tomorrow.”
It’s true. One thing we never seem to find the time to worry about is whether or not the sun will come up again. It’s one of those things we just trust. And dare I say, take for granted.
I’ve been through some scary stuff since then but since then it’s all been pretty real and pretty actually scary – like driving on Costa Rican roads! Or swimming in crocodile infested waters—kidding! Mostly! The best part of sharing these adventures with you is that I know you’ve been through equally scary and definitely even more really scary stuff and survived it. We both lived not only to tell about it, but laugh about it later. Now, the worst thing that happens to me at night is accidentally stubbing my toe when I don’t remember exactly where the stool I’m using as a table sits on my way to the kitchen to get some water in the pitch black darkness. Next stop, conquering my fear of water!
And the band plays on,