Tourists

touristsI’ve been in a state of splendid isolation in the Osa for a while: eating, not eating, going to bed at 7pm or 4am, dancing to Sonny J, reading and writing and editing footage uninterrupted for extended periods of time (well, reading mainly), talking to hawks, picking at cheese while standing at the fridge, striding about in swimwear, worshipping the fan, throwing coconuts down the beach, climbing trees, singing in the hammock, having heated games of solitaire, and catching and re-releasing cockroaches (this last will trouble Fitz).

Having said that, the caretaker’s cottage, home to William and Carmen, is just across the quebrada, and I have the option of hoofing it up to the hotel and chatting to staff and guides and guests, at least until dusk when – theoretically – I should head back down (although the chances of being eaten by a puma appear to have waned).

Meeting tourists has proved a surprising source of pleasure. In an attempt to differentiate ‘job’ from ‘holiday’, journalists have liked to keep a bit of blue sky between people paid to travel and people who pay to travel. Now journalists are scarcely paid, and many tourists appear to be on infinite circumnavigations of the globe, the balance of envy has shifted and the nebulous distinction blurred, and now we mingle.

I met a coffee expert from Switzerland who’d come back to Costa Rica after once being bitten by a fer-de-lance on a coffee farm; a man from Hull who gets flown around the world to park mega-tankers; a woman from a small island off Vancouver which sounds like paradise; a retired couple who’d left the same small town in Zambia, the year my family arrived, and who’d had some ‘good nights, oh yes’ at the Italian Club opposite the house we lived in, as, I suspect, had my parents; several sets of grandparents travelling with polite, articulate grandsons; a lady – a real trooper – who’d kept her commitment to join her family on holiday despite having been diagnosed with lung cancer; an urbane New Yorker who worked in publishing; someone who looked very familiar and might have been a film star; someone with a lot of plastic surgery who wasn’t as shy about lying in the sun as I thought she might have been (melting?); two vibrant, friendly women from the US who radiated zest for life, one of whom had just given up her job to travel and was wondering what the catch was; two couples from Washington who were just plain droll and happy, and someone who told me all about Montana and made me want to go there.

I missed the Stanford University alumni group when they left. They took over the whole hotel, and the guides came and stayed in the house, bringing fine wine. A few had got acquainted on previous trips, others had bonded on this, they were all very jocular – even the quiet ones had come out of their shells, they explained – and there was much good story swapping each night at the margarita sunset bar.

My favourite came from Warren, who I think was travelling alone. He’d been standing at the edge of the circle, and after everyone was recovering from a funny anecdote involving gun-toting guards and some misunderstanding in Mexico, he began shyly describing how he’d been watching an anteater snuffle about a fallen log for the last twenty minutes. ‘He can’t have seen you’ said someone. ‘Oh yes’, said Warren, ‘he took a good look and carried on, kept checking back.’ ‘Did you take a picture?’ ‘No’, he said wistfully, and the conversation moved on. But I liked his story best because I’ve also been alone and seen wonderful things that I’ll never forget, but somehow can’t share. I could imagine his anteater, and I remembered my zebra.

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