Our first visitors to join us in Costa Rica were my coworkers and dear friends, Ann and Kristin.
These women are excellent guests: Not only do they make good choices in their duty-free booze shopping, Ann hauled a five-pound bag of gummy bears all the way from Chicago. (“You said you couldn’t get them here!”) They’re agreeable travelers, and funny as all get out. Ann’s signature comment of the trip was, “I’m helping by staying out of the way.” We spent considerable time annoying one another with song, principally by yell-singing Paula Cole’s 1996 hit “I Don’t Want to Wait.”
“If I never hear that song again,” Andy said (a day or two after our guests left but the song was still very much stuck in my head), “it will be too soon.”
The gals’ only original request was that we see sloths, so over the weekend we road-tripped from Turrialba to a jungle house on the Caribbean coast, not far from Puerto Viejo and the sloth sanctuary. When Kristin learned that howler monkeys will sometimes (and with startling accuracy) urinate on humans when agitated by their presence, she added “getting peed on by a howler monkey” to her short list of goals.
We swam in in the ocean, wore out the dogs, made dinner, drank margaritas, window-shopped, read in hammocks. Ann knitted a baby sweater while Kristin and I played canasta. It was proving a relaxing beach vacation until some small vampire, an ant or a spider, bit Andy on the toe. He gets bitten all the time — 9 out of 10 bloodsucking insects agree; Andy tastes grrrrrreat! — so I didn’t think much of it at first. Then he pushed his plate of tacos away and announced he didn’t feel like eating; he was going to go shower. That’s when I knew something was wrong.
Andy has never rejected a taco.
He peeled off his shirt to reveal that he was covered in hives. His ears felt funny, he said. His eyes were watering. I grabbed the car keys and white-knuckled it to the nearest open Farmacia, where the pharmacist tried to sell me Allegra because Benadryl would make him drowsy. “Benadryl,” I insisted. She rolled her eyes.
The pink pills worked their magical magic almost immediately. Andy passed out. I told Ann and Kristin that was the worst drive ever — I’d had difficulty finding the Farmacia, and was pushing away thoughts of Andy’s throat closing up when he was miles from a doctor and I’d taken the car, too frantic to consider that I should have told him to get out of the shower and taken him with me.
“We were prepared to do a tracheotomy,” Ann reassured me.
The next morning, we awoke before sunrise to the other-worldly racket of howler monkeys nearby. Andy was much better but still drowsy, but Ann and Kristin hopped out of bed and we sped out in pursuit, three braless women in search of monkeys. (This has to be someone’s fetish, we concluded.)
We found the monos high in a tree behind a neighboring hotel — too far to photograph but plenty close to marvel at their spooky, smoke-monster-from-Lost vocalizations. Howlers are fairly small, harmless vegetarians, but as Ann noted, if you didn’t know that and heard one for the first time, you’d think you were about to die. They’re the loudest land animals on our planet — a hollow acoustic chamber in the back of their throat serves as a sort of bullhorn that makes their roar louder than a lion’s. They are incredible.
We did not get peed on.
The sloth sanctuary was a mixed bag. There were sloths, of course, so it had that going for it.
But we were irritated by the tour guide, who was overly fond of figurative language despite a marvelous inability to construct a tenable metaphor. (“Imagine you are a lady sloth, and you are trying to find a date, but the harpy eagle keeps eating all the eligible bachelors by imitating your mating call. So you tell the male: our date is for tonight … but come tomorrow. She arranges the date for tonight, but tells him to come the next day, you understand? Then, when that stops working, she tells him the date is for tonight, but to come next week.”) He loved both the sound of his own voice and knowing more about sloths than you. We did not learn much about sloths.
But we enjoyed the boat-ride segment afterwards, where our Tico guide pointed out another monkey, a couple more sloths in the wild, and a small alligator camouflaged in the mud.
Poor Ann was sick with a cold the next morning, so she skipped the surf lesson. Andy, Kristin and I met up with Jermaine, a local surf instructor who taught us the “chicken wing” technique for popping up on the board. Andy had surfed once before; it was my and Kristin’s first time. They were both measurably better than me, although I finally stood up once for a few seconds — long enough to realize how fun it could be once you get a feel for it. Our muscles were sore for a couple days.
Back in Turrialba, Kristin and I worked in the UCR biblioteca, and Andy and Ann took a coffee tour, which they loved. Ann claims to now know much more about coffee than she does about sloths. On the gals’ last night, we drove them to Hotel Aeropuerto and enjoyed a far better steak dinner than one might expect from a restaurant at a place named “Hotel Aeropuerto.” We couldn’t finish the huge portions, but Penny and Theda helped, by busting down the dog grate in the back of the Subaru and dispatching the contents of the to-go box with admirable stealth.
It was only a little sad to say goodbye, since I was about to see them again for a work trip to San Francisco. I’ll also get in some drinks with friends, a dental cleaning, and some direly needed baby niece time (yeah yeah, and see the rest of the family). Andy and the puppies are on their own in the hills for eight days. Will they be able to avoid a trip to the vet? Stay tuned!