As we drove away from Cahuita, toward Limon and eventually San Jose, the car was quiet. Then Lee broke the silence with an announcement.
“I could cry,” he said from between swollen lips.
I could too. Would they be tears of relief? Anguish? Both, I think.
We left town waving our metaphorical white flag of surrender, and I thought about the only other time I’d ever walked out on a hotel reservation. In that case, the hotel had caught fire.
Our hotel on the Caribbean coast had not gone up in flames. In fact, it was cute and spacious and clean with a great location on the beach, right next to the national park. But I will never ever ever stay there again.
Our trip deserves two posts, because there were a lot of good memories made and I don’t want to muddy them with the unpleasantries. So I will compartmentalize, and tell you about our hotel adventure first.
I booked this hotel many months ago during a period of jungle bravado. I’d read the tripadvisor reviews. I knew it lacked air conditioning. I knew people complained about the bugs. But it had mosquito netting! We’d be fine, I said! The location and price were just too good to pass up, and I was feeling jungle strong.
We wanted to explore the Caribbean coast because of the diversity of wildlife there. Sloths live in abundance in the trees, next to toucans and monkeys. I love sloths – we all love sloths. We wanted to visit the Sloth Sanctuary again, and so off across the country we went.
First we stopped for a night in San Jose. I’d done well booking that hotel – a modern building with AC, running water and toilets that you can actually put your toilet paper in (my criteria for necessary “amenities” has certainly evolved in the last year). After a night enjoying the luxurious feeling of being cold, we headed to Cahuita.
I had been right about the location of our hotel – it was great. You could hear the waves lapping onto the shore, you could walk to all of the restaurants in the small village, and the national park was our neighbor. There were only four rooms so it was quiet, save for the howler monkeys barking in the trees.
The proprieter was very nice and had a strong pura vida attitude, but soon we wondered if her laid-back manner was due to more than all that salt air. Our first clue was the wifi password – the name of a psychotropic plant known to be popular for its hallucinogenic properties. She was probably high, and later I’d wish I were too.
The room was clean and bright, but hot hot hot. We expressed our hope that the night would be cool, deposited our belongings and headed out for a hike in the park.
That first night, after dinner we went back to the hotel for showers. This was my first experience with a “suicide shower,” thusly named because the water is heated directly at the shower head rather than a separate hot water tank. This means electrical wires are placed precariously close to the water raining down on your head.
Lee was kind enough to let me go first. Thankfully, the shower was fine. “This isn’t so bad,” I said to rally myself as we settled in to sleep.
It was stiflingly hot. There was one ceiling fan, but it wasn’t placed over the sleeping area, so even though it was spinning we felt no relief. We pulled the mosquito nets around our mattresses.
The nets were adequately sized for a single person in the bed, but with two people in the bed you couldn’t help but lay against the edges of the net. No big deal, until I woke up at some point during the night and realized that any part of my body touching the net was covered in bites.
I tossed and turned in my sweaty sheets, trying desperately to tuck in all my limbs so that they wouldn’t touch the mosquito net. It was impossible. My knees and elbows were on fire with bites. Finally, with sleep eluding me, I peeked at my watch. Surely it was almost morning.
It was 11:30 p.m.
Soon Lee was awake too, and also on fire with bites. The more we tossed the more the mosquito net seemed to close in on us, like a shroud. Our fingers were covered in bites now too. Finally I crawled out from under the net and sat in a chair directly beneath the fan, swallowing deep breaths of air. The cool breeze from the fan felt so good that I tried to sleep in that chair. But the bugs soon drove me back under the net.
And here is one of those many times when I am so thankful for my spouse. We were hot, tired, frustrated and uncomfortable. We complained, but we also made jokes about our situation. We made each other laugh about it until I was crying. And then we split a tylenol PM and succumbed to a light, fitful sleep.
I awoke for good around 4:30 a.m. when the howler monkeys began roaring outside our windows. I swear it sounded like they were in our room, under the nets with us. I gave up on sleep. Camille was soon awake too. She’d slept a bit better than us, but seemed to have fared worse. Her face was covered in bites – she even had a bite on each eyelid, making them puffy and pink.
When we finally stumbled, bleary-eyed out of our room for breakfast, the monkeys were gone, but they’d left a gift. Our car was covered in big, wet, smelly monkey turds.
But Lee and I don’t like to complain – we’re the type who will leave a plate of food untouched in a restaurant rather than send it back. I can’t stomach the thought of hurting the feelings of the chef who’d prepared it. I don’t say this with pride – we’re chicken and we know it. The hotel owner was nice and she only had one other room booked. We couldn’t bail on her.
So we decided to prove to Costa Rica that we were tough enough. We came back from dinner that second night and Camille flopped onto her bed, still wearing her flip flops. Only then did we realize that all three of us had stepped in monkey poop on the way in. Her sheets were now smeared with monkey feces from her shoes.
Those flip flops were falling apart anyway, so into the trash they went. We stripped her bed, and agreed that the three of us would just share the other double bed.
We also decided to move that mattress onto the floor under the fan. Since the mosquito nets didn’t seem to be helping, we might as well be cooler. We coated Camille in bug spray. I didn’t like the idea of her sleeping in a layer of deet, but what’s worse? Deet, or Zika or Dengue?
I’d left something in the car, so I slipped back outside, deftly sidestepping the monkey poo we’d tracked onto the porch. I was surprised to find our neighbors on the porch too. They were a young couple from Germany, hopping around a nightstand and a lamp that they’d pulled outside of their room. The man was in his underwear. Electric blue boxer briefs.
Their English was impeccable. “There’s a roach!” they explained. “Under our lamp! We have to get it out!”
I wished them luck.
That second night was only slightly better than the first. The fan kept us a little cooler, and we took a tylenol PM right away. But we still woke throughout the night on fire with fresh bug bites.
Finally, when morning greeted us with the sound of more (poo-slinging) monkey howls, we assessed the damage. We were all itchy and puffy and pink. Lee couldn’t get his ring off because his hands were so swollen. But worst of all – he looked like he’d been punched in the mouth.
“I have a bite on the underside of my lip,” he explained. He sounded a bit like someone who’d just had major dental work and was still puffy and numb.
“I miss our hotel in San Jose,” he said. We all agreed. And we made a pact. We were leaving. We surrendered.
Using the wifi with the psychotropic password, I booked two nights in San Jose back in the same hotel we’d enjoyed at the start of our trip. I longed for the clean sheets, the quiet, the bug-free AC.
We’d break it to our hotel owner at breakfast. Camille is a real stickler about telling the truth, so I prepped her. After all, it wasn’t the hotel owner’s fault that we were uncomfortable. I really had no complaint for her – we’d known what we were getting into. We just couldn’t hack it.
So I told Camille we were going to explain to the hotel owner that we had to leave a day early. Our reason? We had things to take care of in San Jose.
“Yeah,” Camille said, without a moment’s hesitation. “We need to take care of OUR LIVES.”
And so it was that right after breakfast we paid our bill and bailed. We drove away feeling decidedly more banged-up than when we’d arrived. But we were free.
Today I am writing from our hotel in San Jose. It’s 10 a.m. and I haven’t broken a sweat. I’m still itchy but with no fresh bites.
We love a vacation with adventure, but when you live in the jungle full-time, vacation takes on a different meaning. Our new plan for the day – stay indoors. Watch movies. Be cold.
Ding-ding-ding. This round goes to the jungle.