We were hopelessly lost in translation. After retracing our steps several times through the jungle trails on the mountainside adjacent to Nauyaca Waterfall, and after several hard falls due to the misty rain, which slicked the trails, our directions in English and Spanish just weren’t matching up anymore.
We should have learned by now that “short-cuts” in the jungle were actually non-existent to foreigners. We hiked back down the steep mountainside, continually grasping the skinny, mossy trees for balance. We took off our shoes and waded through the base of Nauyaca Waterfall. Exhausted already, we trekked out of the park only to walk over a mile in the wrong direction in attempt to get to the casa de Jeffrey. (Travel tip: when asking directions, DON’T point your finger in the direction you think you need to go; if the person doesn’t understand, they will just point their finger in the same direction and nod.)
Now we were the farthest and most opposite direction from home base we could possibly be, and we had stopped talking long ago to conserve our energy supply, which was dwindling quickly. We had no mediums of contacting anyone; alas, we had no choice but to take the dreaded two-hour trek back the only way we knew.
Dark comes quick in Costa Rica; the cotton candy sky teasingly dimmed down faster and faster. The scenery proved different on the way back; the rain had demolished our trail, and as each step pulled our feet into an abyss of caramel-colored mud, we honed the mindset of being creatures of the jungle.
However, even if our trail was unidentifiable and indistinguishable, the five, flavorful personalities that made up our group were far from. Robin, the buff African American woman made up her mind that if she ever made it back to civilization, she would hail the first taxi, and it would take her to the airport. The Gringo, me, reverted to survival mode, by keeping my head down, my mouth shut, and my eyes focused on the path in front of me.
Vicki, the Slovenian, power walking at an insanely inhuman rate, urged us forward by exerting terse commands in broken English: “HURRY FAST! YOU STILL YOUNG!” Salah, the Moroccan provided comic relief with his klutzy almost-falls, and Frank, the Mexican, pulled out his large trusty flashlight and provided a central light, which would keep us all close in its circumference.
For the next two grueling hours, our spirits and physical capacities were beaten down and pulverized by the Costa Rican jungles.
Finally, we began to recognize the outskirts of the property we were staying at. Straining our eyes in hopes of seeing something familiar, we saw the beautiful silhouettes of our tents, and the instantaneous jolt in our energy became apparent.
In the community house, we sat around the red auburn table and toasted to our survival with mugs of smooth Trapiche Wine.
There was something primitively comforting about not having electricity; the warm glow of the candles in their wine bottle holders created the gentle ambiance we needed in order to recharge ourselves. The mellow light lit the gentle, relieved expressions on my amigos faces, and the screened-in room allowed us to be completely present to the soft murmur of insect voices outside.
We kept recounting our adventure in broken bits of myriad languages.
And though we couldn’t understand each other completely, that’s what gave this night a hilarious, soul-striking charisma. Our over the top gestures and frantic words facilitated more miscommunications, which exponentially increased our rages of laughter.
We imitated each other’s actions during this stressful situation where true personalities had crept in. Each time Vicki started to talk, the rest of us stood up and pretended to crack a whip while mimicking her stern commands.
Devious smiles continually crawled up to our ears, and when our mouths opened, we unleashed laughter in deafening cracks of joy with no hint of restraint. I threw my head back to let out another shrill cry as I madly stamped my feet on the ground. We doubled over, our throats unleashing ungodly sounds, and we spend the hours of the night unsuccessfully gasping for more air. I saw the sting of breathlessness come over everyone, and our cheeks kept rising to scrunch our glossy eyes into crescent moons. My core burned, and my eyes filled up with tears, which involuntarily leaked down the side of my face in moments of unadulterated delight.
We doubled over, tripled over, and quadrupled over with laughter as we feasted on tamales. And not one of us shared the same culture, and we obviously could not speak the same language, but ohhhhh could we laugh.
There we were, the African American, the Mexican, the Moroccan, the Slovenian, and the Gringo. It may seem inappropriate to categorize so hastily, but tonight we demanded of each other to claim our differences. The jungle wouldn’t thrive without it’s distinct birdcalls, monkey howls, and insect noises. Similarly, our cultural backgrounds, experiences, and skin colors mingled to create an electrifying presence, which streamed through us and comfortably embraced our souls in profound rapture.
In this cosmic crescendo after a rumble in the jungle, it was then and there at the auburn table when we decided that we had made up the diversity in the jungle tonight. After all, we are all creatures in this jungle of life.
Photo credit to my good friend Rachel Leibowitz.
Nauyaca Waterfall, Costa Rica. January, 2012.