The baby howler monkey reaches for a ride on mother’s back. She lets him, for a branch or two, then brushes him off to move to a new tree, something better to eat.
They leap from branches like squirrels, except mother is the size of a four-year-old child and may weigh as much as three of them with all her dense muscle. The tree bends then sways, absorbing her impact. She hangs upside down (I want a tail!) and pulls off a few choice leaves.
Baby explores, returns to mother who does nothing for him I can see. I’m sure they’re communicating, if only a pattern of nonverbal inherited expectation. Her peaceful foraging tells him there are no snakes nearby. Reassured, baby moves off again, but tethered by awareness of distance.
Given that I’m a terminal Romantic who could anthropomorphize table salt on any given day (“Why are they avoiding me? What does pepper have that I don’t have? Would I be happier as chili powder?”), I attribute all sorts of emotions to their interaction.
Overhead, I hear a boy’s yell. Niko and one of the guides are zipping down the wire cable, tethered together. It was fantastic yesterday that Niko did not melt down when told he might not get to ride the zip line. He might be too small for a harness, they were told, it wouldn’t be safe. Jonathan, his dad, told Niko if he can’t go, then none of the family will go. Niko won’t feel singled out to be left out. He was given a tool to deal with his disappointment. Connection.
But a harness is found and Niko is yelling like Tarzan as he zips over the ravine where howler monkeys feed on leaves in the hot afternoon sun.
A week ago I was in Big 5 getting some gear for this trip when I heard a baby cry. Then I heard her, or him, cry again, more loudly. I looked to see a stroller about six feet away in an aisle, went back to comparing two exercise bands of too little difference.
A minute or so later, I heard baby cry more loudly, clearly in distress. When no one showed up, I walked over and saw the stroller had a blanket draped over the front so baby could not see out, nor be seen. I said something in the soft voice I use to lure puppies and looked up to see mom, down another aisle six feet away, texting on her phone.
She looked at me, took a step toward the stroller as if to protect her child, decided I was no threat and turned back to finish whatever she was saying to whomever it was that wasn’t here where her baby was starting to cry.
This is a grand social experiment we are conducting on our species. There will be winners and losers.
The Internet is everywhere. My cellphone is a Link. Link to the community, link in a chain. Internet in the mountains of Costa Rica, at the beach. Not just travelers. Ticos too, the locals are as linked as anyone. Nearly everyone stares at the face of their phone. Just like me.
I tell the clerk at the hostel in Santa Elena that I forgot to write down the name of the hotel where I will stay in Samara that his partner, Diego, reserved for me. I ask if it is possible to look it up.
“No, Senor,” he says, “it is in ‘The Cloud,’ the driver will know.”
This makes me feel helpless, I am in the hands of an emergent system, I’ve come so far to have no free will.
I sit with a young couple in a small bus on the way from mountains to the sea. I learn they are in their 20s, not a couple but just friends. Jessica is a medical doctor, general practitioner, in San Francisco; Eaton is wrapping up residency in neural radiology in New York. My god, I own jeans older than these two. My favorite ties are older than their ages added together.
I learn as much as I can about Diffusion Tensor Imaging until my brain is about to explode. He is a scientist, and believes that emotion may be explainable by neurons and diffusion pathways (I oversimplify).
“It used to be an artist’s role to explain behavior,” I say. “You’ve taken my job.” He laughs, says something politely self-deprecating.
But I have a card up my sleeve. I ask him to hand me the map in his hand. He is polite, he does. Jessica watches us, interested.
“If my asking for the map was a movement of synapses in my brain, and, through an exchange of non-physical information, just changed the synapses of your brain so that you handed me the map, doesn’t any explanation of your brain have to take into account mine?
He laughs and I think he gives me the round, but only because I cheated.
We stop for coffee, and I see Eaton is not really much taller than I am. He seemed much taller in the seat of the bus. Then I see his arms, which are incredibly muscled, defined. I learn that when he is not watching excited protons illuminate poor blood flow from aneurysms, he works out with guys learning the Brazilian martial art favored by cage fighters.
He thinks that may have something to do with the issue of his lower back, even more inflamed by yesterday’s horseback ride in the mountains of Costa Rica. Ridiculously, I offer an ibuprofen. He’d rather tough it out.
