Twenty years ago we took a trip to Costa Rica. We’d heard much about the people and the country’s beauty and wanted to experience the splendor that was clear water, volcanos, rain forests, and simple, excellent food. I don’t recall why we wanted to see a volcano—now it seems counterintuitive. But back then it seemed adventurous. So we packed our hiking boots and the only remaining words from our high school Spanish class—cerveza and el baño—and booked tickets in steerage for Liberia.
After a brief check in at the hotel and a short ride in a golf cart, we settled in to our remote bungalow overlooking a serene bay on the bold azure Pacific Ocean. We were in the most remote part of the property, perched in the jungle on a hillside. We clinked our beers in celebration as a million stars unencumbered by ambient light shown overhead. It was as close to paradise as we’d ever come without a king size bed, whipped cream, and strawberries.
It had been a long day. A pre-dawn departure gave way to a fogged-in Atlanta. The pilot, having weighed the variables—fuel consumption, flight time, air density, passenger ire, bladder capacity—diverted to Birmingham to wait out Mother Nature.
Our time in Birmingham was brief, although not as brief as our time in Atlanta. I noted my watch when we touched down—11 seconds to make our connection. Impatient and anxious, we shuffled from the plane into the terminal and set off at a sprint, luggage bouncing on our backs, travelers jumping out of the way like a chase scene from some B grade Hollywood movie. It was hopeless.
We arrived sweaty and breathless to closed doors and despair. The aircraft was still at the gate, but the chances of us boarding were slim. My wife stood pressed against the glass mentally pleading with the pilot to let us board while I begged the ground crew to open the gate.
It worked—my wife’s pleading, not my begging. The gate agent answered a ringing phone, hung up, and said the pilot would let us board (along with the young woman who tried desperately to keep up with us on our race through the airport).
Which is how we found ourselves a few ticks after midnight enjoying cervezas on the veranda of our vacation bungalow and making infrequent trips to el baño. When sleep came we were beyond ready. We settled into bed, the gentle lull of nature’s white noise transporting us into a deep, peaceful sleep.
It was from this state of blissful slumber we unexpectedly woke a few hours later. Without warning, at precisely 3:18 AM—you don’t forget waking up at 3:18 AM—what sounded like a mammoth, bullhorn wielding, night creature let out a deafening cackle. “What the heck was that?” I asked my wife—only I didn’t say “heck.”
“I don’t know. Do you think it’s in the room?” She replied.
I had no idea where or what it was. In fact, for a moment I thought I might have dreamt it. The thought of spending the night with something from the jungle was unappealing in the least. I flicked on the lamp and we laid in silence, waiting to see if the animal behind that horrific sound would show itself. (It’s proven that jungle creatures like neither lamp light nor blankets.) Seconds turned to minutes without a peep. There was silence except for the gentle, rhythmic tide. Perhaps it left? Maybe it was outside? We fell back to sleep with the lamp on.
Then at 3:42 AM it happened again—you don’t forget waking up at 3:42 AM. CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! It was the loudest creature I’d heard outside of a bachelorette party and it was definitely in the room, and since the room wasn’t very big, it was also nearby. Judging by the sound, it had to be gargantuan and thus, I surmised, easy to find.
There would be no going back to sleep. I tried to remember what I’d read about Costa Rica in Foders. What animals lived in the jungle? Which would make short work of us in our sleep? I kept returning to stories of people being eaten by giant pythons, silently squeezed to death only to be found later a bloated human shape inside a giant snake. Hopefully a worst case scenario.
We couldn’t lay in bed waiting for dinner. The hunt was on—Rob versus the untamed, Costa Rican jungle creature. I grabbed the lamp, pulled the covers up off the floor, and carefully lowered myself over the side of the bed, hoping not to find anything underneath. It was empty.
I realized I’d need to leave the safety of the covers at about the same time my wife picked up her lamp and ordered me to search behind the dresser. Was she crazy? Once I touched the floor I’d be in the open. I grew up on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and new well what a predator could do to prey in the open. I needed a plan.
