KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 8: August 2017
Flash Fiction: 885 words

Pura Vida: An Alternative Travel Guide

by Tim Hawkins

Part of a dense and varied isthmus, riotous, overgrown with lianas, epiphytes, and creeping vines; verdant, lush, and fragrant in absurd amounts, seemingly as tall as wide, Costa Rica’s mountains push a fertile volcanic soil toward the sky. Each voracious caress by sun and rain brings forth a teeming splendor from the earth, where heaving native rock is overthrown by bounding thickets of rebirth and decay.

The children of other continents, who attempted to settle the land, trekked upward into dark cloud forest, cutting, cleaving, and hacking as they went, through rot and fungus, amid strange screaming sounds, laden like oxen with brutally heavy loads, wary of stinging insects, venomous snakes, and marauding jungle cats; dripping with humid perspiration, dying in childbirth, dying of infected wounds, dying of malaria and other tropical fevers, dying of loneliness and fear.

You can meet the descendants of these rugged settlers in every town. Santa Maria de Dota lies in a high valley of the Cordillera de Talamanca. Renowned for its coffee, breathtaking vistas, and abundance of fauna, the village’s iconic church is found near the cemetery where ten-year-old Asunción Castro has thrown himself sobbing onto his mother’s grave and fallen into a deep and haunted sleep. Nobody dares move him for days, through wind and sun and rain. In these latitudes, Asunción survives the exposure, but staggers home to his sisters a vastly different boy.

You may have heard the story of Chito the Crocodile Man, a fisherman from Siquirres, who kisses, embraces, swims, and sleeps with a crocodile he nursed back to health. Do not, under any circumstance, be tempted to try this.

But do make sure to visit San Antonio de Escazú, where the vaquero Don Miguel wears his señora’s clothing to the fiesta de boyero. Five long years have passed since Doña Carmen paused to catch her breath in the doorway, collapsing there amid a clattering armload of sticks, and today he wears her white cotton dress with blue trim to the running of the bulls. He won’t ever stop wearing her garments, he says, until his dust is mingled with hers.

Is it any wonder that strange personages occasionally visit these latitudes, leaving only unrecorded observations and perfectly round pre-Colombian spheres? You might understand if a stranger looks away into the sun, before waving goodbye with arms that grow thinner each passing year.

Forgive me if you already know this, but the golden toad once inhabited the elfin cloud forest of Monteverde, especially along a cold wet ridge called Brillante. They laid their eggs in rainwater pools among tree roots and bromeliads. The last documented sighting occurred in 1989.

Anyway, don’t forget to visit the central plaza of Guapiles, where Mariela de los Angeles accompanies her favorite uncle who likes to buy her dresses and confites. On a hot afternoon, she waits with pleasant anticipation as he buys them a cold drink of pipa served with straws in a plastic bag. Popular, confident, and smiling, he greets those he knows by name, pausing to chat before disappearing from sight, cut down by the machete of a drunken friend.

Mariela steals away in silence before the gathering crowd can confirm what she already knows. On the way to her village, fish from the cold mountain stream clean the granos from Mariela’s feet, as her tears dry in the dust of her cheeks. Two of her younger brothers patiently wait, kicking a makeshift ball while she tries to call a yigüirro down from the mango tree where it looks to flush a singular worm from the globes of dense orange fruit.

Unsuccessful, though laden with mangoes, the three hike back to the mountain, leaving behind the distant memory of gathering crowds. At the last turnoff, before gravel gives way to mud, then narrows into well-worn jungle path, they are joined by three writhing snakes and a dead horse burning on the side of the road.

When they arrive at the gossip of the cooking fires, a cousin in the next village is said to have been devoured by a feral sow, and the baby, Juan Carlos, has died of worms. They say nothing with respect to their uncle. What, after all, is there to say?

Consumed by the humid fullness of the rain forest and the tropical night, is it any wonder that spirits of jaguars and departed souls are regularly encountered? Is it any wonder that strange personages occasionally visit these latitudes, leaving only unrecorded observations and perfectly round pre-Colombian spheres?

Forgive me if you already know this: The forest floor is composed of distinct levels of decomposition merging into one indistinguishable mass—immutable terror, the acid adrenaline of shock, unearthed regret, and final insect entitlement, stripped of embellishment, stripped to the bone.

Next time I will tell you more about the few remaining original inhabitants. But for now, tales of the settlers whose blood mingled with theirs will have to suffice. You told me you sought an authentic Central American vacation experience. Forgive me for pointing this out with arms that grow thinner each passing year, but the golden toad is gone, while the dead horse burns along the roadside as the worm turns just out of reach of the national bird in the mango’s sweet orange flesh.

Tim Hawkins
Issue 8, August 2017

has lived and traveled widely throughout the Americas and Southeast Asia, where he has worked as a journalist, technical writer, and teacher in international schools. He currently lives in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. His writing has appeared in more than two dozen print and online publications. In 2012, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his first collection, Wanderings at Deadline, was published by Aldrich Press.

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