In the last hour of my last day in Costa Rica, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. In less than two hours time, a taxi would arrive to transport me and my girlfriends to a prop plane, which would deliver us to the flight that would be the epilogue to our pura vida; an epilogue that would, most certainly, be punctuated with ellipses. Before that taxi arrived, I still had to pack up my short-lived Costa Rican existence and attend to the business of sprinkling my dad’s ashes in a part of the Pacific that his swimming trunks had never absorbed. I couldn’t get to it yet, because I was trapped.
Deanna, Jeannie and I had arrived in Manuel Antonio three days before, on the eve of my 31st birthday. After a six-hour bus ride from Tamarindo, we had been deposited in front of a wrought iron gate on a desolate road in the middle of the jungle, in a darkness so dense we could feel it crawling on our skin. There was no visible sign, nor was there any indication that the gate protected anything but the hauntingly vocal rainforest that lay beyond it. There was, however, a doorbell.
After ringing it three times, we were been met by a disgruntled voice whose accent seemed incongruent with our location on the planet. And then Dante appeared, smelling of sleep, his shoulder-length, sand-colored locks tied back to reveal at least ten years more worth of wrinkles than my own. As he registered the anxiety on the three mugs that peeked through at him, the hint of annoyance that had tinted his voice disappeared, replaced by a effervescent tone of welcome.
He led us through the gate and past the main house, a gorgeous Spanish-style number, then down a curved flight of stairs sheltered by a white stucco archway. He failed to forewarn us of the bats before they sliced through the night, grazing our noses. We reached a large-ish wooden structure, which was completely engulfed by thick vegetation. Dante playfully spoke of a resident puma as he unlocked the door to what we assumed was a shared guesthouse, based on its size and the low price we had booked it for. As it turned out, the entire two-bedroom cabin, equipped with full living room and kitchen and porch the size of the cabin itself would be ours alone for the next several days.
Relieved and amused, we listened as our well tanned, well toned host used a disjointed hybrid of English, Spanish and his native Italian to assure us that we would be well cared for. After he’d said his buenos noches and closed the door behind him, we exchanged a look that acknowledged that a real character had entered our travel world, with a silent rock, scissors, paper addendum.
We settled onto the porch, sparked a joint, and made every effort to avoid thinking about the fact that we had about five sips of bottled water between the three of us. The darkness that surrounded us was so complete that we turned to our ears for clues to what might lurk beyond the wooden railing, excitedly speculating as if we were three small children considering wrapped parcels beneath an ornamented evergreen.
The following morning, the wrapping paper was torn to shreds by the fierce beckoning of howler monkeys, and we charged onto the porch to encounter a huge expanse of tropical paradise underscored by the sparkling Pacific. After hitting the national park to discover just how friggin cute sloths are, fall prey to an ambuscade of kleptomaniacal monkeys, examine a gy-normous viper curled in a tree from five feet away and indulge in delectable casadas at a roadside barbeque, we retreated to the balconied den of the main house for a jam session with Dante and his Tico buddies.
It was here that the flirtation between Dante and I began, and over the course of the next two and a half days, it escalated to the point where it had nowhere to go but horizontal. On our last night. Jean and Deanna had opted to stay at the local club and shake their asses a little longer – and most likely make fun of mine and Dante’s unabashed PDA.
We started out in my bedroom of the cabin but suspecting that the girls might not be so cool with an overnight guest, I suggested we move to his crib in the main house. After a juicy night, I awoke to find myself alone, vaguely remembering my lover’s mention of an early tai chi class. I dressed quickly and crept down the stairs only to discover that a key was required to exit the front door.
I studied the heavily populated key rack on the kitchen wall, making a good effort to be quiet as I tried key after key, so not to wake Amanda, the owner of the B&B. Though we hadn’t spent much time with her, the widowed fifty-something American woman, whose face was dominated by a cast from what we assumed was a recent nose job, had treated us with nothing but warmth. Still, explaining my presence in Amanda’s kitchen would be awkward, to say the least. Just as I spotted a key with potential, I heard a hissing voice behind me.
“What are you doing here?”
I pasted on my best mix of embarrassment, humor and apology and began to stumble through an explanation.
“Well, I’m trying to get out…you see, last night…uh…”
Amanda registered the situation and narrowed her eyes.
“Dante is NOT allowed to have overnight guests in MY house.”
