While in the car, I glance down at the Costa Rica real estate magazine on my lap and marvel at the homes listed. Clay colored tile roofs, spacious bright rooms, and nymphs dancing on fountains in the middle of circular driveways. I turn the page and see a home with an infinity edge pool that looks like it’s cascading into the ocean view. I can’t afford any of these homes, but it will be fun to walk through their open houses and imagine a white gloved butler pouring me a Cosmopolitan while I work on my tan. This daydream stops short when Rob pulls the car over on a dirt road. He parks in front of a field that leads up into a densely wooded mountain. There are no infinity pools in site.
Martin tells us the entire stretch of land is for sale; forty acres of forest situated on a steep incline. There is a spectacular panoramic ocean view only visible at the tippy top. This seems pleasant enough information, and I am waiting for Rob to start the car again and take me to the spectacular mansion that surely waits. Instead, both Rob and Martin get out of the car, go into the trunk, and take out three pairs of black galoshes. I put down my magazine. “What are you doing?”
“Hey… why don’t we hike up the mountain and see what the view looks like at the top?” Rob answers. “It can’t be more than a mile.” He backs away and avoids making direct eye contact. His strategy when dealing with his wife is strikingly similar with how to avoid a bear attack.
It’s clear why he is worried asking me this. My last cardiovascular activity occurred around 1998 when the sewer pipe exploded in the basement, causing raw sewage from the street to back into my house. I was on a three-hour bucket brigade, running back and forth from the backyard to the basement before reinforcements came and installed a new pipe. It was an incredible workout, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to burn calories and/or flirt with Hepatitis A. Since then, I’ve become happily sedentary, not performing any exercise that would pump my heart to any level of physical exertion. Other than the tachycardia sewage crisis, my heart has always officially beaten a steady rhythm of eighty beats per minute, the perfect zone for eating a bag of potato chips while reading real estate magazines. Precisely what I was doing before we pulled the car over.
The plan is to hike up the mountain, through dense vegetation, along an ambiguously marked path. I am not sure why Rob is willing to do this. “Maybe it’s a good opportunity,” he says. I think it is more like a good opportunity to get lost in the woods for six hours. The whole idea is crazy, but I don’t have much choice. When I consider my fate sitting alone along the side of a deserted road versus contracting malaria while searching for my husband’s “good opportunity,” a mosquito-borne illness doesn’t sound that bad.
Martin hands me my galoshes. I kick off my flip-flops and try on the pair of boots, only to find they are two sizes too big. To make matters worse, it’s raining, and I don’t have any rain gear except my travel-sized pink umbrella. I think back to the man on the plane wearing his all-weather hat and conclude I was a little hard on the guy. I unfold the umbrella, which provides a measly twelve square inches of coverage, making my Lilliputian purchase look more like a paper parasol garnish for a Bahama Mama cocktail. I lock my umbrella into place, and the metal frame rips through the top of the fabric, channeling rain directly onto the top of my head.
Martin goes first, then Rob, then me. Every time Rob walks past a plant, it snaps back like a taut rubber band at my head. On account of already being wet, I fold my umbrella and attempt to use it as a weapon against the vegetative onslaught. When the next branch springs toward my face, I hold up my umbrella for the pre-emptive block. The force of the branch smacking against my umbrella slingshots bugs, spores, and other forms of life into my face. A sticky cobweb now covers my mouth.
Slightly dazed and already confused, I follow my team and end up at the edge of a fast flowing river. Martin pauses, looks around the riverbanks, and walks straight through to the other side. I start to take off my galoshes, but he advises me to leave them on. He must have read the same article I did on river borne diseases in Costa Rica. I march through; however, the water quickly fills my galoshes, weighing them down like heavy sandbags. The water is now up to my thighs, and I am dragging my feet inch by inch to the other side. Once there, I empty my boots and find a crayfish; I toss him back into the river and watch him swim away.
We walk farther into the forest, my feet slipping and sliding as we go. I try to take another step, but my back leg is stuck in mud. I pull on my leg, but my foot leaves the boot, consequently stepping forward into a warm, muddy mass that squashes between my wet toes. My first impression is this feels pretty good. However, this soon turns into alarm as it becomes clear, by the warmth and the pungent smell, this is no ordinary pile of mud. I have no choice but to stick my stinky foot back into the boot and call out to my husband. “Rob, I think I stepped in…”
“What?” Rob yells as he keeps walking.
“I think I stepped in a pile of…”
“I still can’t hear you.”
“I think I stepped in a pile of shi……holy shit.”
Martin stops short, and Rob bumps into him, causing me to crash into Rob. We are in the middle of a grassy clearing, equal distance from the forest behind us to the forest ahead of us. In the center are four bulls, big bulls, with sharpened horns perfect for gouging the awry traveler. I have literally stepped in a pile of bullshit.
I’ve never been this close to a bull before. They remain so still that for a moment I think they might be statues. That is until I see one of them flick a fly away with its tail. I decide that being so close to the bulls makes me equivalent to a rodeo clown. Only, I don’t have a barrel to hide in.
“Maybe we should back up slowly. We can keep an eye on them that way. Do you think that’s a good idea?” I whisper so as not to disturb even the tiniest gnats flying around their heads.
“I don’t know, but I’m getting the hell out of here,” yells Martin. He races through the clearing and disappears into the rainforest. Rob grabs my hand, and we both start running in the same direction. I toss my pink umbrella so that it doesn’t provoke the bull like the red flag of a matador. We make it to the forest and find Martin hiding behind a tree. All three of us are gasping for air.
