Buses. The main mode of long distance travel in much of South America: affordable, moderately comfortable, and mostly on time. After a half night of rest at the modern-looking and modern-costing SJO airport, our journey begins at a bus stop willed into existence on a spare patch of muddy asphalt by the side of the freeway. Chickens roam the tiny hill across the road as several dogs wander around our stop and vehicles rush by, honking as they go. Soon enough we find ourselves on a seven hour trip, staring out of the panoramic windows of a bus at the scenery of Costa Rica: roadway, sinuous and rubble-strewn. The path our bus takes is known fully to the driver and only generally to us. Most of the way – even close to the city – is narrow. Our bus takes a moderate approach, here yielding, there forcing a smaller car to stop. Despite the often dense traffic we are never fully at a stop, only occasionally slowing. As we travel, the background of the roadway changes from the grey of concrete to the green of vegetation. On our eastern side of the Gulf of Nicoya, the great body of water that marks the separation between mainland and peninsula, the jungle concedes to civilization. It is a colored background to the goings on here, but never asserts itself close to people.
The ferry across offers sweeping views of the as-yet faraway coast. From a distance it is a thin, low swatch of green, decorated with an even thinner skirt of beach and cliff. Closer: islands stand out, mountains peak through the blue-grey distance, and the coastline’s majesty is revealed. Cliffs tower over water and the unadorned green comes into focus – trees and large-leafed plants hug the coast and climb as high into the mountains as they can. At landing, the majesty is somewhat diminished. The sweeping coastline is now at an arm’s distance, the forest lost for the trees.
Verdant, seemingly limitless, the green of forests and mountains is everywhere. In between the jungle lie roadways, here even more narrow than before. The spectacle of plants unfolds before us, slowly : trees too numerous to count, leafy vegetation, brilliant red flowers. The bus has permanently slowed to stay on the road. As the hours pass, the initial awe of this place, as seen from the bus window, wears thin. Our eyes glaze as yet more green is revealed. We sit and bask in the unending stretch of life only sometimes broken by a field or farm or town. Here, civilization is surrounded on all sides by jungle, neither encroaching on the other.
A final bus transfer and another hour of winding road through the mountainous peninsula, we arrive in Montezuma. On foot the awe of this place is recaptured and enlarged. The jungle has a voice : chirping, hissing, clicking, roaring – and a smell : wet, wet leaves, wet dirt, sweat. In this five-street town, and in the towns around it, the jungle does not hide but instead covers all but the most fastidiously maintained roads and buildings. Our room – one hill and and one vegetation-enveloped stair climb from town – offers a view of green and brown and sometimes blue. The trees and broad-leafed plants grow large. A troupe of monkeys perches on the tallest tree in our circle of forest, howling louder than the passing buses. The jungle does not threaten us, but would swallow the house and road and town whole if given the chance.