Her tone caused me to flinch, but before I could get a word out, Amanda continued with increased malice.
“I hope you were a good enough fuck to be worth him losing his job over.”
Tears immediately sprung from my eyes – I stammered out apologies and justifications on Dante’s behalf, but Amanda, between hostilities muttered under her breath, extracted a key and flung the door open. My heart was racing and my emotions were all over the map as I made my way to the cabin, systematically dodging the strangely not so nocturnal bats. The girls were still asleep, so I showered quickly and grabbed the small vile of ashes I had somehow forgotten to distribute in the ten days I had been frolicking in the surf. Now it was hustle time. Costa Rica had been so high on my father’s list of dream spots that I just couldn’t neglect my duty to him... to myself.
Instead of hosting a funeral, I had opted to invite a handful of closest and dearest to my local beach on the Christmas morning following my father’s death to partake in the kickoff of my quest to bury him where he belonged – both in the waters that he loved in real life and those that subjugated his fantasy world. It had been a simple enough ceremony. I read a poem, then everyone grabbed a handful of chunky ash and hurled it into the surf. Without taking off my shoes, I had waded knee deep into the icy Atlantic – not to be dramatic… just to ensure that he would make it out to sea.
In the six years following his death, his remains had so far merged with the canals of Amsterdam, The Thames, The Seine and The Spanish Mediterranean. In the three years to follow, he would swim in The Galway Bay, The Gulf of Thailand, The Sea of Japan, The Lombok Straight, The Indian Ocean and The Great Barrier Reef. And I made a vow not to stop until I had but a tiny bit left of him to host in an urn, or perhaps a jar in the bottom of a fish tank.
I scurried up the path to the front gate, where I both painfully and gratefully ran into Dante. I explained what had happened with Amanda and apologized profusely in the strange, made up language that had evolved between us in the past few days. He nodded his head then shook it, unconcerned. He had apparently already run into Amanda, and could sense that there was another dilemma at hand. And there was. Though the ocean was “right there,” that right there involved a painstakingly steep mountain road. I held up the plastic bag in my hand, but failed to get my purpose across in English.
“Me papi – es muerto.”
I extracted the vile from its bag and made a flinging motion with my hands, pointed to the sea.
“Arrivederci. El Mar. Comprende? Can you drive me?”
Dante clicked, then woefully shook his head.
“Amanda takes the car. She is gone for day.”
Then a light bulb went off, to which Dante responded by opening the garage and rolling out his bicycle.
I considered for a moment, then nodded. What other option did I have?
The further downhill I peddled, the deeper my concern for the ability of my pack a day lungs to conquer the return trip. But I powered on, past a construction crew who hooted it up at the sight of the sweaty, manic gringa, the bag containing my dad’s ashes swinging from the rusty handlebars.
About halfway down to the beach, I failed to spot a pothole, and in one fell swoop, the bike chain dislodged and both me and the ashes were ejected. In a swift roll and dive maneuver that would do a football coach proud, I caught the vile before it hit the ground, squeezing it so hard that the top popped off, allowing an ample poof of my dad’s remains to hit me smack in the face. I fumbled with the bike chain for a few minutes to no avail, and then resigned myself to begin the upward climb.
By the time I arrived back at the cabin, the girls were packed and pacing the porch frantically. At my approach, they both welled up, ready to bombard me with what my time keeping incapability usually warranted. As I dragged up the porch steps, their faces instantly took sharp turns.
“What’s all over you?” Deanna blurted out.
“No. On your face, in your eyes…it looks like…” Jeannie looked as if she were thumbing through the least accessible parts of her substance recall.
I swiped a blackened finger across my cheek, stared down at it, and I was overwhelmed by what might have easily given way to hysterics of either variety.
“Um. It’s my dad’s ashes. I had a little accident.”
The girls didn’t bother trying to gage which way my pendulum would swing, before they burst out simultaneously in a fit of laughter. And I had no choice but to join them. There was no time for tears, and my comical appearance had won me clemency for my tardiness.
After quickly showering and cramming my belongings into my backpack, I told the girls to go ahead, that I would join them in a minute. I brought the vile, now only half full of vestiges, onto the porch, popped off the cap and waved it in front of me, grateful for the lack of wind. Though it wasn’t water, it was a breathtaking piece of Costa Rican land with an ocean view. It would have to do. I looked up into the cloudless sky and said, “Welcome to the jungle, daddy.”