I think it was the howler monkeys that started it, in the charcoal wetness of the not-quite morning. Or maybe the surf that my still-displaced mind translated as thunder. The other musicians joined quickly, adding their voices at first one by one, then in floods of song and percussion: a Messiaenic symphony welcoming the sun that couldn’t be seen through the clouds. The rain wouldn’t last long – soon the clouds were thinning and the foliage sparkling.
I am thinking of those poor missionaries – the God-fearing white folk arriving in the middle of this luxuriance. I see them stalking the fortresses of their beliefs, checking for loopholes, strengthening the taboos, cranking up the fear. Fear – separating them, their ancestors and the minds and bodies of the people they infiltrated, from this sweet, sticky, unavoidably exuberant Life on the Caribbean coast.
Aieeee, those poor pale people, clutching their endangered piety like a shield against what must have seemed an impenetrable chaos. They did their best to bring order to this place – an order that still resonates in the bones and bellies and beliefs of the people I touch here. Like the corpses that create the coral reefs, sharp and deadly dangerous, it still holds pools of ebbing and flowing Life.
I am asked to help a family clear their property of the various spirits that have been making their lives uncomfortable, stomping around and turning on lights at night, closing doors, locking people in rooms and showing up, huge and headless, to scare the bejeezus out of everyone. The family members believe that a curse has been put on them by the ex-wife of the lover, now husband, of one of the sisters – I think I have that right….
I have encountered many in the rest of this country concerned with spirits and spells, but here there seems to be much more than mere worry; protective talismans can be seen on the windows and/or doors of most homes, businesses and cars, and are often worn around people’s necks. I imagine there might be a correlation between feeling overwhelmed by the natural world – in the desert of N.Africa, the harsh rockiness of the Cornish moors, the desolation of the Canadian Shield, for example – and the desire to enslave and manipulate the energies of nature for one’s own designs. ( I am talking about sorcery, not multinationals !) The life force is so strong here. Aside from the powers of sun, sea and wind, devas, elementals and many other strata of existence cohabit an uneasy peace. A fellow in the mountains is building a pyramid to attract and welcome the off-planet visitors often seen here.
Costa Rica attracts healers, channelers, shamans, clairvoyants and visionaries of all sorts. The absolute best of the evolving world of peace and sustainability – of caring for the Earth and her denizens – is also found here. The furthest edge of this movement has landed on the Atlantic coast, along with alcohol, drugs and the other strange but habitual bedfellows of creativity and marginal existence. The casual greeting of the local black culture is “How’re you doin’ ?” “Survivin’…” Europeans and anti-Americans gather on this side of the country, relegating the Pacific to the parts of Tico society that identify with the American dream and its dank underbelly.
I am told that there is a recurring story so common that the script can be predicted with 99% accuracy. The short, hard outline goes like this: A foreign woman arrives in Puerto Viejo and falls in love with a local black man who makes her feel like a woman for the first time in her life. She hangs around, domesticated, for a while, getting pregnant in the meantime. He leaves her for someone else. She returns home with the baby. Local women often unapologetically have several children with different foreign men. There are a very many beautiful, strong, older single women here; western women past the age of childbearing seem easily entranced by the power of the feminine energies of this part of the world – the same energies that so frightened the first good Christians. Baptists and Seventh Day Adventists in particular have staked this territory as fertile ground for their messages of salvation. Someone offered a casual estimate of 10,000 as the number of babies conceived here through foreign men and women. It was a subjective and emotional calculation, to be sure, but everyone knows that Costa Rica is a true Ark of biodiversity. This is just another aspect of it. Genetic material floats in on the tide, is blown across the land in hurricanes and bird droppings and sometimes arrives in shiny metal flying machines.
I watch the temperature read-out on the bus rise to 35 degrees C before the rain starts and we begin the ascent through the cloud forest of Braulio Carillio, returning to the cooler Central Plateau. The trip inland from the Caribbean was forbidden to the blacks of the coast until the late 1940’s; the short-lived Costa Rican Civil War was won by Jose Figueres who changed this law, granted blacks and women the right to vote and abolished the Army…
I can understand how hikers get lost and never found in this transition region: the jungle, curving and undulating its wildness just beyond the more modern dangers of the highway carved through it, does not feel inviting. I feel an almost ominous presence warning off human intrusion. Legends say that there are entrances to tunnels in these jungles – tunnels that lead up to the Four Corners area of the U.S.. A river here is named “Toro Amarillo”, I am told, because there are still people alive who remember their grandparents’ stories of American bison in the area. The Hopi say they come from Central and S. America, getting to Hopiland through tunnels where they fled to escape people who were attacking them; for this reason, seashells and the feathers of tropical birds are sacred to them as reminders of Home.
Veils of lies and fuzzy truths are falling away. In these prophesied times all stones will be overturned, closets opened wide and buried treasure unearthed. There is so much more to this world than what we think we know…