Saturday, April 20, 2013
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
On board the final leg of my trip home. Here are some more recollections of the trip along the river between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, in no particular order.
There are vultures in the bank. Flocks of them. They stand around a carcass or what's left of one, like workers waiting at Home Depot for their day's work. The rib cage of whatever fell there for the last time rises in such perfect symmetry on the otherwise chaotic shoreline that it could be a scale model of the Sydney Opera House. Only, this is the architecture of death.
My headphones pound the rhythms of Paul Simon into my head as the boat abruptly comes up short. Our driver has pulled back hard on the two throttles. As I look forward, I see people piling to one side of the boat. I'm missing something. And, as it turns out the something is about 12 feet long and covered in body armour, a crocodile. The thing looks like a sand sculpture, or more accurately a mud sculpture. Cameras click like the strafing sounds we used to make as kids to emulate machine gun fire. It is motionless. Someone shouts, the closed eyes stay closed. Our driver maneuvers the boat closer. I remember some vague shadow of some documentary probably narrated by Sir David Attenborough, whom I have been imitating all week, about crocodiles sensing water vibration. So I stupidly put my hand in the water and splash frantically. It is motionless still. Someone asks if its dead and I propose aloud that its sides are not moving with its respiration. Rob, one of the doctors tells us that these things breathe by moving their livers rather than using a diaphragm. Its not giving us any clues other than the fact it isn't bloated or particularly smelly. And I ponder, for a moment how stealthy this intellectually lightweight reptile is. Minutes go by and just as we are getting bored something annoys the thing enough that it lifts its massive head and turns to face us, and eventually slips into the water with hardly a sound. A magnificent killing machine.
The boat lurches and one of the engines screams as though it is running in mid air. And that's because it is. Our driver goes to the back of the boat, I ask, 'esta bien?' He nonchalantly answers 'si'. He was lying. We keep going but he's clearly not happy. My thoughts of a warm shower at the Wyndham, our supposed destination, vanish. Houses continue to go past. We are making headway, but just barely. Stairs trundle down to the river, all unique, but each with only subtle differences. I notice them, though I could never describe them. Suddenly we are aiming at one of the random stairways, at the top of it stands a man and a young boy. We dock at the base of his stairs and I realize that our driver knows this random man on this otherwise unmarked stairway is actually a boat mechanic. What luck. We are boarded by two or three men who tinker a while... the engine running in mid air has become stuck in the up position, which won't do at all. Looking at the mud near the dock I see a quick, lanky bright green lizard. It is skipping along almost like its not touching the ground at all. A basilisk lizard, aka Jesus Christ lizard because it can literally run on the surface of water. I climb the stairs in the hopes that the wooden shack I see with the red spray paint that reads 'no fumar' (no smoking) is a toilet. Its not. But at the top of the stairs I see one next to a small general store there. By the time I return, the boat is fixed and we are on our way.
Rain. It is a rainforest after all. Sheets of it are streaming down. The boat is a longboat which means it is incredibly narrow, I would guess it is fifty feet long, with two seats on one side and one on another. The entire length is covered by a roof. The sides are open with rolled up vinyl panels that are meant to protect us from the rain. Trouble is, as we've been told, we can't only drop one panel here or one there. Its aerodynamically impossible without ripping the panels off at full speed. One of those all or nothing designs. We opt to leave them open and live with the blowing rain, it is only water. I secretly wonder after experiencing the impossibly damp air that refuses to dry wet clothing. Mildew is what I'm thinking. As abruptly as it started, it stops. The river water is glass again.
A massive beast of a machine on the water is tied to the bank. It looks like something described in an apocalyptic story. A huge drill bit, spiraled jaws twist to a point. It is a dredge. The men that normally grind and pump the sludge that is the river bottom are not dredging today. They are painting. The beast. There is no accounting for tastes so they use the ghastly combination of hot pink and lime green. Of course. Just the colors I would have picked for the aquatic Antichrist.
A ringed kingfisher flies by carrying a fish, making its already abnormally large head look even more abnormal.
There are children swimming in the water everywhere. There are crocodiles swimming in the water too, only we can't see nor hear them. I see a rope swing hanging down from a branch. It has a wooden seat that hovers motionless over the still water. I wonder if I've seen this in a Far Side comic, did the crocodiles hang it?
I'm barefoot as I sit side ways on the boat, almost lulled to sleep. I can't bring myself to shut my eyes however. What will I miss? The air is hot and damp when the boat crawls to a near stop as we thread the needle of a toppled tree in the middle of the river. Its roots tower over us. The engines are tilted up so the props flip the surface, beating the river like a marangue. Once we start moving again, the welcome breeze tricks us into believing there really is such a thing as autumn.
Two parrots, bright green bullets, shoot across the river and explode into a tree on the other side. These kinds of parrots never seem to glide. It's like they are always late for something. Perhaps green parrots are great procrastinators.
Mike, the dentist that has come to pull rotting Rama Indian teeth, and I see a ridge of spine in the water. It curves left to right and leads to the broad head of a small crocodile. Just below the surface, its tail ends about an inch offshore of a sandbar. The stepping stones to a road less traveled, or traveled by creatures that tell no tales.
