the tepui chronicles: my excursion across south america, part iii

DOS·PIES·EN·EL·SUELO: idiom \dos-Piēs-en-el-Suēlo\ both feet on the ground

he was a reticent, I could tell. he demonstrated a subtle kind of panache, a cool sort of sobriety, sitting a row above the group of chattering maestros engulfing two american girls.

jess and i had landed in the heart of south america with little more than a touchy four wheeler, two battered suitcases and a bag of foreign coins. and finding ourselves at a local soccer match with some new friends, in an exotic, mountainous village 200 miles into a thick, lush rainforest, we swore we had found paradise.

they were teaching us the rules, speaking rapidly in heightened animation. with each phrase we mimicked came an ejaculated si, si from our new friends. phones were passed hand to hand, pics snapped absent-mindedly, and an intermittent cheer for the goalie.

words, it became clear, were useless — unnecessary, even. and we resorted to other means of communication: hand motions, gestures, a game of charades and a repeated vamos - a word that had come to encompass so many more meanings: yes. now. go. act. move. pursue. ascend. fly.

he was taller than the others and, i presumed, older. for he stood apart, speaking only when probed for a translation. he knew english, and had overheard Jess and i when we assumed ourselves beneath the guise of a language barrier.

the way he knew the words both sides needed to communicate but withheld them, gave him an ascribed sort of power, an esteem among the others. something about that — his insinuating silence — had captured my intrigue. and i had to make him out.

i entreated delicately: an imploring question - direct, yet subtle. he returned. it became an inquisition: a play of the cards. my draw, then his. a move and a response.

they wanted to treat us to our last night in Monteverde, they said, as we stepped away from the arena. we followed. he kickstarted his bike, calling my name. i jumped on and we flew across the bumpy road of that small, uncharted rainforest. 

i could see the pull of his veins as he held the handlebars of the old motorcycle with familiarity. he weaved in and out of jungle terrain, flying past large, wet foliage and ducking beneath low-hanging bunches of bananas. i lifted my eyes to see a sky full of stars, splattered across the sky like diamonds unstrung. he eased off the gas and i brought my arms outward. and at that moment, i could swear i was flying. 

as he put on the brakes and I beheld a view that made my pulse quicken. there, at the peak of monteverde, a panorama of a magnanimous jungle stood before me, cocooning the distant chattering of monkeys and whoops of playful birds below the settling mist. a dense, humid wilderness wild with life, with its own pulse, its own heartbeat. 

the top of the world, he said, easily.

how loosely rang the rhythmic cadence of his tongue in the presence of his own, but here, words were sparse and chosen with care, as if the telling itself would cheapen all the silence suggested.

words were unconfined by the jurisdiction of a definition, each infused with new meanings and connotations that challenged the mediocrity of commonplace words. lacking access to verbal communication made it so much the more tantalizing. we were fraught with the need to share, to tell, to let loose the billowing surge of something from within.

i told him i didn't want to leave this place. he said he never intends to. and there in the silence, 
i laughed. then he laughed. there was no reason. no whitty aphorism or comical remark to warrant it, but there we were giggling into the vast magical darkness purely as a release of uncontainable awe amid such splendor. 

perhaps the impermanence of it made it all the more magical. and i fell all over again, for a man with both feet on the ground on this night in which so much was said, but so little was spoken.

Rachel LowryThe Tepui Chronicles part iii
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the tepui chronicles: my excursion across south america, part ii

MONTE·VERDE: noun \'män-tē-'vērdēGreen Mountain

i have never had a hangover. but i can imagine the closest thing to that for me was my first morning in monteverde.

the sharp jab in my side sent me quickly out of my dream and sitting straight up. sweat crept down my spine and memory of the prior night came to mind: latin dancing, lights, passion fruit, a trek across the entire continent of costa rica that ended at the beach.  

jess had done the jabbing and i immediately realized why. three cops stared back as i blinked my eyes into focus. 

passport, license! they called, in accents as harsh as a german soldier.

jess and i exchanged a glance of shock. she clutched my arm in support as we searched for our wallets. the paperwork was passed and the men went into a huddle a few feet away, as three more cars and motorcycles pulled in, sirens ablaze.   

we waited. the journalist in me kicked in, racing with headlines: two american girls arrested. found sleeping on a private beach in dirty four-wheeler — with valid identification, no past traffic citations and no alcohol? 48 hours in and few things would surprise me, at this point. 

they returned. there had been a gunman on the loose. he had robbed a convenience store just a few buildings down. he had fired a shot at dawn. they would escort us out, surrounding us with the kind of coverage that would make the u.s. secret service look weak.

