chapter one: Costa Rica

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES

chapter one: Costa Rica follows an unnamed protagonist’s recount of his summer trip to Costa Rica. He explores the villages and rainforests of a tropical foreign country, while also venturing into the jungles of his own soul. Part travel memoir, part satire, and part philosophical meditation, this trip is just as much a journey inward as it is a journey out.

Selections from chapter one: Costa Rica

1

As we waded into the ocean the smooth steady waves embraced us candidly and the water rushed our senses and our spirits. We waded farther and farther as Julián, our surfing instructor, advised us on how to proceed. We got on the boards, centered and belly-down. We waited. He held down our boards until the right wave came along. Julián turned us around. “Foot up,” “paddle paddle,” “Stand up!” And suddenly from behind me a strong sturdy force propelled me forward. And with my right foot in back I stood up and leaned forward and centered my left foot and folks on my very first try I rode a complete wave!

The rush was incredible. I screamed and hooted. It was such an addiction and I paddled back craving more! Adam was cheering and hooting and jumping around and couldn’t BELIEVE he’d never done this before! And it turned out that both of us were very decent beginner surfers due to our backgrounds in skateboarding and snowboarding— for those same mechanics come into play here—and we were ecstatic. And after five or six runs I was riding three or four waves IN A ROW! Then Julián asked us if we were ready to go deeper and of course we were! So it was time to get on our boards and hit the REAL waves.

I watched with what grace, what calm, what submission Julián interacted with the water. For to resist or to fight water in any way was a CERTAIN defeat. But Julián knew the water. He was its child. He did whatever it wanted, or he got out of the way. So if a giant wave came his way, either he allowed the wave to take him wherever it was going, or he dipped below it and let it pass over him. No struggle. No conflict. Complete tranquil liquid submission. I saw this and watched admiringly this man’s gentle surrender to the universe. For he understood that the ocean, the universe, the flow always wins. And those who try to order, to command, to conquer, to resist the flow, soon succumb to the flow. Yet those who succumb to the flow by their own wisdom find that the flow knows best, and they are at peace.

I wanted to learn what Julián knew. I wanted to see into this mind of the flow, of the submission. He knew water. He understood water. So as we swam out into the ocean’s great white-capped mountains I called out to him, “So I want to learn more. Like, I don’t understand the water.”

And Julián looked at me and he said with a look of sheer bewilderment: “What do you mean?”

And I thought, I sound crazy.

So I didn’t bother to explain further and Julián didn’t bother to ask. And I assumed that this highly intricate abstract philosophical concept which I’ve just expressed to you must be something he knows intuitively but isn’t able to articulate. So I moved on and Julián ordered that we begin to “paddle out paddle out paddle out.” I wasn’t sure what he meant exactly but I knew what “paddle” meant so I did that after him. And as we swam farther out into high tide the waves grew monumentous and solid and reached five or even six feet high and you really had no chance against them. So they started tossing me sideways and I called out to Julián “how do I turn?” meaning, how do I paddle myself in the direction I want to go. And with great frustration Julián commanded “paddle out paddle out paddle out.” I didn’t know what that meant at all so I kept paddling but whatever it meant, I knew it didn’t mean to just keep aimlessly paddling.

See, Julián had a very specific plan in his head. Direction, purpose, technique, objective…it was all in his head. But he wasn’t articulating it. And Adam and I were aware enough to ask, but either he wasn’t understanding our questions or wasn’t interested in answering. So amidst this enormous chaos of tidal fury, he just kept saying “paddle out paddle out paddle out” and that meant NOTHING to me if I didn’t understand 1) what “paddle out” means in surfer lingo, 2) what or why we are “paddle out”ing, and 3) what the objective is, like how do I know I’m doing the correct “paddle out.” 

And then suddenly out of nowhere Julián cried “paddle in!” and I thought, “paddle IN? Fucker I’m still trying to figure out ‘paddle out paddle out paddle out’ and now you want me to ‘paddle IN?’” But whatever I was doing was wrong because very soon I found myself drifted over fifty feet away and facing sideways and bombarded with waves and Julián looked concerned and the other surfers were giving me that look people might give you when you’re drifting into oncoming traffic at five miles per hour. So Julián swam to me and fished me out and I could tell he had really lost his patience. But in truth, I couldn’t understand why HE had lost his patience. All he kept saying was “Look, you need to do how I taught you,” and I wondered, when did he explain how to do ANYTHING like this, because I would have remembered that! If he could find the words— Spanish, English, or otherwise— to explain what we were doing perhaps I’d actually impress him. But he must’ve said “paddle out paddle out paddle out” over a thousand times and I still knew then and know now just as much what “paddle out” means as you do, my Illustrious Reader. The bottom line was, Julián was teaching a teacher and he couldn’t teach. So I realized that unless I was gonna just bob out here like a shipwreck survivor I might as well move on with my life. I told Adam I was heading back and I semi-rode the waves back to shore and that was more fun than “paddle out” could ever fucking be.

