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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Costa Rica

We have been trekking through Costa Rica, a lush and spectacular country. We arrived in San Jose, stayed one night, and the next morning traveled for five hours by buses and boats to remote Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast. It did not rain a single day during our three-day stay, a miracle in the rainy season.

On an expedition through the canals of Tortuguero we saw white-faced monkeys, spider monkeys, two sloths, crocodiles slicing through the muddy water, baby blue herons, howler monkeys, toucans, caimans, small, shy turtles on logs, and half-a-dozen iguanas. Laura, Aaron, and Isaac have been enthralled by the stunning variety of nature on this isthmus, and so have I.

Our second night in Tortuguero, we joined another eco-expedition to witness the giant sea turtles laying and burying their eggs and dragging their massive bodies, the size of Smart cars, back to the sea. In the pitch black, our guide, Carla, told us last year jaguars had eaten about 200 of these sea turtles, the flippers and the heads, and abandoned the bodies in their shells on the beach. As we walked through the jungle in the darkness, with only the guide’s small light ahead of us, I wondered what it would be like to be eaten by a jaguar.

The next leg of our trip was to Arenal, and we flew from Tortuguero in an Australian single-propeller plane. That was an experience. The plane barely seated seven people and their luggage, and I was in the co-pilot’s seat. We flew over mountains to get back to San Jose, the ride was smooth, and I was as fascinated by the busy panel of instruments as by the breathtaking 360-degree view of eastern Costa Rica.

After traveling on more rough, winding roads for hours, we arrived in La Fortuna, to the Hotel Nayara. Our room overlooks the Arenal Volcano, has hot water and a Jacuzzi, Internet service, which is how I can write this blog, and air conditioning. The kids: “Can we build a house just like this hotel?” I have also marveled at the construction details of this hotel: richly dark hardwood floors, an open air restaurant with friendly macaws and parrots, deliciously comfortable beds, rough-hewn exposed ceiling beams interlaced with bamboo. The Hotel Nayara is an oasis.

Yesterday we zip-lined over and through the rain forest canopy at the foot of the volcano, dangling hundreds of feet in the air on a cable, zooming through the forest from platform to platform, in the same moment terrified and thrilled.

The best was a zip-line of 760 meters (2490 feet, or eight football fields). At that moment, a cloud enveloped the forest as we stood on a platform next to the treetops. You couldn’t see the other side of the cable. The guides strapped us one at a time onto our pulley and harness, and when the line was clear and we were ready, pushed us into the white oblivion. Laura and the kids screamed with delight as they raced into the clouds. I felt like a giant cannon ball shooting through the whiteness. As openings appeared in the clouds, I marveled at the forest below and how lucky I was to have said yes to this experience.

Last night we visited the closest observation point for the Arenal Volcano. In the evening, strips of lava dribbled down the mountainside, the volcano continuously smoking. In 1968, the volcano had a massive eruption, devastated six square miles of land in minutes, and 78 people died. The last major eruption was in 2000, with minor eruptions occurring as recently as last year. Why are we fascinated by this awesome power? I have been to the volcanoes in Hawaii, and Arenal, perhaps because it is younger, pointier, and closer to human habitation, is as beguilingly ominous.

Next we travel to the beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Ocean. I can’t wait for that adventure.

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