"THE TRACK starts 200
metres past Playa Chiquita Lodge, and from there it’s about thirty
minutes straight ahead. You can’t get lost."
I scuffled along
the dusty road in the clammy Caribbean heat under the weight of camping
gear, excess clothing, food
for a week, my guitar, and absurdly,material I felt obliged to read for
work (fat chance). It was my first Easter in Costa Rica, the country I
been stalled in for over a year. Although I had long come to the
that San Jose was not the place for a single, lonely foreign female,
relatively laid back attitude of the people and natural wonders an easy
ride away kept me prolonging my tourist visa. I searched for a ride and
a swarthy moreno in a dilapidated yellow pickup truck who knew where to
go, more or less. We bounced along the dusty track making smalltalk,
abruptly pulled up in front of a small gap in the bushes where a
path led directly into thick jungle.
"You’re brave to go in
there" grinned the driver, propping himself against the hood to watch
me make down the path feeling a little like Hansel and Gretel without
Hansel. My friend Ernesto had been living in this remote patch of the
Caribbean jungle for six months though hell and high water and had
given me strict instructions to keep to the right all the way. He did
not, however, embellish on the exact nature of this thirty minute
stroll - before long I was calf deep in greasy mud swatting clouds of
crazed mosquitoes whilst dripping with sweat in the extreme humidity.
The track snaked up,
up, up, through thick moist foliage, deeper and deeper into the jungle.
times I sank to my knees, desperately holding my guitar aloft under the
weight of granola, cans of tuna and packets of ready to serve salsa. I
my mind up to eat everything I´d brought and souvenir nothing.
many twists and turns I came across some seedlings neatly planted in
A little further on the first of the open air shelters built by the owners of the finca came into view. All around the ground rose and fell, tufted with tough jungle grass and exotic flora. There were no neat paths or lit walkways, no electricity or gas stoves, just water from the silty stream nearby and bananas and pineapples sprouting amongst all the greenery. A handful of Europeans had bought the finca 17 years ago and came to be collectively known by the locals as the Payasos, or clowns, on account of their hippie appearance and mother earth lifestyle. The cashed-up clowns were no slouches though; several owned property on the beach and retreated to the primitive finca when it suited them. The only truly hardcore resident was my friend Ernesto, a revolutionary in his former life as a Sandanista and Nicaraguan diplomat, and a spiritual revolutionary now.
planet", he said, studiously poking at a bamboo fire with a stick. "I
here to make a statement, to show people you can live simply and
without plundering resources."
Ernesto had certainly
been through the hoops,
fought for love and war, written books, fled for his life many times
and had finally arrived as a Tao master, or teacher of the ancient
philisophy Tao de Ching. From his tarp-covered shelter without walls he
moved very little, just to collect bamboo for the fire, forage for
and root vegetables growing wild in hidden places, squelch through the
trails to visit neighbouring payasos, or bathe in the stream that
his little isle.
The sun beat down
through wide leaves. The only sounds
against the constant burbling of the steam were the rat-a-tat-tat of
the burr of humming birds, whoop-whoop of howler monkeys and the coo-ee
of the payasos themselves when they wished to summon each other. I felt
as far away from powerlines, pulperias and petrol fumes as I could
be. I busied myself making a set of fifty yarrow sticks to consult the
the ancient chinese philosophy to which I had been introduced by a
This consisted of
picking my way across the finca to the grove behind the
communal house and cutting chopstick-length pieces of bamboo with a
Finding the last ten sticks became quite an challenge, since I started
with a precise thickness and length in mind, but soon had to concede to
varying thicknesses when the available dry bamboo ran out. That night,
sat laboriously honing the sticks with my penknife to remove the hard
joints until my fingers blistered.
the simple meal he´d
been preparing with minor variations every day and night for the past
months - rice, lentils, green banana slices, fresh herbs and root
from the ground, all boiled up over bamboo-fuelled fire with water
from the stream. We ate by candlelight and moonlight and talked about
disparity in our lives - me in the dirty, stressy, loveless city and he
well, he simply here. After washing our the coconut-shell bowls I
to my tent and slept to the sound of the payaso’s bongo drums emanating
from one of the shelters hidden in the darkness.
At dawn I woke with the
first cicadas of the day. I picked my way down to the river, treading
on the carpet of sodden leaves and mud so as not to slip. It had rained
ovrnight so the stream
"Keeps your mind
sharp", counselled Ernesto, lightly stepping along the centre plank
without any hint of overbalancing. I teetered along the
planks like a nervous duck. I finally made it to the other side, almost
landing my butt in a mudslick, and ventured down the the waters edge
where the real mud bath lay. I stripped, stepped into the stream then
from under the roots of a tree I scooped out an orangy-grey crumbly
clay that melted into a smooth mush on contact with water.
I rubbed the mud all
over my face, body and
hair then crouched like Cro-Magnon woman on the riverbank waiting for
to dry. ‘Sucks out the impurities’ said the payasos. The mudbath left
my skin feeling cleaner and softer than the fancy face wash I purchased
Miami, and I made a mental not to fill a bag with it for use in the big
The next few days and
nights were spent tramping along overgrown paths
through the jungle, inspecting other shelters erected from local fallen
honed with manual tools, playing my guitar and nurturing the fire that
jungle produce into something delicious and edible. But eventually, I
to return to the misguided world. It was criminal to leave. The descent
the beach was too rapid. On emerging at ground level I was dusted by a
of passing all terrain vehicles hell-bent on comfort and soft
saw their occupants sealed behind rolled-up tinted glass, protecting
them from the kind of life only true revolutionaries like Ernesto have
come to know.
Copyright 2003 Lynette Chiang All Rights