On board the final leg of my trip home. Here are some more recollections of the trip along the river between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, in no particular order.
There are vultures in the bank. Flocks of them. They stand around a carcass or what's left of one, like workers waiting at Home Depot for their day's work. The rib cage of whatever fell there for the last time rises in such perfect symmetry on the otherwise chaotic shoreline that it could be a scale model of the Sydney Opera House. Only, this is the architecture of death.
My headphones pound the rhythms of Paul Simon into my head as the boat abruptly comes up short. Our driver has pulled back hard on the two throttles. As I look forward, I see people piling to one side of the boat. I'm missing something. And, as it turns out the something is about 12 feet long and covered in body armour, a crocodile. The thing looks like a sand sculpture, or more accurately a mud sculpture. Cameras click like the strafing sounds we used to make as kids to emulate machine gun fire. It is motionless. Someone shouts, the closed eyes stay closed. Our driver maneuvers the boat closer. I remember some vague shadow of some documentary probably narrated by Sir David Attenborough, whom I have been imitating all week, about crocodiles sensing water vibration. So I stupidly put my hand in the water and splash frantically. It is motionless still. Someone asks if its dead and I propose aloud that its sides are not moving with its respiration. Rob, one of the doctors tells us that these things breathe by moving their livers rather than using a diaphragm. Its not giving us any clues other than the fact it isn't bloated or particularly smelly. And I ponder, for a moment how stealthy this intellectually lightweight reptile is. Minutes go by and just as we are getting bored something annoys the thing enough that it lifts its massive head and turns to face us, and eventually slips into the water with hardly a sound. A magnificent killing machine.
The boat lurches and one of the engines screams as though it is running in mid air. And that's because it is. Our driver goes to the back of the boat, I ask, 'esta bien?' He nonchalantly answers 'si'. He was lying. We keep going but he's clearly not happy. My thoughts of a warm shower at the Wyndham, our supposed destination, vanish. Houses continue to go past. We are making headway, but just barely. Stairs trundle down to the river, all unique, but each with only subtle differences. I notice them, though I could never describe them. Suddenly we are aiming at one of the random stairways, at the top of it stands a man and a young boy. We dock at the base of his stairs and I realize that our driver knows this random man on this otherwise unmarked stairway is actually a boat mechanic. What luck. We are boarded by two or three men who tinker a while... the engine running in mid air has become stuck in the up position, which won't do at all. Looking at the mud near the dock I see a quick, lanky bright green lizard. It is skipping along almost like its not touching the ground at all. A basilisk lizard, aka Jesus Christ lizard because it can literally run on the surface of water. I climb the stairs in the hopes that the wooden shack I see with the red spray paint that reads 'no fumar' (no smoking) is a toilet. Its not. But at the top of the stairs I see one next to a small general store there. By the time I return, the boat is fixed and we are on our way.
Rain. It is a rainforest after all. Sheets of it are streaming down. The boat is a longboat which means it is incredibly narrow, I would guess it is fifty feet long, with two seats on one side and one on another. The entire length is covered by a roof. The sides are open with rolled up vinyl panels that are meant to protect us from the rain. Trouble is, as we've been told, we can't only drop one panel here or one there. Its aerodynamically impossible without ripping the panels off at full speed. One of those all or nothing designs. We opt to leave them open and live with the blowing rain, it is only water. I secretly wonder after experiencing the impossibly damp air that refuses to dry wet clothing. Mildew is what I'm thinking. As abruptly as it started, it stops. The river water is glass again.
A massive beast of a machine on the water is tied to the bank. It looks like something described in an apocalyptic story. A huge drill bit, spiraled jaws twist to a point. It is a dredge. The men that normally grind and pump the sludge that is the river bottom are not dredging today. They are painting. The beast. There is no accounting for tastes so they use the ghastly combination of hot pink and lime green. Of course. Just the colors I would have picked for the aquatic Antichrist.
A ringed kingfisher flies by carrying a fish, making its already abnormally large head look even more abnormal.
There are children swimming in the water everywhere. There are crocodiles swimming in the water too, only we can't see nor hear them. I see a rope swing hanging down from a branch. It has a wooden seat that hovers motionless over the still water. I wonder if I've seen this in a Far Side comic, did the crocodiles hang it?
I'm barefoot as I sit side ways on the boat, almost lulled to sleep. I can't bring myself to shut my eyes however. What will I miss? The air is hot and damp when the boat crawls to a near stop as we thread the needle of a toppled tree in the middle of the river. Its roots tower over us. The engines are tilted up so the props flip the surface, beating the river like a marangue. Once we start moving again, the welcome breeze tricks us into believing there really is such a thing as autumn.
Two parrots, bright green bullets, shoot across the river and explode into a tree on the other side. These kinds of parrots never seem to glide. It's like they are always late for something. Perhaps green parrots are great procrastinators.
Mike, the dentist that has come to pull rotting Rama Indian teeth, and I see a ridge of spine in the water. It curves left to right and leads to the broad head of a small crocodile. Just below the surface, its tail ends about an inch offshore of a sandbar. The stepping stones to a road less traveled, or traveled by creatures that tell no tales.
There is a kind of tree there that has shoots that descend from the branches to the water. Maybe its a kind of mangrove. I don't know but I wonder as I look at them if there is one in some part of the rainforest that has made an entire wall of shoots all the way down...
Final approach now to Sacramento. While the air will make me believe in autumn again I will miss the sensory buffet that borders the river there. The humidity is stifling, but you get used to it. Its not an easy life, but it is beautiful. Next time I go there I want to move more slowly. I think I missed too much on this trip, being work, it was tied to the client's deadlines. I'm grateful for the gift of it still. It was one of the more rewarding productions I've been part of. Maybe the lesson in it was just that, move more slowly wherever I am. Or at least slowly enough to really see what is right in front of me.