Worlds apart

Worlds apart

I was walking my way to the village of Yorkin, Costa Rica [map], when  I met Powell and his wife.  I had heard of an indigenous owned and run Eco-lodge, and I had decided to just walk in there.

After the first reaction of mutual defiance, we engaged in conversation walking down the path.  They were obviously lovely and caring people, and as we closed to the village, they offered me to come and stay at his place instead of going to the lodge.

This is Powell. In the bag at his feet, a live macho duck he got at the market to breed.

 

The next 4 days, were spent hiking around his piece of land and on the steep slopes of the jungle around. Showing me his plantations, the local flora and fauna, and making sure I would taste every single edible plant his 35 hectares abundantly provided.

Delicious fresh cocoa fruit, machete harvested just for me.

Among others, they were growing bananas, cocoa and coffee to sell to local industries and European importers, and I got to learn some of the tasks they carried out in their daily life.

 

This jungle is, indeed, thick with every kind of life, among which a few species of poisonous snakes, monkeys,  very secretive jaguars, and tons of amazing flora which I couldn’t name.

Not all that is green is a plant. This one isn’t dangerous, though.

 

This little guy (3cm) is the reason why my hosts would never ever help themselves up by grabbing the trees, even when going on very steep and muddy slopes. Their sting is said to be so hurtful that most people just pass out.

Knowing the stranger

We would generally spend our evening in conversation, trying to understand each other. My host’s Spanish was excellent, given that his mother language was Bribri, but my Spanish at the time was very broken. Not only language was a barrier, we came from very different cultures, and I could sense it in Powell’s facial expressions and questions.

I surely was somebody strange, my speaking of the wonders and evils of my home country and the developed world let him sometimes showingly skeptical and nevertheless ever curious.

‘We’ve always been Catholics.’

This is Powell’s answer to my candid question about their ancestral religion. I was expecting something really juicy as some variants of animism or shamanistic practice.

No. Instead of that, I learned that all what these people knew about their history started with the Spaniard’s arrival in the New World. Before that, was nothing. It looked like the question had even never occurred in his mind.

A few striking facts :

-As indigenous people, they do not need any kind of permit to build a house anywhere they like. They can just go there, and start clearing space and cutting wood for their houses, as long as it doesn’t endanger somebody else’s living. I imagine some intense negotiation with local community is a must.

Powell’s house as well as his new wife’s (they both had been married before), and one of her sons’ with his wife. Every piece of wood has been cut in the forest and brought to amazingly straight shapes with a simple motor saw.

 

-It doesn’t prevent them from having a quite tight forest management system. No tree shall be cut around the village or away from the river without a community issued permit.

The paint mark on the stump indicates who fell the tree and the associated permit count.

 

-The least we can say is that the territory isn’t controlled in the same fashion as in other countries. Indeed, Powell’s house was located on the Panamanian side of the river, which we crossed several times a day.

The border here is nonexistent. What really separate people from Costa Rica and Panama is the dense jungle and the absence of road connection to the urban centers of both sides.

Worlds apart

On my last day there,  we loaded a boat with the organic bananas we harvested the day before to bring them for sale.

Brought by boat down the river, the bananas are weighted and loaded on a just about bigger one equipped with a motor.

I was amazed of the price they got for it. €0.15 per kilo. Equally, they were quite doubtful of the approximate final price they would sell for : between €1.75 and €2.5 on the German market.

After I bid farewell to my host, I found myself waiting for Fernando to start the boat that would take me back to civilization, meaning the road.

At 72, Fernando still skillfully drives the 1.5 tons banana loaded boat along the shallow river, before unloading it all by hand into a truck in just over an hour or two.

As he asked me where I came from, I pulled out my smartphone to show him on the map. It soon occurred to me that he had never really studied a map, mistaking the brown areas for the sea. After I corrected him, I zoomed in and out over again to try and have him get an idea of the scale, and immensity of the ocean between our countries.

The old man waved at the sides of the widely outzoomed map, asking me his killer question :

‘Does it end somewhere?’

I was about to burst out in a huge laugh when I lift my eyes to look at him.
He wasn’t joking at all.

After a puzzled silence, I cautiously answered that the earth was a kind of ball travelling through space.

And his reaction to this was :

‘OK. ‘

Then, after a short pause : ‘It’s good that our children go to school so that they can know all this things.’

The brevity echoed in my head.

‘Ok.’

I just couldn’t believe it. He had spent a whole life on a river he knew better than I knew my backpack (and he was the hell of a good boat driver), but when I told him the world he lives on was floating into space, his only reaction was : ‘Ok’.

For sure I will never understand what the mind of this man was like, how it feels to know so well your place without having any clue about the shapes of the world. Or maybe it was just the quiet tranquility of an old man who, knowingly coming to the end of his life, just didn’t care anymore so much about the novelties of the world.

Maybe that was it : he was just enjoying what he was having and what he did have.

 

Still troubled, I put my backpack on, and headed back to the bus stop that would take me out of the reservation.

It felt like my mind had been left wide open by forceps.

I had got a feel for what it would be like to meet a being from another world.

 

Courtesy @Space_Station/Intl. Space Station/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT
View of the I.S.S., the ‘house in the sky’ as I showed it on my phone to the old man before heading back to the city.

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