Fitzcarraldo of the Osa

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The juxtaposition of sophisticated places and wild spaces is something Costa Rica does well. That should be still does well, given that parts of this country, so popular with foreign settlers, have been aptly described as ‘Florida with monkeys’. That effort to differentiate a home from the wilderness around it is evident everywhere wilderness remains. Around the hairpin on a road through black-green, foggy, dripping cloud forest, there’ll be a couple of wooden houses, basic but consciously pretty, painted turquoise and pink, with orchids in pots, intricately-painted benches on porches and meticulously tended gardens, an optimistic radio antenna. The effort of maintaining that human touch in a place where fence posts turn into trees, rain is measured in feet, palms walk, strangler figs pull down walls, is enormous. It’s like being constantly under siege against the big green advance. If they give up, they’ll be engulfed.

That’s the case here, but on a bigger scale. This remote house with its lawns, and garden furniture, and neat hibiscus hedge is an anomaly; an energetically maintained illusion of civilization laid over a Very Wild Place. I sometimes think it would be easier to put across how immaculately jungly the Osa is if I were living in a ramshackle Crusoe-style shack, but the truth is, whatever your house is made of here, when you put out the light, or step outside, you’re engulfed.

Anyway, this house wasn’t built by popping down to Homebase. It’s a mad, Fitzcarraldo-type job, all its component parts – from frosted shower door, marble, tiles, beams, floors, concrete, taps, and nuts and bolts, brought into the Osa from far, far away over the course of a million trips up and down the Sierpe river, and through the river mouth into choppy seas, in motorised dugouts. Not all the boats made it through the Sierpe boca, and some of the cargo sunk into the sand on unloading, but there we go. It’s a vision; an attempt at squaring a cultured, sophisticated sort of upbringing against a real, hook, line and sinker love for the wild edge of things. Obviously it’s macho, too, a bit of a chest-thumper; an attempt to set a concrete symbol of some dominion over a big, dark jungle.

The same goes for the hotel up the hill. Seduced by sunset margaritas and potted bougainvillea round the swimming pool, it’s easy to be surprised by howler monkeys swinging past the bungalows, and to forget to shake out your boots, when actually the surprise should be that there’s a formal restaurant with water feature, a bar serving cocktails – actually scrap that; that there’s electricity, access, that it’s there at all.

Down at the house, the electricity runs off solar-powered batteries. I plug my laptop in and sparks come out. The caretaker’s still away, things are pretty quiet but pleasantly civilised. I finish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, grope around for my iPod, and start on Presumed Innocent. Song of the day: Hercules, Aaron Neville. ‘Like a bird on the wing, I just want to be free to do my thing . . .’ Think I’ll head up to the hotel tomorrow.

[I shall find more appropriate Fitzcarraldo pictures when I’m not racing to finish before having to walk home in the dark. Yes, bruise.]

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