“I didn’t know they would be there,” pants Martin. His less than courageous actions have left me with little hope that the realtor can get us off this mountain. Nevertheless, we can see that the top is only a couple hundred feet away, so we carry on as if this ridiculous incident never occurred.
Once at the top, we are rewarded with a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean. I find a rock to stand on and video tape the scenery. Martin starts his spiel about the potential for this property, and Rob is already running the numbers through his head. “If we charge one hundred thousand dollars a lot, times forty lots…that’s like…that’s like… a lot of money! We’re going to be rich.” I let Rob have his moment. I know he is smart enough to figure out that we are in the middle of nowhere and don’t have a clue how to develop this land. My husband, with his sense of direction, wouldn’t even be able to find this place again.
After we’re done, we start the hike back down the mountain. We come across a large cactus, approximately thirty feet tall with each green stem about a foot in width. It seems oddly out of place in this rainy jungle environment. The five-inch long thorns poke straight out and are thick as porcupine quills. Rob stops in front of it and starts to poke at the green waxy stems in between the thorns.
“Hey guys look at this,”Rob says.
“I don’t think you should be touching that,” I warn.
“This feels soooo cool,” he replies. It’s common for Rob to touch things and then eventually break the things he has just touched. I have seen the man shatter a priceless crystal wine glass after knocking it into someone’s soup bowl at a dinner party. Once, at our neighbor Matt’s house, Rob attempted to warm his feet by the new fireplace. However, he didn’t see the closed glass doors because our obsessive-compulsive neighbor impeccably polished them. When Rob reached his foot toward the fire, he inadvertently pressed his sock-covered toe to the hot fireplace door, causing the fabric to burn and stick to the glass. No matter how much Matt tried to clean the scorched blemish, the impression of Rob’s big toe remained plainly visible: a permanent fossil for future generations to behold. So I can get a little jumpy when I see my husband poking a cactus.
He continues, but on his last poke, I hear a faint buzzing sound. “Shhhhh,” I call out. Rob ignores me and keeps poking. “Seriously, stop it. Can’t you hear that?”
“I don’t hear anything. Lighten up and have some fun.” But after his last poke, Rob pauses. We both hear a heavy buzzing coming from deep inside the thick green stem. We look up, and out from a crack shoots a darkness that develops into a villainous shadow above us.
“What is that?” I holler to Rob.
“I think it’s a swarm of wasps.”
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know, but I’m getting the hell out of here,” Martin yells. He takes off for the second time, disappearing into the brush. Rob grabs my hand and drags me down the mountain. My other arm flails widely around as I swat away the wasps; their synchronized buzzing resembles a high voltage electrical wire. Rob zigzags as if dodging bullets, but the wasps spot us at every turn. We finally outrun them and find Martin, not surprisingly, hiding behind a tree.
We are busy pulling twigs and leaves out of our hair when Martin reveals we are lost. We ran off the path, and he is unsure where we are. Our plan is to keep going down the mountain and find the same river we crossed an hour ago. If we continue past it, we should eventually find our parked car on the dirt road.
After thirty minutes, we approach a river, but it is not at the same place we crossed before and is much deeper. Unlike the last time, Martin doesn’t look so eager to cross. He paces back and forth along the bank and scratches his head nervously.
“What’s the problem?” I ask. “Can’t you swim?”
“I can swim, but… ah… the water is deeper here, and I am a little concerned about crocodiles. Before, the river was shallow, and I wasn’t too worried, but this is deep, and they can be anywhere.” My blood pressure starts to surge. My husband looks at my reddening face and takes a couple steps back. I am about to attack.
“Okay, let’s go over what both of you have put me through. I stepped barefoot in bullshit, which is still in between my toes. I ran up a mountain to get away from four bulls only to be chased back down the mountain by an army of wasps. So now I have to go back through a river I had already crossed, with the ever present fear of contracting a parasite, at a place where crocodiles could be waiting to eat me?”
“Hmm… yes… that’s what I am suggesting,” Martin mumbles.
In an anxious attempt to prove to me we are not in danger, Rob dashes into the river. The water quickly rises, climbing up to his neck, then his chin, and now over his mouth. He reaches his arms straight up holding the camcorder above his head. It reminds me of the scene in The African Queen when Humphrey Bogart’s character gets out of his boat and drags it through a leech-filled swamp. Rob continues, holding his breath, walking until the water slowly recedes and I can finally see the back of his head again. He makes it out alive with a functioning camcorder and a leech-free body.
“It’s under control. I’ll help you get across,” Rob says while wiping river gunk out of his eyes. But I don’t need Rob’s help because Martin and I find a shallow spot only six feet away, and it takes no time to join Rob on the other side.
“So should we put a bid in on this one?” Martin suggests.
I want to strangle him and throw him back into the water.
We gather ourselves and continue hiking down the mountain. I take one last look at the river and see something make a large splash. I don’t bother telling the others, convincing myself it’s just a really big fish. By the time we make it to the road, we are a half mile away from our parked car. The realtor, cheery and upbeat, now wants to show us a townhouse for sale. I am soaked through and look like someone who was just rescued from the jungle after a long and agonizing fight for survival.
I climb in the car and fasten my seat belt, wondering why we couldn’t have looked at the townhouse first.