My boots lay a few feet away. I calculated I could dash for the boots, shake them vigorously, run back to the bed, don said boots, creep toward the dresser, move the dresser, look, and make it back to the bed in eighteen seconds if I wasn’t attacked in transit. I steadied myself and took a deep breath. On three—one…two…CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! I nearly shat myself.
The upside to the sudden, deafening chirping—aside from saving me the embarrassment sure to come from executing an ill-conceived plan to look for a wild jungle animal behind a dresser—is the chirping definitely did not come from behind said dresser. The sound came from up near the curtain rod. It had the high ground.
I’d like to acknowledge my wife at this point. She was a huge help during the entire process. Standing in the dead center of the bed, lamp in hand, she encouraged me to find whatever was keeping her awake. More than once she identified expedient routes around the room—like how I could leap from bed to chair to ottoman without touching the floor—and promised not to spend the life insurance on another trip to Costa Rica. Without her, I’d certainly have given up and slept in the bathtub with a wash cloth in the drain and a towel wedged beneath the door.
The downside of the last bout of chirping—because there is always a downside—was I still had a ferocious, thundering beast to locate. I found my flashlight and grabbed my boots—shaking them vigorously, of course. After a bit more spousal encouragement—her exact words were, “I’m tired. Hurry up.”—I climbed atop the round table which sat a couple feet from the curtain rod from whence the savage noises had come. At this point, every conceivable light source in the room was illuminating our tiny, temporary abode. Haltingly, torch in hand, I reached toward the curtain and tentatively drew it aside.
My worst fears were realized. The wild beast stared at me, prepared to pounce. I stared back, prepared to scream. It was only slightly less menacing than I’d imagined with its eggshell white body, four razor sharp claws and a devil’s tail draped along the ledge. It’s dead, black eyes seemed to be sizing me up as much as I took measure of it—all eight inches of it.
It was a lizard. An eight inch, noisy, horny lizard looking for a mate at three in the morning.
One might expect the story to end here. Some might even wish it ended here, but it doesn’t. We spent the next two hours sitting in bed waiting for someone to show up to the lobby. We would have liked to go back to sleep, but the horny jungle beast would have none of that. It continued to bellow in deafening, eight-chirp sets every ten minutes or so until sunrise—at which time, minutes before passing out drunk in a pool of it’s own vomit, it probably swore off alcohol forever, promising God it would never drink tequila again. Don’t judge—we’ve all been there.
In the morning I trekked to the main building. I politely explained in perfect English the issue, “We have a lizard in our room,” and the hotel staff responded, “Que?” Yep, they didn’t speak English. Not a lick.
We went back and forth for several minutes, me trying to make the word lizard sound like Spanish by applying what I presumed was an Hispanic accent, and the staff patiently trying to interpret my inept language skills and charade-like gestures. Then I had an epiphany. Without warning I bleated in my best, earth shattering, lizard voice, “CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP! CHIRP!”
It was like I spoke the universal language. The staff instantly recognized the sound. “Si, si,” said the woman behind the counter. Somewhere I picked up words like “lizard” and a “maintenance man”—“el mantenimiento”—would arrive soon. Success.
We sat that evening watching a fiery sunset over the bay, drinking our cervezas, our house guest having been chased from the room by a short man with a broom hours earlier. “Do you think we’ll run into any more wild jungle animals?” asked my wife?
“As long as they sleep outdoors,” I replied, “I don’t care.” And as if on cue something scratched the bottom of her foot through the deck. She gasped, pulled her knees to her chest, and a short-haired, Costa Rican raccoon poked its head over the end of the porch a few feet from where we sat. It was time to go inside.
There’s a morale here. Always keep your boots next to the bed. Horny lizards make poor roommates. I’m not really sure. But one thing is certain: cerveza and el baño are the only words you need know to visit Costa Rica.
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Unless otherwise noted, I drew or took the photographs in the article—as lame as they may look. Any unintentional resemblance to persons living or dead is just plain scary. Copyright can be found here for my original work.