I sat on the shore and let the tide caress my feet and knees and I played with the dark ash-tinged sand and watched the ocean, the mother of our planet, do her earthly work. And it doesn’t take very long of watching the sea or the sky or the earth before time slows down and you gently swirl into a new primal consciousness and suddenly you and the rest of the universe all make perfect sense. So I sat there in the euphoric trance of the sea and sand for what seemed like a beautiful cyclical eternity and when Adam came back he was so damn geeked and I was so happy to see him this excited.

We showered off and changed as the skies darkened and it began to thunder and rain and after saying goodbye to Julián a Russian-ish girl named Nadine approached us with a laptop and she was the photographer for the Surfer Company which had authorized our lessons. She showed us whole SERIES of high-quality amazing photos she had taken of us surfing and said we could buy the whole file for $25.00 and I said HELL YEAH because those right there were high-quality shots of the first time we ever surfed at one of the surfing capitals of the world! We thanked everyone and Juan drove us back to Riva Jacó where we had time to unwind and relax a bit, for we had accomplished some of the most memorable activities of our lives within the last eight hours and it was time for us to sit back and revel in our grand and glorious triumphs. Plus it was getting dark and starting to rain.

Back to the top.

2

We asked a pair of police officers where the bus stop was and they directed us just down the street. But where they told us to go there was no indication of any bus stop. No booth or sign or bench or anything. We stood around a bit waiting and then I asked someone in a nearby store and he said that the bus stop was that empty parking space in the middle of the road. Now, I couldn’t understand how this grey scraped parking space was a BUS STOP but Adam and I waited there under a tree for a few minutes. But after a few busses passed by and we called out to them “Manuel Antonio?” and they said “no,” we realized that what had most likely happened was that our bus had already come and gone. And by that account, we had literally missed it by seconds.

The next bus was at noon. To most people who travel, this is a catastrophe. This is the end of the trip. This “ruined everything!” To us? It was a chance to catch the Jacó International Surf Competition! So we headed south a few blocks until we reached the beach, and before us was this tremendous expanse of sand and ocean. In the distance were the gleeful crowds of cheering nationalists as their heroes mounted in conquest the wet bellies of the curling sea. We walked and the sun bathed us and the wind caressed us and we ventured step after step through this gorgeous godly landscape. And after a while we reached what had evolved into a lengthy creek that descends and ascends to and from the ocean and it ran like a shallow yet wide river. And since Adam was both a BOSS and in slippers, he walked right through it and delighted in the cool tickle of the running current. But I, in black K-Swiss and cotton socks, attempted to traverse this Mosesean stream cómo un águila (like an eagle) and like Pharaoh instead, I flopped right into the center and SOAKED my shoes and socks. Seriously, are YOU, my Most Gallant Reader, as fucking stupid and clumsy as I am?? Well Adam is NOT, for he winced with pain and empathy and knew full well how fucking screwed I was because if a pair of athletic shorts took DAYS to dry in this climate, how long would these SHOES take? Furious and indignant, humiliated and abashed, I marched on flopping through the sand hating myself and wishing the sand would swallow me into the ground where I belonged. Certainly it wasn’t THAT bad, come to think of it. But for a moment I really did feel that way. 

After continuing our beautiful sandy stride, sans the wet flopping squeaking shoes, we reached the vast and galvanizing crowds of international pride and watched with delight as surfers took to the waves like daring knights. And with the gallantness and swiftness and suavity of razor-edged swords they sliced the bellies of the raging tides, zipping them teasingly, harnessing them coyly, cupping their force, cradling their might, and then falling to their frazzled destruction with genial surrender. And as their warring gladiators took to their gliding steeds the mountainous white-capped caverns of marine combat, the sons and sultry (sexy! If I may interject) daughters of their distant homelands cheered them on with the vigor and esteem of times far-gone. From the sombrero-capped sillies of Mexico to the passionate fervors of Italy, from the confident poises of Sweden to the waving vitalities of South Africa, each nation cheered on the glorious warriors, the violent sea, and the wonders of human audacity. 

