by Mike McHugh
SARAPIQUI, Costa Rica—I’m here with my wife, Susan, in the rain forest on an “adventure tour” to mark our 30th wedding anniversary. The trip was her idea, as if spending that much time with someone like me is a cause for celebration. Maybe she thinks that the milestone guarantees her a ticket through the pearly gates:
St. Peter: “So, what was it about your life that qualifies you for heaven?”
Susan: “I was married to Mike McHugh for over 30 years.”
St. Peter: “Oh, that qualifies you for one of our Platinum Clouds. Grab a harp and come on in!”
Being a writer, one of the first things I noticed about Costa Rica is how big they are on punctuation. Even their currency, the colon, is named after a punctuation mark. This helps to explain the country’s exceptionally high literacy rate. It’s something that I envy—not only as an American but also personally—figuring that if we had the same literacy rate here, newspaper columnists would be paid like football players.
I’ve been here three days, and I’ve already learned a lot about Costa Rica. That’s mostly thanks to our tour guide, Eddie, who is a walking, talking encyclopedia on his country. For instance, he knows the political system backwards and forwards, including the fact that it has a “unicameral” legislature. I found this interesting, having thought that camels were only indigenous to desert countries. Perhaps the single-humped version inhabits a wider range.
Eddie is also very organized, which is a plus for any tour group. One of the first things he did was explain that we’d all have assigned seats on the tour bus, thus settling for most of us what would have been the most difficult decision of the trip. I wasn’t surprised to also hear him stress the importance of punctuality. I confessed to him about the standing argument I have with my editor over dashes and semicolons. To my relief, he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.
Eddie is also an expert on Costa Rica’s geography and ecosystem, and he goes the extra mile to stop and show us about it. On the ride here to the rain forest from the capital of San Jose, he had the driver take some back roads, where we stopped to see, among other things, a waterfall and a tree with several of the country’s indigenous howler monkeys. It awed me that he even noticed them from the bus. He must not have been fixated as I was on the thousand-foot drop off the side of the narrow, snaking road, wishing I’d packed my Rosary. Some on our tour suggested that he knew because he planted the monkeys there ahead of time.
We’ve packed in a lot so far these first few days. Highlights included a coffee plantation tour, with plenty of free samples, and a night in a thatched-roof hotel room without air conditioning in the middle of the rain forest. (At least they had Wi-Fi.) What with the coffee and the room, I was assured a sleepless night, which is how I caught sight of Eddie before dawn, planting the toucans in the trees in preparation for our sunrise bird watching walk.
The trip having just begun, I’m sure there will be more to share in in this column. Until then, as they say down here, “Pura Vida,” which translated means, “Life is a Period.”