Tag Archives: Rainforest

What a Difference a Rain Makes

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When I left this place it was hot and dry, albeit with the occasional ominous rumble and dark sea day. Now look what’s happened; the rains have truly set in, there’s a white / grey / black / silver theme going on in the sky, and the ground is marshy and sploshy. On the rare occasions you don’t hear rain, you hear the rushing and gurgling of streams that used to be puddles and the splat of rainwater dropping from dark, glossed-up leaves, as well as branches cracking under the weight of all the sodden stuff that’s growing on them, cicadas and some chirruping from monkeys and birds.
Generally, at some point, the sun appears, turns everything into gold mist and steam, and makes me think I should go for a walk. I put on my rubber boots. I look at the blue sea; it turns black. There’s a crack of thunder that judders the house left or right or both in turn, a curtain of water is drawn over the view, lightning strikes here, there and everywhere, the sloth in a tree somewhere above the bathroom starts barking, and I go back to my book (reading, as per usual, rather than writing). A damp book. I have old friends holed up in Sarapiqui who shrink-wrap their books each rainy season. They have their own machine. Most people just place them in a glass-fronted cabinet and watch as the pages get black spot and curl at the edges.
Different flowers are out, and different fruits – new fruits, new routes. Monkeys aren’t where they used to be. And there have been changes in the bird world. At the end of the beach, I watched what looked like over one hundred pelicans, spiralling about above the bat cave – more like a murmuration of starlings than the usual tight air squadron control formation. There are wrens flying through the house, trilling, and no birds at all outside, where you would expect them to be, in the hibiscus hedge. This hedge used to be thick with all sorts of small ones, hopping about, squawking. There are, however, some very cocky grackles strutting about on the lawn, and these things may be related. I’m more used to seeing grackles (black birds that say ‘wap wap wap wap wap wap gooo-WAAAAARR’) attacking bin liners on the streets of San Jose, but, in the boat on the way here, we came across a whole gang of them hanging out in a shifty fashion in the gloom of the mangrove channels. It seems new generations of urban grackles are going rural. According to Jacob, a guide up at the hotel, they are spreading out into new territories and doing well on a diet of stolen birds’ eggs.

There’s more stuff on the floor too: I removed three small crabs and an earwig earlier, saw a long reptilian tail disappearing out of the  bedroom door this afternoon, and have just discovered quite a large crab in the toilet bowl which I am sorry to say, I didn’t feel like rescuing, and flushed.

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Margaritas and Sunsets

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At 5pm sharp, margaritas are served on a hilltop overlooking the sea. For guests this is a good opportunity to take time-lapse pictures of the setting sun and admire the toucans that normally hang out in a tree above the little bar. For me, it’s a chance to speak English. I’m now thinking in Spanish and, as it’s well rusty, my inner dialogue is so utterly banal, I’m boring myself stupid. The guests tend to be interested (in nature I mean, not me!), appreciative, well-travelled, and mainly, but not exclusively English-speakers. They are generally dressed in good quality safari gear. On the whole they are, naturally, perfectly happy with their own company, and I don’t like to interrupt – except to say ‘actually, that’s a parrot’ or ‘I wouldn’t go down there if I were you’.

In Walden, Thoreau writes: “Men frequently say to me, ‘I should think you would feel lonesome down there, and want to be nearer to folks’ . . . I am tempted to reply to such, ‘This whole earth which we inhabit is but a point in space. How far apart, think you, dwell the two most distant inhabitants of yonder star, the breadth of whose disk cannot be appreciated by our instruments? Why should I feel lonely? Is our planet not in the Milky Way?’. . .” etc.

I suppose I could try that.

My friend used to be up here to meet and greet the guests. Inevitably he was asked every night,  ‘What’s it like living in paradise?’, to which he, who’s seen his fair bit of this, that and the other, would reply ‘Wonderful’.

I generally sip a guanabana margarita, take in the scene, and chat to the bar staff. Alonso shows me his puma video, recorded on his phone. He bumped into the puma on the track to the farm a couple of afternoons ago. It’s pretty good, remarkably steady considering the puma was eyeing him from a nearby thicket, and I particularly like the bit where the puma strolls off into dense forest and Alonso follows. At least, for  a bit.