And as we beheld these electrifying marvels, we saw coming up the beach across the whole worldly procession an adorable golden dog. Cute as innocence herself he marched along with aplomb and jollity distinctive only of a freeloving dog. He witnessed our delight, our pride and passion, our national flags, large and awave with the ocean, surfing the winds of the sky. And suddenly, stopping merrily before it all, with eyes agape and tongue and balls a-dangle, this little golden dog flung his tight perk asshole straight out into the air and with orgasmic focus squeezed out the richest creamiest moistest copious feces a sight ever before did see. Yes, with the pride of a Brazilian graffiti street artist he pressed right on and as his pulsating asshole churned out this behemoth train, a local tica from afar raced up behind him and scoldingly kicked some sand over his outstanding heap of brown dung. And so this merrily dog shat his holy shit right out onto the proud and cheering stands of this International Surf Competition and when his heart contented and his rectum recoiled he marched right on his merry little way into the distant expanses of Costa-Rican paradise. 

3

Slightly to our right was a small and dark hole within the walls of this forest, like an accidental cavern, a careless cavity in the cracks of a valley’s furrows, and next to it stood a crude wooden sign, crooked and limp, on which some letters were slapdashedly carved. It read: “CERRO CHATO. LAGUNA LAKE CHATO”.

We had reached the base of the volcano.

“Cerro Chato SIIIIIIIIIII” I proclaimed, and with a deep breath and a strong forward step we entered the uphill forest that is the sloping backside of El Cerro Chato volcano.

We pierced the dark dense thickets and began our ascent, the whole of which proceeded at about a thirty-five-degree upward angle into endless weaving caverns of green wood. The path was practically unmanned by human hands and had pretty much been formed by enormous horizontal roots of aging trees whose unders had been exposed by centuries of erosion. This natural circumstance left behind a long continuous stable path of tree roots which served as steps upwards into the forest.  Within the first few steps I felt myself panicking.

“Shit man,” I said. “How the hell am I going to do this for 3,700 feet into the air?”

Adam said, “You’re not. If you think of it that way then you’ll never make it. When I was on the Appalachian Trail, had I headed out from Georgia aiming for Maine, I would never have made it. You focus on the step in front of you. You proceed in small goals. Baby steps.”

So I did just that: I forgot about the summit and focused on the steps in front of me. And as we ventured forth diligently, Adam would periodically share with me some hiking wisdom:

“Keep sipping water. If you start feeling thirsty it’s already too late.”

“Keep your heart rate down by taking small steps.”

“Exert as little energy as possible. Choose the path that requires the least effort.”

So I did what anyone else would do in my position: I ignored his advice completely. I carried on hopping about and lunging in large strenuous steps and climbing with my hands until just minutes into this idiotic approach I was already entirely out of breath. I paused, regained my composure, and proceeded then exactly as he had instructed. And what do you know! It seems that after a decade of rigorous experience and knowledge, Adam knew what the fuck he was talking about after all! Hell, whaddya know about that! So I carried forth in baby steps. Sipping water. Keeping the heart rate down. Conserving energy. Enjoying the view.

At some point in our upward sally Adam bestowed his gracious wisdom upon me once more when we came upon a sharp ascending slope that was streaked with giant roots and jutting rocks. Here he commanded me to pause and think: observe the situation before us and try to determine which course would be the best for upholding the basic tenets of hiking (which for purposes of this discussion we can narrow down to two things: keeping the heart rate down and conserving energy). So we stood there calculating intently and deliberating about which of the numerous courses to take and once I had calculated my own conclusion, Adam said “go for it”. So I lunged over this rock and tripped over that root and found myself six feet higher, but when I turned around I saw that Adam had chosen a different angle and had transcended the obstacles I’d faced with far less exertion. Here he explained to me his thought process and I could see where I had erred in my decision. So some feet farther up we did it again: we stopped before the next few feet of climb and deliberated, and once I had chosen my path I went forth with it and to my utter elation Adam also followed suit!

“Good,” he said, for my calculations had proven successful.

We continued on doing this every few minutes and it became quite an exciting mental game, almost a physical manifestation of chess. After some more practice I had developed some very intricate theories and wild evaluations about the pros and cons of rock formations and the multi-angular growth of tree roots and pretty soon I had overcomplicated the matter entirely and had fallen into grave over-analysis, and once Adam recognized this he brought the whole house down on me at one point when he asked “Ok, so which path should we take here?” Once I had mapped out an insanely detailed intricate lucid strategy he quickly pointed in another direction and debunked me. So I recalculated and reorganized and reassembled my meta-theories and once I was certain enough to bet my life on it he flung the whole matter around in yet another direction and stumped me again. Finally I was mentally drained and thoroughly puzzled and it was then that Adam imparted the greatest wisdom of this entire climb: “The lesson here is that there isn’t a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ path when climbing. Sometimes there’s more than one way to walk the trail”.

My friend Adam is a wise motherfucker, my friends.

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