Life Lessons Learned on Vacation: Osa and the Native

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We first entered the mangroves several years ago.

Osa Peninsula—a cape deep within Central America—was home to an old, indigenous fellow who went by the ironic name of Wally. I first met the gargantuan man three days into our vacation. He held a wayward smile, a black man-bun tied behind his overly large head.

Alongside his teenage grandson, the pot-bellied elder owned a kayak shop beaten down through innumerous hurricanes and rainstorms. It also seconded as his home. Upon entering, we caught him with a three foot machete raised in-hand. He paused to look over his spectacles at us.

“Do not worry,” he said, chuckling. “This is not a weapon!”

With a pen tied in hemp-rope, my fiancé and I signed a short contract and set off, gliding into the alligator-infested waters by kayak. This was when Wally initiated his idyllic story.

“Many years ago,” he began, “While kayaking, I caught an anaconda amongst the mangroves—” he said this nonchalantly, as if catching the world’s largest snake was like a skip to the local grocer. “—it was a peaceful snake, you see, so I decided to keep it as a pet. I thought nothing of my decision until the day my neighbor knocked on my door. ‘Your snake ate my dog,’ he said. Of course, I didn’t believe him.”

We burst out laughing, intrigued by the man’s dry sense of humor.

“A week later, the authorities came. They said my pet had eaten five of the local, neighborhood dogs. They were smaller breeds, similar to my neighbor’s dachshund. Only five dogs, can you believe it? It wasn’t that bad.”

We entered the gnarled mangroves with him, paddling through nature’s twisted neglect. Our river carved a winding path through what seemed like a giant’s head of hair, the face and remainder of its body submerged by its muddied depths. Various animals existed nearby, and we would’ve missed all of them if it wasn’t for Wally. The man had eyes like a hawk.

He’d halt his raft at various segments throughout the tour and point into the forest. Several minutes of wincing and we’d manage to see what he’d be gesturing at: hundreds of vibrant Halloween crabs scuttling up the trees. A furry coati—the raccoon’s distant cousin—crawled over our heads amongst the foliage. Even brown and green basilisks rested camouflaged on the shoreline, throwing us their lethargic gazes. Wally explained the symbiosis of these animals, of nature as a whole. Every living thing—conscious or not, he explained—withheld a purpose.

“Life is a harmonious exchange,” he said. “We must give equally as we receive.”

The meditative drift of the kayak only added to our experience. The way the paddle cut into the glass-like waters. Left and right, the balance of each stroke centered the mind. It felt like floating over clouds—a surreal experience detached from the physical, the calm of the water merging with the slick of the kayak’s base. I looked over and saw the pacified look upon my fiancé’s face. It was then I felt I’d scratched the surface of this man’s world. Indeed, he knew something lost to us; a knowledge, a sense of unadulterated awareness obtained only through the meditation of kayaking.

Stories and sightseeing finished, we broke from the mangroves into wider waters. Circling around, we returned to the shore nearby Wally’s home. I parked the raft and lifted my sunburned self from the kayak, giving the boat to the trusted hands of Wally’s grandchild. I shook our guide’s hand, paid for the tour, and departed to the taxi after an exchange of kind words. Though quaint, it felt as if returning from a religious experience.

We tapped our wine glasses in cheers that night and thought of Wally, repeating his stories and laughing together. I imagined the native elder sitting by the fire pit outside his home, staring at the same stars as we were overhead. Burning in hues of crimson and chartreuse, stardust had blemished between them, blooming like drops of ink into fresh water. It was at this point that a comet streaked northward, silently diminishing into the void.

I made a wish with its passing: one for the old man, kayaking through the mangroves. A peace well-deserved.

–R. F. Grant is a published author of fiction and poetry. His stories emphasize the strength of the human spirit, focus on spiritual and ethical paradoxes, and oftentimes explore the nature of reality. Mr. Grant currently resides in Denver, Colorado with his fiancé. He is an undergrad working towards a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts, Creative Writing. For more information on Mr. Grant and his work, visit rfgrant.com.

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