Chapter Three: Laura
Laura rises out of her cow stretch, slips into yesterday’s t-shirt and hops onto her pink bicycle. She mimics the call of gathering squirrel monkeys who wish her good day in happy hysteric vowels.
Laura has been in Costa Rica for almost a year now. Her travels began through the rainforest of the Puntarenas Province where she admired colours she once found on a Matisse painting at the Tate. Her journey then came to a halt when Montezuma opened its bohemian arms and offered her a home she never imagined for herself. Montezuma is small, the town centre is nothing but a tropical t-section but the world’s revellers all reconvene here for yoga conventions, mango picking and new age film festivals.
Laura cycles to work. A group of yoga instructors spill out of El Chico, their mushroom shaped pupils sparkle in the morning mist. Laura nods to Xavier, the owner of Caramela Surf Shop. His bronzed biceps lift a waxy board into the air. He whistles to her. His shiny calves are permanently covered in sand dust, like the white fur that hugs a horse’s leg. Laura is secretly in love with Xavier but so is every other female living in Montezuma and beyond. Xavier spends his days outdoors running the surf shop and his nights indoors on the computer, running the hundreds of long distance relationships he has acquired.
Minus this eruption of butterflies when she passes Xavier, Montezuma offers a slow and easy-going pace of living. When Laura cycles, she cycles slowly unlike the manic kamikaze cycling she did in London. When she’s late for work in Montezuma no one fires her. Tourists might be left waiting but they’ll be too hot to complain. London was different. In London everything was a struggle and at times unbearable, threatening to swallow her whole and regurgitate her worn out self like a cow eating grass; a gross, inescapable cycle. Laura worked for no pay as an intern for a Russian film production company. Dmitri, a wealthy filmmaker with a golden badge on his Hermes blazer that said “I Am A Terrorist Of Art”, had her running round the city for personal errands that ranged from flowers for his mistress, coffee for the office, condoms, fine wine, stuffed owls and rare comic book editions for his son. Laura hopped tubes, dodged puddles, fought with escalators like she was a contestant on a nineties game show but Laura felt like she was always losing. She would call her sister at night, clasping her forehead like a fragile female from a Jane Austen novel:
“Living in London isn’t living, it’s surviving. Do you understand? That’s all I’m doing. Surviiiiving”
The Metro and CITY AM headlines made her feel guilty over the amounts of self-pity she possessed but no pay, debt and uncomfortable shoes made it difficult for Laura to be excited about her London life. In Montezuma her feet were freed from cheap leather. They wiggled in the ocean wind between pieces of pink flip flop. Walking across sandy streets made a welcome change from being pushed into one tube carriage, falling out of another, hoping you landed somewhere near your destination, hoping you still had your Oyster card. Her wage in Costa Rica was little but cost of living was next to nothing; for free fruit she befriended a mango seller, a wealthy Dutch businessman who had traded his life in Amsterdam for a mango stall in Montezuma. Other dietary intakes were rice, beans and juicy Costa Rican burgers.
Laura arrives at Buena Vista Sky Canopy just on time. She nods to Peter, one of the guides whose brain is still too bewildered from last night’s moon meditation to recognize a familiar face. Laura hopes for the tourists’ sake that he is not working today. She parks her bike and heads into the office to collect her canopy gear. There’s a group of pastel coloured Scandinavians outside, stained with tropical sweat and anxiety. Laura is pleased with their nationality; although they do not share a common language Scandinavians are generally well-behaved. It’s the Germans you have to look out for.
The other canopy guides assemble in front of the group. Laura asks the tourists if they can understand English, they look at her with a glazed over expression that she takes as a yes.
“Welcome to Buena Vista! Buena Vista has the longest zip wire in Costa Rica. It is important that you listen carefully to my instructions so that you are able to enjoy the wonderful views. We don’t want you to get hurt. Do you understand?”
A few of the group members nod.
“Each zip wire is fastened from one tree to another and there are landing platforms for you to land on. The platforms are very long and if you are going too fast one of the guides will slow you down. Alberto is going to give you your equipment. Make sure that everything is tight and secure.”
“Excuse me, excuse me. It is not going, I cannot pull it”
A panic stricken ice blonde man with a Danish pastry of a belly is unable to tighten his harness. Laura helps him out and tugs on the equipment, she tries her hardest to ignore the ginormous bulge it has created between his legs. He begs her to strap him in as tight as possible.
“More please. More. I fear falling. You know? I don’t want…”
The man ties an imaginary noose around his neck.
Laura gives Alberto a look. Alberto passes the look onto Mike who passes the look onto Alfonso; their way of saying: watch out for this guy he may need some help. During her time at Buena Vista Laura has come to the conclusion that fearlessness is the most desired disposition. Fear and caution cause accidents. It’s when people stop and think and see the drop below that they forget to tug on the wire or they press their hand down too soon. Fearlessness on the other hand is streamlined, it’s effective, it’s what will take you from one tree to another, it’s what will take you from London to San Jose.
Mike, Buena Vista’s most experienced guide, goes over further safety procedures. Mike has spent his life living in various places around the world and somehow found himself most at home in the cloudy rooftop of the rainforest. He lives in a self-built tree hut and seeing him, two feet on the ground, makes him look out of place yet the group feel reassured by his leafy green eyes and nod in unison; they are ready for their first zip wire. The first zip is very short, more for practice. The women in the group go first and a couple of them squeal as they zip through. When they make it to their platform two of them high five and the other two bump their hips together. The men go next and even Laura’s special case makes it to the platform fine. It is Laura’s turn. She swooshes through the sky.
For a few hours a day Laura may have to devote her time to guiding tourists through the Amazon treetops but there is a big perk to the job: being able to fly. The tourists aren’t even that bad. They are like empty postcards, one sided pictures that remind Laura of what she left behind; Europe, cold, crowdedness. She feels a shimmer of arrogance when gap year students visit the canopy, updating their Facebook after each zip. Soon they’ll return back to their grey skies, sickly sweet lattes and deadlines and Laura will remain high in the sky, the queen of the jungle.
Alfonso gives her the thumbs up. The whole group has made it to the third landing platform and it is time for Laura to make it through again. She clicks onto the wire and pushes herself off the wooden board. The sweet breeze reminds her of the first time she stepped on Costa Rican soil; jet lag drunk, stumbling off the plane only to be enveloped by the thick tropical air. Coming here was only meant to be a temporary escape. She had planned to move on to another place, to start again, constantly renewing herself and meta-morphing until she had settled on the person she wanted to become. That plan came to a halt when Montezuma proved too colourful, too welcoming and too wacky to leave. No one was going to find her anyway. Not the Russian production company whose petty cash she stole to afford a cab to Heathrow, not her sister whose hard-earned cash she stole to afford her plane ticket, not her parents whose Christmas party she ruined so spectacularly there was no choice but to flee the country and never return. None of them could find her.
The tour proceeds smoothly and without any major problems. The man with the big belly only gets stuck once. Back on the ground Laura says bye to her group and is told she can go home. There are no further bookings today. Bad news for Buena Vista but good news for Laura; she can go back home, change into her swimwear and swim off today’s sweat. The Ivengar Yoga convention is on its way today, maybe she would hang out with some of the yogis and watch the sunset and listen to them talk about karma and mindfulnes and silence and
There is a figure standing in front of her bike. She is statuesque, her highlighted fringe is plastered with sweat across her brow and her pearly pink fingernails trace the frayed edges of Laura’s bike grip. Run. Laura’s instinct tells her to run but it’s too late, she’s been spotted.
“Laura, hi, don’t freak out. I'm taking you home”