I stroll back down the track to the beach, listening for cracking twigs, and along the beach in the last light. I sit on the steps with a beer – with ice, from a cooler full of it, that’s been left at the house – and listen to the waves. For all the noise – waves, frogs, nightjars, inside the house seems very quiet, so I fire up the iPod and read about murder in the USA. Song of the day: Peter Frampton, Baby I love Your Way. ‘No-one to relate to ‘cept the sea’.

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A Beach, A Hack, A Hawk

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‘For a long time I was a reporter on a journal, of no very wide circulation, whose editor has never yet seen fit to print the bulk of my contributions, and, as is all too common, with writers’ says Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden; or Life in the Woods, ‘I got only my labor for my pains’. I hear you, brother.

There’s a lot in our trade who, like Thoreau, have gone to brood in woods. It’s not just that newspapers are paying half the money for twice the work. Or that flair and originality is regarded as a risk. Or even that enormous expense accounts and liquid lunches are a thing of the past. No, I think it’s that old hacks reach a point at which they’re tired of hearing and writing about other people’s lives, and want to live one of their own.

Walden also mentions the preoccupied man, accustomed to ‘survey the world through a telescope or a microscope and never through his natural eye.’ He would have added cameras if he’d known what was to come. There are a lot of prisms and buffers and barriers and distractions out there, but very few here. Not even glass in the windows. When the rollers are pounding the rocks out front, the air in the house is salty.

It’s all very refreshing. I’m enjoying the world so much, I can hardly even be bothered reading a book – and certainly not writing one.

The puma – because now I’m convinced it’s the puma – has left what used to be a bird under the palm tree in front of the house. Almost all the bones have gone. Small feathers stick to the mesh screen of the bedroom. I’d rather he  didn’t bring anything else.

Halfway along the beach there’s a brown hawk, sorting through stuff on a sandbank. I stop and stare at him, and he stops and stares at me. He’s got fat thighs; it looks like he’s wearing ridiculous golf trousers with yellow socks. He watches me – like a hawk actually. He’s indignant, waiting for me to make the first move, to clear off actually, but I’m not moving because I don’t want to scare him, so we’re both left standing there as the waves come in, and the waves go out one hundred times, and the sun gets up to the temperature that fries eggs.

Eventually I’m too hot and bored to deal with these niceties. I move on, and he flies off. I head to the end of the beach to inspect tapir prints, the bat cave, the waterfall, some hermit crabs. I try the camera out on timer and take a picture of myself from a really long way away. Pelicans do a flyover, scarlet macaws crack into wild almonds, howler monkeys do their hoarse, blood-curdling call from the jungly heights, frigate birds drift by, the king vulture circles, blue morpho butterflies the size of plates flap past. It’s like I’ve been photoshopped into a painting by Henri Rousseau. It’s all going on. Anyway, pausing by the bank where I’d seen the hawk on the way back, I’m having a poke around, trying to work out what he found so interesting, when I get the feeling I’m being watched, and turn to see him eyeing me from a few feet away. I feel pretty low, really embarrassed for being caught snooping. I back away under his imperious gaze.

So that’s my one social interaction of the day. I take a luke warm shower, put on clean damp clothes, listen to the iPod (Song of the Day: People Magazine Front Cover by Get Well Soon, flick through some notes and lists. Later in bed, I turn off the torch, and the night dissolves into light. Suddenly there are the stars, there are the palms, the rocks, the boats. Around 3am I think I hear the low thrum of a distant speed boat, maybe drug traffickers, way off the coast. I stand by the window for a bit looking for movement. Nothing.

I once sat cross-legged under a mosquito net most of the night at Il Ngwesi, Northern Kenya, prepared to protect George (about six or seven at the time) from a circling pride of lions. Off was my weapon of choice then, and it’s my weapon of choice again now. Although I can’t help feeling a tranquilliser gun would be quite handy.

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