So last week I went to a wedding in Costa Rica. A friend from university left her Canadian home to live and work in CR, and is now an executive director at a high-end resort called Los Suenos. She’s about to turn 32, my age; we went to Queen’s University together.
Los Suenos turned out to be a gated resort-community that encompasses a marina, a golf course, a Marriott Hotel, and several condominimum complexes that are leased or sold by different real estate companies. Set in paradise. Roads twist through Los Suenos and if you don’t have a car you can rent a golf cart, which is what I did, pedal to the metal and the cart zips along. One night I drove it out of the resort and down the road to a beachfront restaurant, ignoring the catcalls, where I parallel-parked it against some shrubbery.
The nearby town is called Jaco: small, lively, full of surf shops. A group of us went to a restaurant called the Wishbone and piled in a cab to come home. Speeding along a dark road in the rain, very narrowly missing pedestrians, and that’s when you realize the seatbelts don’t work, so you smile a fatalistic smile and give yourself over to the smooth high pleasure of the ride. Makeshift houses slip by in the half-dark, different degrees of poverty, before the brightly lit sign announces LOS SUENOS and the guard in the booth at the gate waves you into this otherworld, this country-within-a-country, of wealthy Americans (Floridians and Texans and their golf, their yachting and sportfishing).
We also visited a bar that doubles as a brothel: looks like just a regular open-air bar, cheap plastic tables and bartenders dishing out beers to fratboys or the fathers of fratboys. Except for all the brown-skinned women sitting quietly along one half of the room, perched on their stools, watching and waiting, while everybody else (mostly male, mostly white) occupies the other half, stands around in groups and drinks and talks and laughs and listens to music. The main bar extends partly through the center of the room and serves as a line to be crossed. Or not.
Went on a crocodile tour: the slim smiling guide calls our attention to a line of leathery nubs, like little fins, cutting silently through the water. The guide anchors the boat and jumps into the muddy bank, holds up a small dead chicken, smooth and pale and plucked, and slaps the water with it, again and again, a sharp rhythmic sound that seems very loud in that lush green brackish world, white egrets looking on, swallows darting round the boat, as a man summons a beast. That half-glimpsed shape in the water slowly turns, comes towards us: water rippling out from those tips of leathery hide. The guide coaxes him up onto the muddy bank and the animal reveals like a secret: eight feet long, god knows how many hundreds of pounds, body arching up, jaws unhinging, and he snaps at the bird as our guide lets it go. And slips back into the ooze. Moments later, we see him again, his head abruptly breaking surface as he jerks the bird down into his throat.
I also went on a hike in the rainforest and acquired patches of sunburn on a (truly beautiful) beach, thanks to careless application of SPF. White-faced monkeys hung out in the trees, and a creature who seemed half-anteater, half-raccoon, waddled across the trail and onto the beach, as cavalier about the nearness of humans as if it was someone’s pet, someone’s dog.
Reunited with people I had not seen in years. This was bittersweet. There are moments when you can’t help but come face to face with a kind of loss, be it time or youth or intimacy or d) all of the above. These people who were centerstage in your life, and you were centerstage in theirs, and now ten years later — a blink of an eye later — you’re reduced to little more than casual acquaintances drinking together and feeling the awkward silences. Of course you’re going to grow apart — not everybody is going to grow in the same direction, and growth itself is a necessary and healthy thing. People move out of your life, and other people move in, and you’re richer for all of it. But still, I couldn’t quite shake this bit of free-floating sadness, dislocation, as I felt myself at the very fringes of my once-best-friend’s life. Even as I was very glad to be there and thrilled for my friend. Who has, at 32, found a good man and made for herself a life that none of us, at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario all those years ago, would quite have predicted for her.