It was just after 2 p.m. on the day that the group was scheduled to arrive and I was making good work of the onions, dicing them in preparation for the feast we were going to have that night. I’d decided on the Caribbean’s ubiquitous rice and beans, fried plantains, a salad, and star fruit juice. A very basic, very typical, Costa Rican meal that was easy to make in the rudimentary kitchen on the farm.
I looked up at the sound of heavy footsteps entering the kitchen.
Oh no, the group is here already! I thought to myself as I took in the stranger that had just walked into my kitchen. He was tall and muscular. He was outfitted from head to toe in outdoor gear, a shade hat covering a shock of red hair. Behind him, sweaty and tired college students began to trickle in. I looked back at him, my first impression solidly made.
This guy is going to be a pain in the ass.
I knew the type. Grad school had been full of them. He was in his late twenties or early thirties and was probably one of the chaperones for the trip. He’d likely gotten his PhD in biology or botany just a year or two ago and this was his first post-grad teaching gig. All of the hours spent in the classroom and in the lab, not to mention the pretty diploma they’d given him, had inflated his ego and he fancied himself an expert in biology or botany— it didn’t much matter which— so much so, that when he got the chance to show off his knowledge on his first study abroad trip he immediately went out and bought a bunch of ridiculous outdoor gear and, in order to show off further, he recklessly hiked in through the jungle ahead of the Costa Rican guide. Who, I glanced behind him at the students filing in, was still nowhere in sight.
Not only had he endangered his own life by hiking in ahead of the guide, but also he had erroneously endangered the lives of his students. It may go without saying, but the jungle is a dangerous place! Ok, it does go without saying, however: My first week at Punta Mona I had come face-to-face with Costa Rica’s most dangerous snake, the fer-de- lance, or tercipelo; and just last week Rebecca and I had hiked to “town” for a night and almost didn’t make it back. The entire story involved taking a wrong turn, hiking two hours in the wrong direction and then depending on the kindness of strangers-- and broken Spanish-- to get back to the farm.
Rebecca and I may have lived to tell the story of getting lost in the jungle, but we also grew a newfound respect for the jungle as something that is equal parts beauty and equal parts deadly. Which is precisely why I found the presence of this overeager, overdressed, overconfident and under-experienced muscled stranger (currently blocking the door to my kitchen) extremely, absolutely, utterly, annoying.
Which is to say: I was beginning to feel attracted to him.
The way he stood in the entrance of the kitchen told me that he was a man who knew himself. He was sure of his place in the world and he made that place wherever he was. He radiated confidence without flashy swagger. He was steadfast, sure, and oh, was he strong.
I risked a glance at his face.
The redheaded stranger was looking at me too. And I knew the look.
As our eyes met his opened a bit wider and he tilted his head back in muted recognition. My pulse began to race and my face flushed. I felt an immediate pull towards him, as if I should run over to greet him and let him envelope me in his arms in a familiarity that didn’t yet exist. I felt discombobulated and fuzzy. I couldn’t trust my body or myself. I knew that if I tried to speak or continue dicing vegetables that I’d probably squeak out something foolish or accidentally chop a finger off. I swallowed; put down the knife I had been using, and took a step back, just to be safe. I looked back up at him. I didn’t know what I was experiencing but one look told me that he was experiencing it too. His face looked exactly the way I felt.
Shit! Shit! Shit! Now he’s going to REALLY be a pain-in-the-ass! He’s going to try to show off and get my attention. And he’s going to want me to move to Michigan— or where ever the hell he’s from— and live in the suburbs and stay home and raise his babies while he goes to the city to teach botany and flirts with co-eds and, and —and I don’t want to live in Michigan! Or the suburbs!
He cleared his throat and shook the dazed expression out of his eyes. He stood up a bit straighter. Suddenly he was all business and in the place of surprised attraction there was now a steady, “I’ve got this— and Imma-gonna-get-you-too,” look in his eyes.
The guy was REALLY annoying me now.
The object of my annoyance began to open his mouth.
[NOTE: The words that he is about to utter will change everything. They will mark the beginning of this love story. They will turn me on and make me want to drop everything to move to the suburbs in Michigan to raise babies—precisely because these words will tell me that the very last thing this man will ever make me do is move to the suburbs in Michigan to raise babies. Every assumption I just made about him will be turned on its head and send me reeling. Ready?]
“Hola. Soy Andy. Estoy el guia.”
In perfect, this-is-my-first-language, Spanish.
I took him in. His red hair. The freckles. That jaw line. The goatee accentuating that jaw line and his sweet, sweet mouth. Those muscles. His perfect Spanish. It was my
turn to widen my eyes in muted recognition: he’s not an annoying professor from Michigan . . . He’s Costa Rican!
The Annoyance—now named Andy—took my hesitation and wide eyes for incomprehension. His eyes crinkled at the corners and he smiled at his error.
“Ok, English. Hi! I’m Andy. I’m the guide.”
In perfect, this-is-also-my-first-language, English.
This guy had a story to tell.
And I wanted to be part of it.