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“Dude, check it out!”
“Guys, come over here quick! There’s a giant snake! It’s legit!”
“A snake? One second!” Yup. Works every time. I felt a little guilty for being less than truthful to my friends, but they’ll thank me in a second for showing them this. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Laquan and Margarita were hurrying over to see the snake that I had allegedly found right outside our cabins. It was evident that both of them had been on another rainforest hike: reddish mud clung to their tall rubber boots that nearly reached their dirty knees. Trudging down the lawn in their mud and sweat stained tee shirts, they looked utterly exhausted from the day’s adventures. As soon as they were close enough, I said rather quickly “Okay, so there’s no snake. But check out the hole in the bushes. There’s a wicked nice view from over here!” Used to my tricks by this point, they followed me through the gap in the thick bushes to a clearing on a hill, completely hidden from our cabins by the nine-foot shrubbery. Standing on the grassy hillside, we could look out across the oceanscape with only a small tropical island blotting the vast expanse of water.
“Woah, that’s hella awesome,” Margarita said, once again using her favorite Californian word. Although I probably would not have said it that way, I definitely agreed with her. The view was truly spectacular. The bright sun was reflected off the glasslike water, creating the appearance of a glowing ocean that stretched as far as the eye could see. It sparkled across the Pacific and illuminated the seemingly tiny waves that lapped the shore of the island in the distance. Apparently neither Margarita nor Laquan were as enamored with the view as I was, and both had things to do. Laquan, in his blue jeans and dark green T-shirt, casually strolled back to the boys’ cabin to organize his belongings and Margarita, her rubber boots nearly reaching the bottom of her khaki capris, made her way back to hers to collect laundry.
It had only been a week since our Experiment in International Living group had arrived in Costa Rica, and each day was better than the last. The country was fascinating, the food delicious, and my travel companions were some of the most fun people I had ever met. Half of our group was hiking to a bat cave for the evening, so only the seven of us that braved the rocky trail the night before remained at the main camp. Of those seven, three were staying in the principle lodge by the water that included the kitchen and dining area, which left only Laquan, Margarita, Hannah and myself up in the cabins for the afternoon. The cabins were only sixty meters from the main lodge as the bird flies, but the only path between them was a treacherous trail up the side of a mountain and I was gladly standing at the top of it, without any intention of making the trip down.
As far as I could tell, the path had been cut out of the hill with a shovel, then reinforced with rotting wood. It was fifty percent ridiculously steep dirt path, fifty percent dangerously rotten wooden staircase, and 100 percent a pain in the ass to have to walk up and down. On each exhausting step, the rubber boots that we were under strict orders to wear at all times cut into our shins and ankles, chafing, blistering, even ripping off layers of skin at times. The winding turns of the stairs meant that it was virtually impossible to tell when we were nearing the top; our difficulty was doubled when we had to hike up to our cabins in the dark, which happened every night. Plants, bushes and grasses surrounded the path, and the juices of rotten fruits that fell from trees above stained the clay-like dirt that we walked on.
Hannah and Margarita had already made their way down the never-ending staircase, impressively managing to make the journey injury free while carrying their laundry. Not long after, a bored Laquan decided to take his chances with the path and join the other five group members below. Walking awkwardly because of my painful boots, I strolled back to our cabin through the hole in the bushes, the Costa Rican sun beating down on my unsunscreened arms and neck. The air was fresh. It smelled like wet dirt, blooming trees, and exotic fruits.
I bounded up the three wooden steps into our rustic cabin. The walls were screen and a six-inch gap separated them from the roof, inviting mosquitoes, flies and even scorpions to spend the night with us. My backpack lay open on my plain bed, a pair of mud-stained jeans poking out of it, dirtying the clean white sheets. Carefully avoiding the small cracks in the floor, I stepped towards the head of the bed and reached for everything that I would need to kick back and relax for the rest of the afternoon: my half full blue Nalgene water bottle, my old digital camera, and my journal to keep track of my travel adventures. When I sprayed insect repellant on my skin and clothes, a cloud of chemicals engulfed my body. Despite the fact that I had closed them, my eyes somehow stung from the bug-slaying toxins. My black rubber boots, two sizes too big, scraped against my shins as I gingerly stepped down the three old wooden stairs to the grass and walked back to my spot on the hill.
It was only 6:00 p.m., but the sky had already begun to darken and the bright yellow sun became redder every minute as it slowly sunk to the sea. As the sun disappeared, I hurried to write in my journal before the light faded entirely. Happy 4th of July! I wrote It’s so weird to think that if I was home, it’d be just past 8:00 and the fireworks would start soon. It was weird to think about, but in no way did I miss having to plug my ears to block out the thunderous explosions in centerfield of Memorial Park. Instead of watching the annual flashing of fireworks above, I had my eyes fixed on the water and sky dyed by the tropical sunset.
Streaks of color stretched across the dark sky, painting the huge, dusky clouds with shining hues of yellow, red and orange. A blurry copy of the sunset was smeared on the deep blue ocean and it lit up the forested island in the distance. I sat on an old wooden bench, staring in amazement at the most beautiful sunset that I had ever set my eyes on. My black rubber boots were cast off to my left; although I had been warned to always wear them in order to protect my feet from poisonous snakes, I decided to discard them and admire the setting of the brilliant tropical sun without the discomfort of my too big boots. My Cannon PowerShot A1200 hung uselessly around my neck, for I knew that I would never be able to capture such an image with just an old digital camera. Next to me lay my journal, discarded on the bench and open to the page that I had been writing on before utterly losing my concentration to the unbelievable view in front of me.
I looked out over the Pacific Ocean for miles, the vivid colors reflecting off the water as if it were a mirror. Palm trees obscured the very edges of my vision, their fallen coconuts dotting the hillside on which I sat. If I turned to my left and squinted through the ever-darkening woods, I could just make out the gargantuan trees that we had watched a troupe of spider monkeys swing and play through from the warm ocean water.
I have always been a person who keeps memorabilia of significant events in my life. Kneeling in my ever messy room at home, I have discovered old pictures, tickets, letters, certificates, and even receipts just by opening a few random drawers and boxes. I have everything that would be in a scrapbook of my life, unfortunately without the organization of having it all in a book. Some people call it sentimental and some people say it’s just being a packrat. I think it’s somewhere in between. But as I looked out past the palm trees, the cool grass tickling my bare feet, I found that, not only would it be impossible for me to capture such an amazing sight, I didn’t even want to waste my energy attempting to. Instead, I just leaned back on that old wooden bench and enjoyed the evening, without worrying about how future Jacob would remember it. I closed my journal on the bench as the sky turned from orange to red, then red to scarlet. The energy that I normally spent making sure that I would have something to remember an event by was instead used to absorb every bit of my surroundings as deeply into myself as I could. Pictures and words could not begin to describe what I was experiencing, and they didn’t have to, because I have a startlingly clear memory of all of the time that I spent on that open hillside.
The sunset had passed its peak. The colors grew less vivid. The ocean turned a dark shade of maroon and faded slowly to grey as the evening around me shifted to night. My eyes still glued to the sky, I slowly gathered my journal, water bottle and camera. I yanked on my cursed boots, yawning slightly as I ambled back through the hole in the thick bushes. Pulling my trusty flashlight out of my jeans pocket, I began the dreaded descent down the path to dinner.