Mangeot of the Nordlands is my floppy-hat wearing, perma-addled, globe-trekking alter ego. His is a thirst for the strange marrow of new lands and their cocktails. He is well-meaning and gets to live my best life.
We make the Ninth Parallel at Costa Rica. It is the rainy season, and by afternoon our party is drinking Rhum cocteles. A fine fellow named Errol arranges the bar service and sees to our baggage. His ceviche is good and true and his bar is clean but for the grackles who angle to steal my cassava chips. From the valley a macaw cries the invitation to press onward. “When does the rain break?” I ask Errol. With great solemnity he studies the misted clouds flowing over the mountains from the inland forest. “December,” he says.
The rains do not abate. Neither do the raccoons. From dusk through the night, the beasts probe the latches and doors of our lodgings. Randolfo says we must guard our luncheon and the mini-bar from their thieving paws. We place locks and a guard and wait as the rains rain steady and true. Prevented from inland explorations, we catalogue the base camp’s various species of iguana and Assorted Lizardry and coconuts and also the Rhum varieties. Randolfo serves me a Rhum drink of fiendish red made apparently from beet root. I ask him where he obtained the beets. “Pura Vida,” Randolfo says, as he does. It is his phrase that seems to fit all contexts. We drink and I taste the guts and truth of beet and we are thankful the rains keep the raccoons Mostly at Bay.
Jairo knew where to find the Howler Monkeys. We set out at eight past the meridian, after a plate of spotted rooster. First light is not our party’s custom. Immediately we plunge off the Hole Number Seven fairway and into a mud-bottomed rainforest. Jairo says to watch for fire ants, which I had, and he says to watch for scorpions, which I had not considered. There are many birds and great spiders that eat those birds. Things of such size and teeth unnerve me unless they would switch to a scorpion diet, so I am less than on-guard when soon Jairo signals for us to stop. There is monkey sign on the trail. “Can you smell them?” Jairo asks me. “They stay here overnight.” “That’s fine,” I say, but it is not. I smell the bracing musk now. Indeed a monkey troop is high in the canopy. “I count four among them,” I say to Jairo. “There are eighteen,” he says. I nod. This is what happens when field studies start before lunch. We attempt to befriend the howlers, but they are a stubborn troop and scarcely twitch for us. By afternoon we are at the bar having nachos costarricense and Rhum cocteles that smell somehow of wet and feckless monkey.
There are whispers among los locales that the Scarlet Macaws have their hatchery deep in the forested hills. We go at once, after the mid-day coladas. Soon we run out of asphalt road and soon too ends the rutted dirt track. We reach a gloomy crossroads, and Miguel will take us no further. “I see no Macaws,” I say, but already Miguel has left for the safety of the lodge. We shoulder our sacks and plunge into the woods. For a time there is only mud and vines but soon we feel beady eyes upon us. With a great cry a macaw flutters off from its almond tree. A scout? We follow its bearing through the forest. There are many insects and all of them seek a pound of my flesh. We press on, on, on past ferns and poor man’s umbrella and the very moorings of my being. Soon we spot a band of Scarlets above us. They cry a greeting or perhaps the alarm. In a short distance we come upon their clearing, a Whole Host of Scarlets ready to feed. Fortunately, there is feed available and a clever locale to feed them and we sit and learn the Macaw ways while they dine. We part as Friends to the Macaws, of at least Unbitten by their razor beaks. Later in honor of our success Miguel presents me his coctele muy especial—El Morito. It is a Rhum drink only more so. “Why am I just now learning of this?” I ask Miguel. He shakes his head. “You do not choose El Morito, amigo. El Morito chooses you.” I accept the coctele and we drink to the Macaws in their hillside roost.
30 September — Final Entry
We have catalogued nearly a square mile of rainy Guanacaste forest. We have well-met friends and many among the birds. The time has come to return with our chronicle of species and Rhum, the embers of Morito deep in my soul and equally deep upon my head. We bid goodbye though not farewell and take our leave over the canyon.