Costa Rica, Part Dos: Not in Kansas Anymore

This was actually my third time in Costa Rica. The Mate and I visited Son One when he was first working there six years ago. Then there was the time my zoologist dad took me deep into the jungle for an Organization of Tropical States conference when I was sixteen (I was too scared of the rainforest to walk alone–correctly, as it turned out, because the assembled biologists later discovered an extremely venomous fer-de-lance viper on the trail).

But it’s still a shock to realize how DIFFERENT Nature is there. Oh, it looks inviting as all get-out, from above.

Up near the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where usually, Son One told us, you don’t see anything but cloud.

But get in close, and it’s red in tooth and claw–even the plants. Like this ficus, or Strangler Fig, enthusiastically murdering its host tree.

Whatever you do, don’t imagine this process sped up.

In the jungle, it’s everyone for itself. Even a lowly fencepost becomes a host.

Kind of cute, unless you’re the one who has to keep replacing the fenceposts.

And don’t even get me started on the army ants. (Not pictured: army ants. You’re welcome.)

Because Son One is a classic naturalist, which is to say nuts about dangerous critters, he was REALLY hoping for a sighting of either a puma or a fer-de-lance–preferably both. We struck out on both, this trip, although we did score some stunningly large paw prints, and this official Pile o’ Puma Poop on the trail:

…You’re welcome?

Son One did manage to find one fer-de-lance (terciopelo, in Spanish, which means velvet–has anyone actually stroked that snake??), but he hasn’t sent me the photo yet, so here’s one from our last visit:

And this is why we hike in rubber boots.

But of course, of COURSE, Costa Rica is way more than things that want to kill you. It’s also a splendid riot of sound and scent and color. Like this motmot which welcomed us on our first afternoon:

¡Hola amigo!

And of course, of COURSE…monkeys. Since Son One’s specialty is taking people far from the madding crowd, we had an entire troupe of Capuchins to ourselves. (Here’s where I decided I need to invest in a zoom lens for my phone, but you get the idea.)

Son One, who speaks fluent Capuchin, warned us not to stand underneath. They like to pee on your head.

This thrilling wildlife encounter was somewhat undermined when we stopped for coffee at a place which puts out fruit for the birds…which the monkeys, of course, gorge on.

“Hey, I’m done with my banana. You gonna finish that muffin?”

As we headed back down toward the lowlands on a road whose steepness I couldn’t possibly capture with my phone, this tree caught me eye. The locals call it “Gringo Tree” because it looks like a white person with bad sunburn. But this particular one looked like E.T.

Phone home.

I‘m not saying North American Nature doesn’t have weird stuff. Just not THIS weird. Or wonderful. See you in the lowlands for Part 3!

False Friends and Other Delights of Attempted Bilinguality

In one week, The Mate and I are off to Costa Rica, unselfishly pitching in to help Son One kick off his new ecotour company, Liana Travels. 🙂 I’m excited for SO many aspects of this trip, but one of them is the chance to practice my Spanish, which I’ve been honing with a tutor for a couple of years now.

the budding tour guide, a few years ago

My tutor, Claudio, introduced me to a wonderful language term: “falsos amigos,” or “false friends.” It’s a delightful way to describe those words that SOUND like they mean the same in English, while in fact meaning something different. Sometimes embarrassingly different. Like, for example, the word “embarazada,” which does NOT mean “embarrassed.” It means “pregnant.”

There are so many such words! (Question for others wiser than I: do “falsos amigos” exist in other languages, or is it just Spanish that’s so tricksy?

Por ejemplo/For example:

  1. Discutir does NOT mean to discuss. It means to argue.
  2. Asistir does NOT mean to assist. It means to attend, as in a class or a meeting.
  3. Compromiso DOES mean compromise. But it also means commitment. Confusing much?
  4. Ropa does NOT mean rope. It means clothing.
  5. Equivocarse does NOT mean to equivocate. It means to be wrong.

Those are just a few that popped into my head. For other fun ones, I consulted Spanishobsessed.com, which gave me:

  1. Sopa is soup, not soap
  2. Jabón is soap, Jamón is ham
  3. Excitante DOES mean “excited”…but in a sexual way, like “aroused.” Whoopsie.
  4. Emocionante–that’s the “excited” you want to use. It doesn’t mean emotional.
  5. Educado means polite, not educated. (Though I’m sure there’s some connection there.)

You get the idea. Which one of these will Gretchen walk into? ….(pausa embarazada)…Vamos a ver/We’ll see!

“I want Gretchen to get here soon and make me laugh.”

Please hit me up with some of your own “false friends,” in any language! Love this stuff.

“Plan” is a Four-Letter Word. “Hope” is a Monkey.

It‘s become such a standard answer for The Mate and me, we’ve created our own cliche.

Friend: So, got any travel plans for 2022?

Us: We don’t use that word anymore. We hope to travel to Costa Rica soon…

i.e., this place

Or:

Friend: You guys planning on doing your famous Road Trip again this year?

Us: We don’t use that word. We hope we get to do our road trip, starting in February…

I think you get the point. Since 2020, those of us who still lived under the illusion that we had some control over our destiny discovered just how illusory that idea was. Now it’s hard to believe I ever believed it.

Take Costa Rica. Since Son One kicked off his ecotour company, Liana Travels, The Mate & I, plus a friend, have been signed up to **ahem** help our son “beta test” his touring guide chops.

I mean…somebody’s gotta do it. Those Scarlet Macaws can’t watch themselves, right?

But here we are, two weeks before departure, and it still feels about 50/50 that the trip will be postponed. COVID’s messing with the world in so many ways: threatening illness, threatening flights, threatening quarantine, threatening threatening threatening. For the next 2 weeks, The Mate and I will pack, yes–but we’re going about it like little leaf-cutter ants, nose to the ground, not with our usual pre-trip excitement.

Zoom in on the trail. You’ll see ’em.

I like to think I’m doing a pretty good job of staying even-keel right now. I tell myself, Hey, even if you do get to go to Costa Rica, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a tapir, right? So think of the trip itself as that tapir. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not.

Weird example, I know–but I wanted to use my tapir picture.

Plans are tapirs–rare & elusive, bound to break your heart if you expect them. But hope? Hope’s a monkey. As in: if you go to Costa Rica, you will see one…or two…or three…possibly more. So go ahead and hope for monkeys!

Just, no matter what, don’t PLAN for monkeys. If you do, given the way the world’s been working, they’re likely to show up like this:

You called?

So, will the Wings go to Costa Rica? Hope so; still not planning on it. Yes, I’ll pack. But it’s good to know the place will be there, somewhere in this crazy world, even if I’m not there to see it…this time.

Hope so.