I walk into town after I get to Samara. The altitude of Santa Elena brought coolness to the evenings, even to just shade. I’ve traded that for the crash of waves on sand at sea level. With that comes sweltering heat and humidity. I’ve gone 100 yards and I sweat. A two-mile walk down the beach and I’m dripping.
Two women and three dogs sit in the center of two fairly small concentric circles drawn in wet sand not far from the edge of the surf. The smallest dog makes forays out of the circles, the largest dog sits with her back to everyone else, the medium dog seems friendly enough but…
“That’s Miss Piggy,” says one of the women in what I think is a German accent. “She needs a home, but it needs to be someone who understands Pit Bulls.” Miss Piggy is ignoring my trepidation and suggesting which side of her solid steel head I should scratch next.
I start to share attention with the big dog but the woman who talked to me warns me off.
“Don’t touch that one.”
I ask if she has been abused.
“She has bad Karma. I’ve had her for nine years. She kills things, she suffers. It’s her bad Karma.” The large dog with bad Karma looks over her shoulder at me, but does not stop sitting with her back to the group like an angry teen.
I’m about 20 feet walking away when I turn around and ask if they take donations. The woman says yes, I can contact them at Animales de Sámara on Facebook, “it’s three words.”
“It’s all one word,” says her partner from the sand.
“It’s one word ‘animalesdesamara@gmail’, but on Facebook it’s three separate words,” says the first, possibly used to winning discussions such as this.
I decide to give them $20 on the spot and bypass possible confusion. I palm her the bill and she blows me a European air kiss as I walk on down the beach, trying to grasp what it means that an animal rescue effort in an out-of-the-way ocean village in Costa Rica has an international presence.
I body surf in perfect waves, the warm Pacific here takes no getting use to. The beach is a wide crescent just like a waning moon, three kilometers point to point. I go for a long run, and make the man herding horses down the beach laugh when I try to keep up with their slow canter.
I come back to the hostel having had enough sun and exercise for the day. I sit in the shade to write this. Wonder of wonders, my laptop is finally cooperating with the Internet over wifi that seems now to be universal, from poor urban hostels to mountain retreats to this rural beach town pretty far off any path. I am having trouble with the pictures again, but think that is just me being dumb, trying to be smarter than algorithms trying to help me.
The young man managing this inexpensive hotel with cabanas right on the beach has a laptop he uses every night while lying in a hammock right outside my door. He is on it every morning when I wake up. He has never traveled the two hours down the peninsula where I am headed tomorrow, but has access to the world.
Eventually the sun goes down. Kallberg calls to check in about a race next July. It rings on my computer, which is linked to the Internet where my phone number lives a life of its own and directs callers to wherever I might be.
“Where’re you at?” he asks, and I tell him in the middle of Costa Rica.
“You’re kidding! It sounds like you’re next door!”
As we do business, a gekko crawls up the window screen feeding on bugs drawn by the lights of my room.
I find a place to have dinner, torch lit, my toes digging into coolness found deeper in the sand.
I have to change tables at one point because there is a very drunk woman wandering around the table behind me, talking in an explosive voice and grabbing at the chest of each of her clearly embarrassed table mates. I don’t notice my cell phone slip out of the too-shallow pocket of my swimsuit/shorts into the sand.
When I look at my camera 20 minutes later, I realize I am one device short. I go back and check my room. I rake the sand at the old table with my fingers. Panic is rising.
“She picked it up,” says a woman sitting nearby who notices. The waitress had taken it to the bar. When I pay my tab, her tip is more than the cost of my meal.
A young man with pale complexion and long hair sits at a table nearby with an exquisite young woman of short black hair, smooth dark skin, and a brilliant smile that could warn ships away from rocks guarding the bay. That smile carries a different warning, though, when she sardonically asks her date if he’d prefer a table closer to the TV, where he’d gotten hung up once watching sports. He blathers an inanity about Tiger Woods.
A pitcher of sangria sits on the table between them. But now there is something more important, at this very moment! on his cell phone, and that is what he looks at, rather than at the beauty sitting across from him.
(For photos of Samara, click here).