There is a kind of tree there that has shoots that descend from the branches to the water. Maybe its a kind of mangrove. I don't know but I wonder as I look at them if there is one in some part of the rainforest that has made an entire wall of shoots all the way down...
Final approach now to Sacramento. While the air will make me believe in autumn again I will miss the sensory buffet that borders the river there. The humidity is stifling, but you get used to it. Its not an easy life, but it is beautiful. Next time I go there I want to move more slowly. I think I missed too much on this trip, being work, it was tied to the client's deadlines. I'm grateful for the gift of it still. It was one of the more rewarding productions I've been part of. Maybe the lesson in it was just that, move more slowly wherever I am. Or at least slowly enough to really see what is right in front of me.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
It was almost seven hours from loading our gear in the rain at the Rio Indio Lodge in southern Nicaragua to lunch at the port in Costs Rica.
The longboat had two large engines on it. Both of them were in constant motion up and down with the depth of the river. And that is part of the reason for the long ride. It can go by in four hours if the river is high and the current is in your favor. Also helps to not have mechanical failure or administrative issues at any of the approximately five checkpoints not including the two border offices, one for Nicaragua and one for Costa Rica. Fortunately for us, our administrative issues were nill, thanks to the preparations of Dr. Alfredo Lopez from the Rio Indio lodge. Dr. Lopez is good, but he can't do anything about the shallow water. And that's what kept us from moving along at a four hour clip. The water in many sections of the river was shallow enough to walk across.
All along the way, the hours passed with plenty to look at. If I'd ever wanted the jungle cruise at Disneyland to last longer - and I've never wished that by the way - it would have been a lot like this. Every direction at any given minute has something to see, and often, I was seeing something for the first time.
Here are some things I saw, in no particular order, I'll just recall them as they come....
Large gangly cows make their way along the shore on a trail I cannot see for the knee high grasses that grow on the bank. As the boat slips along in the otherwise rippleless water like a teaspoon cuts through cream, the backdrop of palm trees and dirt brown huts with thatch roofs move on the long-lens plane of the Z-axis of my line of sight. A small boy stands just in front of them. He is the same color as the huts. He is holding a stick with a piece of string on it and from time to time he twirls the string. He waves and our boat erupts into a parade wave as he breaks into a run along the shore in an attempt to keep up.
Howler monkeys in the tree canopy overhead hear our motors and try to drown us out with their moaning laments that start loud and slowly drop away into individual grunting barks. They succeed for a moment and I think that I can't hear the boat I'm riding in.
Green, everywhere. Everything is green. If I blur my vision, I see green streaks that become lines along the shore. Stripes that are all one color but many shades like an artists study of that one element of the rainbow. It is hardly monotonous.
A cable stretches across the river spanning most of what would be the length of a football field. The cable was put there to keep electricity and communications moving from one home or village to the next. But the probably half inch diameter line is also a bridge. Monkeys can't swim the rapid current but I saw one walking on all fours ... paw over paw .... on the top of the wire. Every third or fourth step was a slip but the agile howler monkey caught himself and continued all the way across. It was better then cirque du soliel. I thought about crossing the broad, by comparison, footbridge at Rios Tropicales only a week before and how even with two hands on the cables running along each side and my feet on solid boards, I was nowhere near what you might call confident.
A black bird flies across the river in front of us, cutting a path across our bow. As it drives up and away from us into the tree that is its destination, it fans a tail so bright and yellow that it almost hurts my eyes. Landing, the tail closes and it returns again to anonimity, a black shadow amidst the branches.
A woman is washing her family's clothes. By hand. She stands on the bottom rung of the wood stairs that are the same color as the mud they hang over. She has buckets and piles of colored cloth that are doubtless the wardrobe of the typical indigenous people that are her people. On one side of the dock is a banana plant. On the other is a rope tied between two trees that will hold the wet clothes against the sunlight that is their only hope of drying in the damp air. It is morning light and there is a haze along the river that is a silver mirror path that leads us on. The haze is smoke from the cooking fires in the homes that are not much more than a thatch roof and upright poles... there is little privacy, the insects move easily in and out of the dwellings, look closely and you'll see the indigenous version of a bug Zapper, they encourage spiders to make their webs along the eaves to trap what insects they can.
More green. Everything is green unless it is dirt. Give even the dirt time and it will become green as well. The ferns and grasses and trees and anything else that grows will, eventually, grow there. Only give it time.
Hundreds of dugout canoes line the bank, two or three in front of every home.
A canoe is in the water ahead. As we approach, we see two occupants. A small child and a woman, probably the child's mother. The woman is paddling with the hand carved oar, first on one side. Then the other. We, the boat of people from the country that travels by car, all wave. The woman smiles and waves back.
I am about to board my flight and will continue writing another time. For now, I need to go back, somewhat reluctantly, I must admit, to the land of cars. I will write more later.
Gate 9 is calling for pre boards.