I’d been warned, but I hadn’t listened.
In November, after several weeks of unrelentless rain, the clouds were suddenly swept away and replaced by blue sky. The jungle was lush and green and beautiful after so many months of rain, and the ocean shimmered in the bright sun.
I posted this picture, gleeful about the end of the rainy season.
Talk of the weather was on everyone’s lips, but we weren’t all saying the same things. The newbies – we were thrilled to begin the dry season. Months without rain! Without mosquitos! Perfect beach weather! But the locals knew better.
Sylvia is a kind Tica woman with a big laugh and a ready smile, and she cleans our house once a week. I give her a ride from her home, and that time in the car offers a chance to talk (when we can understand each others’ Spanish).
I remarked happily about the sun, but she responded with a sour expression. “No, I don’t like the dry season. Too dusty. Too brown.”
When we came back to Costa Rica in January after Christmas break in the States, I was amazed how much our area had changed. Plants that used to spread their green leaves out wide were now withering and coated in a thick layer of dust. Our water was cut off at some point each day to conserve supply. Dinner dishes lay unwashed in the sink overnight, attracting ants. Teeth were brushed with bottled water. Showers were delayed or missed.
All around town, dust hung in the air along with a new smell – the sickly sweet smell of molasses. In the dry season, local businesses pay a service to spread “miel,” a sugar substance, on the road in front of their buildings to keep down dust. The sugar bakes in the sun forming a crust on the road that will remain until the rains return. The dark, tar-like section of this road is actually fresh molasses.
I went for a run from our house to the beach on this road right after it had been coated in miel. My shoes made a slurping sound and threatened to stick to the ground. The smell of warm sugar made me suddenly want pancakes. And a fresh pair of shoes.
Terrible Guanacaste winds charged across the valley, stripping the brown leaves off our trees and keeping us up at night with its awful roar. Our once-green landscape began to look like winter to me – brown, leafless and dead. Homes we hadn’t even known were around us were suddenly exposed. Yes, the blue sky was gorgeous and the water sparkled, but in between the sky and sea, the land was lain bare to bake in the sun.
Unlike winter at home though, temperatures here began to rise into the 90s, with a heat index of 100 or more. Our home has air conditioning but it’s too expensive to turn on, so we sweat. And sweat. And sweat.
Dust coated everything, and I began to wear that same frown I’d seen on Sylvia at the start of the dry season. But I didn’t have it half as bad as she did. One day in the car, as I complained about the dust, she gave me new perspective.
Sylvia explained that the walls of her home do not reach the roof – there is a space between the top of the wall and the roof for ventilation. During the dry season, Sylvia sleeps with a sheet over her head. In the night, the dust floats in through that space under the roof and falls like snow, and she wakes every morning beneath a sheet covered in dust.
I stopped complaining, to Sylvia at least.
One day last week, Lee and I were startled awake in the night by a wholly unfamiliar sound. We held our breaths and listened until we finally recognized it – the sound of rain pounding on our tin roof. “Rain!” we both whispered, giddy at the thought of it.
Then another dry week went by, but I was holding out hope for Tuesday. The forecast called for 100% chance of rain. I’d never longed for rain so badly in my life.
When I awoke Tuesday morning, I scowled to see a blue sky. I knew I should’ve been grateful for my terrific view of the sparkling sea, but I wasn’t. It didn’t look like rain.
Sylvia came to our house Tuesday. She cleaned without water from the taps since we had none, using our pool water to fill her mop bucket. Lee and I were working at our computers when she suddenly began to speak of rain.
Sure enough, a huge gray cloud was marching across the mountain toward us. The air became thick and damp and instantly cooler. And then we heard the sound of rain pelting our roof. Like a gift.
As I drove Sylvia home, we were silent, but the car was not quiet. We were listening to the sound of the rain. Then at the same time, we began laughing. In front of us on the road were a man and woman on an ATV. The man sitting in back was shirtless, and he had his arms outstretched in a T. His head was lifted to the sky, as he positioned himself to expose as much skin as possible to the cleansing rain.
I wish I’d been at Camille’s school when the rain began. She was in English class, with the sliding glass doors open to the outside like always, when the rain began to pour down in sheets. Immediately, students flooded from every building into the central courtyard. Her teacher asked them to stay seated, but they begged and pleaded until she finally couldn’t contain them any longer. She gave them permission to join the throngs of other students outside. To dance in the rain. Camille says she ran circles around the soccer field, while other students stood underneath rain gutters to let the water pour over their heads.
My friend Anna happened to be at the school, and shared a few pictures of the rain dance.
After dropping Sylvia at her home, I stopped to take a picture. It’s just a picture of a wet, muddy Costa Rican road and not particularly pretty. But to my eyes, it was beautiful, and worth remembering.
All that night it rained. Thunder and lightening pierced the sky as it poured. At one point I woke up and felt … cold? Really? So I pulled the comforter up over me for the first time in ages and nestled in.
The rain was gone when the sun rose, but the valley was filled with clouds and the smell of rich, wet earth. The breeze was cool like a caress.
Three hours after waking, the water was still shut off. I made coffee and brushed my teeth with bottled water, and delayed my shower. But I already felt revived by the rain, and the promise of more to come.