On my last morning in Costa Rica, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. Deanna, Jeannie and I had arrived in Manuel Antonio three days before, our last stop in the country that we had fallen head over heels in love with. We had spent the last few days discovering just how friggin’ cute sloths are, falling prey to ambuscades of kleptomaniacal monkeys, indulging in delectable casadas at roadside barbeques, and having impromptu jam sessions with Donato, the manager of our guesthouse, and his Tico buddies.
Now, with only two hours until a taxi would arrive to transport us to the flight that would be the epilogue to our pura vida, an epilogue that would certainly be punctuated with ellipses, I still had to attend to the business of sprinkling my dad’s ashes in a destination he had never had the chance to cross off of his bucket list. This was part of an ongoing quest to bury him where he belonged – both in the waters that he loved in real life and those that subjugated his fantasies.
The girls were still asleep, so I showered quickly and grabbed the small vile of ashes I had somehow forgotten to distribute in the ten days I had been frolicking in the Pacific. Though the ocean was ‘right there,’ that right there involved a painstakingly steep mountain road. I ran out the gate of the guesthouse, where I encountered Donato returning from an early Tai Chi class. I held up the plastic bag in my hand, but failed to get my purpose across in English.
“Mi papi – es muerto.”
I extracted the vile from its bag and made a flinging motion with my hands, pointed to the sea.
“Adios. El Mar. Comprende? Can you drive me?”
Donato woefully shook his head. “No car today. Lo siento”
Then a light bulb went off, to which Donato responded by opening the garage and rolling out his bicycle.
I considered for a moment, then nodded. What other option did I have?
The further downhill I peddled, the deeper my concern for the ability of my pack-a-day lungs to conquer the return trip. But I powered on, passing a construction crew who hooted it up at the sight of the sweaty, manic gringa, the bag containing my dad’s ashes swinging from the rusty handlebars. About halfway down to the beach, I failed to spot a pothole, and in one fell swoop, the bike chain dislodged and both me and the ashes were ejected. In a swift roll and dive maneuver that would do a football coach proud, I caught the vile before it hit the ground, squeezing it so hard that the top popped off, allowing an ample poof of my dad’s remains to hit me smack in the face. I fumbled with the bike chain for a few minutes to no avail, and then resigned myself to begin the upward climb.
By the time I arrived back at the cabin, the girls were packed and pacing the porch frantically. At my approach, they both looked ready to rip me a new one. As I dragged up the porch steps, their anger instantly transformed into confusion.
“What’s all over you?” Deanna blurted out.
“No. On your face, in your eyes…it looks like…” Jeannie looked as if she were thumbing through the least accessible parts of her substance recall.
I swiped a blackened finger across my cheek, stared down at it, and was overwhelmed by what might have easily given way to hysterics of either variety.
“Um. It’s my dad’s ashes. I had a little accident.”
The girls didn’t bother trying to gage which way my pendulum would swing before they simultaneously burst into a fit of laughter. And I had no choice but to join them. There was no time for tears, and my comical appearance had at least won me clemency for my tardiness.
After quickly showering and cramming my belongings into my backpack, I told the girls to go ahead, that I would join them in a minute. I brought the vile, now only half full of vestiges, onto the porch. I popped off the cap and waved it in front of me, grateful for the lack of wind. Though it wasn’t water, it was a breathtaking piece of Costa Rican land with an ocean view. It would have to do. I looked up into the cloudless sky and said, “Welcome to the jungle, daddy.”