I am awakened long before dawn by a sound that is pure hoodoo, a low throaty chant that rises to a peak and then falls away, only to begin again seconds later. Fortunately I have been briefed about the howler monkeys who lurk in the surrounding jungle searching for tasty fruits, and with their chorus of calls warn away threats, real and potential, to their colony. They have a particular distaste for early arriving delivery trucks, Miraflores Lodge owner Pamela Carpenter has told me.
It is day 26 of my stay in Central America. Four days from now I will be on _my way home to the United States. But for now I am in Costa Rica’s Talamanca province on the southeast Caribbean coast, near Panama. I have settled into my lodgings in Playa Chiquita. Built, as I discover, in traditional Bribri Indian fashion, the floors are made of well-sanded tropical hardwoods, as is the framing.
My room is upstairs under a high, vaulted roof of palm thatch and bamboo. Some walls are of wood, others are single-wall bamboo. None of the walls go all the way to the roof. Where there should be windows there are simple frames across which thin muslin curtains flutter in the warm breeze.
The bed is queen-size, comfortable and draped in mosquito netting. This is the part of Costa Rica where all the guidebooks caution you should not come without being immunized against a variety of dread diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. I elected to avoid that advice because of these two, the most likely diseases to encounter, the medicine against malaria is reputed to make some as ill as the disease would, and for dengue fever, there is no vaccine. I am grateful for the netting over the bed, but in the sitting room, there are no screens, and few walls.
I go downstairs and ask about the effectiveness of my mosquito repellent. “For the three or four mosquitoes you may encounter around dusk, long pants work best, or a little citronella,” says Pamela, the woman who brought me here yesterday. “This close to the beach, the wind keeps them from building up. The jungle is the only place where you’ll need the repellent.”
She’s right. During the four days I stay here, I see two mosquitoes and am bitten once. The netting, she tells me, is to keep the small lizards who live in the rafters from falling on me as I sleep. They’re notoriously clumsy and often lose their footing, she says. They also have beautiful birdlike voices, and trill to each other in the night, sometimes making a delightful counterpoint to the rude and early-rising howler monkeys, who fire up their gutteral chorus around _4 a.m. every day, trucks or no trucks.