By Patty Chang Anker
Meet Felipe. Felipe is the only man I know who can say “And then I took out my machete,” and have it be entirely convincing. Felipe grew up in the rainforests of Corcovado, and is one of the best trackers and spotters there is.
He’s stared down a wild puma, machete in hand, with 7 tourists frozen in fear behind him (I believe all came home unharmed).
He’s been bitten by vampire bats not once, not twice, not three times, but countless times until he figured out how to keep them away from his bed (thorny lemon tree branches).
He once tracked and found a couple of tourists seriously lost in the forest after dark. He never gets lost (except the time he flew to Denver when he was supposed to go to Minneapolis).
A longtime guide for Costa Rica Expeditions in Corcovado, Felipe had never been to Tortuguero, so CRE President Michael S. Kaye invited him to join us for the Trip of a Lifetime. Felipe is the kind of person legends are built on. “Did you hear the story about the time he was charged by a cougar?” “No, it was a jaguar.” “No, it was a crocodile.” “I thought it was a crocodile AND a cougar!”
From all his adventures you might think of him as a swashbuckling Spanish Crocodile Hunter. But no, he is more a Yoda of the Woods, a master of quiet perception. On the trail he listens with every pore, no wasted movement, discerning branches from vines from snakes, fresh tracks from old.
As familiar as most of the flora and fauna is to him, he is as entranced as we are when we see a sungrebe, the smallest duck in Costa Rica, one that flies with its babies on its back. “This is the first time for me,” Felipe says in a low voice, beaming with pleasure. “I have never seen this before.”
When we see weak baby turtles, we can’t stand to watch them die. But Felipe stands over them long after we walk away, and calls us over to see them take their first steps into the water, as if he willed them back to life.
One morning I break away from the sunrise turtle walk to meditate on the beach and when I open my eyes everyone is gone but Felipe. They left me under his watch. Where did they go? Back to the lodge, 45 minutes ago. Forty-five minutes! I apologize for keeping him from breakfast, but even as I do, I have the feeling that he understands.
“In the forest, do you meditate?” I ask, but the language barrier is getting in the way. “I mean, do you listen, pay attention, breathe quietly?”
“Oh yes,” he says emphatically. “In the forest it is very important. Look, listen, be quiet. It is good.”
“I will think of you,” I tell him, “meditating in the woods. It will make me happy.”
We smile, and head back to the lodge.
P.S. Confused about what Patty is doing in Costa Rica without her family? The Trip of a Lifetime starts here: http://upside-down-patty.blogspot.com/2010/11/ticket-to-ride.html
Coming up: “Yowza!” What to do if you run into a crocodile in the garden.