chapter one: Costa Rica

“I don’t know how else to explain it. This isn’t about a trip to Costa Rica.”

For Mature Audiences

In August of 2016, my buddy Adam and I took a trip down to Costa Rica. We surfed and ziplined in Jacó, explored a rainforest in Manuel Antonio, partied in La Fortuna – where we also climbed a volcano – and almost died in the capital, San José. At least, I’m convinced we almost did. Adam doesn’t think so, I think.

Man, what a trip.

Selections from chapter one: Costa Rica

1

8/14/2016 And so I suppose now, my Fellow Reader, comes the moment I assume you’ve all been waiting for— the Magnum Opus of this merry tale of absurd and inflammatory nonsense in which our Holy Protagonist sets out for adventure to find himself and seek a moment of astounding enlightenment amid daring trials and tribulations and perils and dangers and gallant quests and encounters with fascinating people and enlightening conversations and unforgettable sights and upon return from this great and wild journey a new discovery of himself and the world around him and an opportunity for you Oh Holy Noble Reader to live vicariously through these incredible experiences and to dream of YOUR one day when YOU will have the courage to undertake such a journey yourself. So sit back and enjoy the ride because Costa Rica has been one zany insaney psychobrainy fuck of a holy trip.

On that fateful Saturday afternoon I sat in the guest room of my house (which in an Arab home is the one strictly reserved for guests that nobody EVER sits in and is reserved only for visits from the Ambassador and the one day when a local family will come to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage) staring at my brand new Hoodoo Red Osprey Porter 46 Pack, crammed to capacity with things I had anticipated to need for my trip to Costa Rica. Sitting there apprehensively, I couldn’t quite stomach the fact that the next week of my entire life was packed right here into this red-orange backpack that by some miracle would have to suffice for so long. I had been packing since Wednesday, actually, by collecting things I wanted and neatly laying them out on my brother Kal’s bed in the other room which since his move away from home has served as a new shared family desk and is only cleared off when he comes back to visit. Sad but true. So I had collected what I considered “bare essentials” and when Saturday morning had come around I had stuffed what I could into this large-but-not-quite-large-enough new bag of mine and had experienced a very powerful realization in the process: that when you are packing the rest of your life’s near-future into a single backpack, you have to make some real-life decisions and you learn a lot about yourself in those moments. So of the very few things I had set aside for packing, I could only fit about 70% of them into the bag and spent two hours shaving away the 30% I couldn’t take, which included extra underwear and socks, my Rubik’s cube, and swimming shorts (which HOOOLY FUCK what a mistake that was! Going to Central America in August without swimming shorts turned out to be like going scuba diving without an oxygen tank, as you my Humble Reader will readily discover).

What added to my thrilling apprehension on that Saturday afternoon just hours before my connecting flight to Atlanta was that besides the fact that I was arriving in Costa Rica— a place I still could not confidently place on a world map— on Sunday, August 7th at 11:40 AM at Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) in San José, I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what was going to happen next. Adam and I had simply booked the flights and decided that we would figure it out from there once we arrived. The only information I had that could help me had come from a phone call that I’d made the night before to a young woman named Eliana whom I’d met at Rosie O’ Grady’s in Ferndale during Salsa Sunday a few weeks prior. “Eli” was a vibrant, kind, well-spoken, and titanically-bosomed yet unquestionably unattractive American woman who taught foreign language in the city and had lived in Costa Rica for a year. After dancing together I had chatted with her and somehow the topic of my upcoming travels to Costa Rica had come up and she told me that she’d lived there and we exchanged numbers and now here I was calling her on the night before my travels trying to construct some semblance of reality about this place I was going to. So in her own impressive strikingly eloquent way she spoke with great regard about this amazing place called Costa Rica and I thanked her for giving me all of her awesome firsthand information and I told her that I’d love to get together following my trip to catch up and she said that would be great.

And so, with only those bits of information the hour of reckoning descended upon me and I hugged my sister and father and hugged my mother and she did the Quran ritual as I stood by the door and made me pay $1.00 which I call the Travel Tax because my mom makes me pay it as charity so it can protect me and I reluctantly produced four sweet quarters and deposited them into the charity sack and Mikey my youngest brother took my bag— my life— and threw it into the back seat of his gold Jeep and we were ready to go. But right before we left I remembered that I had forgotten my new athletic sunglasses upstairs so I ran up to get them and my mom scolded me because I’m such a forgetful damn fool (which you will discover very quickly and horrifically as this tale unfolds) and I kissed my mom again and waved to her as she stood apprehensively at the window and we were off.

Back to the top.

2

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.

3

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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