"you call me," he said, motioning a telephone. "if lost or need help, i come." 

jess and i would let out high verbal squeaky noises of delight when seeing any costa rican man in a police suit from that moment on. 

we drove on. morning light fell upon the terrain we had been blindly navigating: it was green like this girl from the west had never before seen. the lush, dense foliage loomed above us like an archway to a grand palace. the bird calls and rustling within suggested we were in an unfenced zoo.

we wound upward around the mountain, reaching monteverde. and there i discovered that it is possible to miss a place you've never before seen. my time spent in that little mountainous costa rica haven is a melding of luminous moments: Gallivanting around an enchanted rainforest on bridges that swung in the air in torrential rain that bucketed down. getting drenched to the bone. swinging through the cloud rainforest from one zip line to the next. plummeting 50-foot jungle swing just like tarzan. python sitings.galloping on horses through the forest. eating the best fish taco I’ve ever had in my life. learning tae bo in a local martial arts class. eating a home cooked breakfast from a local costa rican. Schooling an Israeli military man in pool. reading Ayn Rand in a hammock on a porch while it rains. more fish tacos. smoothies made of passion fruit plucked straight from the tree. spanish karaoke. climbed up the center of 150-foot fig tree. sat at the top surrounded by thick mist that overlooked the rainforest. sung hymns there. salsa dancing with an indian at bar amigo. being introduced to dozens of exotic fruits by an australian, indian and costa rican.

it was paradise. absolute paradise. right out of a fairytale.

Rachel LowryThe Tepui Chronicles part ii
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the tepui chronicles: my excursion across south america, part i


noun \a-ˌyän-tā-ˈpwē\ Land of the Gods

We were mapless.

chucking our battered suitcases in the back of a touchy four wheeler, my aussi friend jess and i floored down the streets of ipis, costa rica, the lush, humid air so dense it felt as if it were combing through our fluttering hair. 

flashes of green bombay shoots whooshed past as i steered in and out of the winding streets of this surreptitious, model-like village. locals walked along the mossy canal waterways, disappearing into colored houses jumbled against one another. 

it was the beginning of our love affair with south america.

we were sitting cross-legged in a small seafood shack on the corner of the street, feasting on crab legs and calamari, catching glances and sometimes smiles from passerby's. and i realized that this was it. wholesome living. caught in the fear of missing out, i had forgotten that at the root of it all was something as simple as deep breaths, fresh food, glances and, if necessary, words. 

the rest of the night is a blur of faces and spanish phrases i still can't translate. it was a mingling of conversations over spilled coke and hymnals sung in a local cathedral, followed by stops at exotic fruit stands and latin dances with men whose hips shake better than any lady I've ever seen. and then i again took the wheel. where to? the wind would be our compass, our intuition our guide. 

as the miles under our wheels stacked up, time measured by thoughts rather than minutes, we ventured into the rainforest terrain. it was pitch black, but beyond our car window there seemed to be a vast unknown something — something which seemed to suggest that we were cradled in the palm of some mysterious, immense natural wonder. we drove through tall vegetation and across what had to have been towering bridges, under the guise of nightfall, untouched by the prying eyes of tourists. and at that moment i swear we had become part of something bigger than ourselves, as if we were swimming in a vast, undiscovered ocean that was neither east nor west. 

i felt a sense of possession. i wanted to lay claim on it, call it my own, without the dictates of paperwork or the convention of bills. 

the road took us completely across costa rica, to the pacific ocean, where we ran headlong into the waves. we breathed in salt that stung our noses and purified so much more than our air passages. we fell asleep in our car, to the gentle lap of water at the edge of this continent.

we had determined it would be our little secret, this place that remained hidden from the cheapness of a brochure. this place touched by the gods — or rather, as i would believe, one god. 

Rachel LowryThe Tepui Chronicles part i
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I'm not sure what I'll do, but - well, I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale. 
F. Scott Fitzgerals, The Ice Palace
Images via welltraveledwoman



you are my yes

it was late. i had plans. i rearranged.

she was laughing at her own joke. simply, effortlessly, uninhibited. and i kept thinking of how she was her own yes. hell, was she a yes.

we had met in the middle, some diner along main street. it was almost a supernatural force, some kind of enigmatic coercion, each unable to fight the impulse to get to that middle ground. we were magnets drawn together to fill the voids of the opposing charge, to counteract the negative forces each carried. it was as if our entire being depended upon it.

get in the car, she had said. drive. drive in my direction. i obeyed.

she was my little 2 am secret, my sister.

the waitress had stopped passing by to check if we had signed the bill. though there were people and events and responsibilities pining for our presence elsewhere, neither she nor i could leave. not yet.

these are the talks i remember. the heavier the eyelids, the sincerer the words. the silence never was awkward, but a shared intimacy of the unfilled spaces.

words were sparse and chosen carefully. they were words we had not yet dared speak aloud, as if the saying alone made them true, made them real. they were words that terrified and engrossed, suggested and enchanted.

and in this disclosure, we offered ourselves, unguarded, knowing that if our self vanishes, there would be another self to lean on, one separate and distinct, but pumping the same blood through different veins.

she was tripping on those words, as she twirled the ice in her water glass with a straw, her brazen purple fingernails shining so femininely.

i don't know how it came to this, she said. i enjoy his presence. 

she loved him, some boy down the street. she didn’t know it, couldn't find the words, but we both knew once she did, there would be no need for me to give her an answer. the answer would be in the telling.

i realized as i leaned into the edge of the table in rapture, that in her frightened audacity, i saw myself.

and what about me? she waited for my answer and i felt that i, too, was waiting for my own reply.

i told her i needed nothing more than the sea and someone to share it with and a million reasons to write.

yes, she said. yes, and when you find it, always say yes.

an answer to her own question.

© 2013 by Rachel Lowry. All rights reserved {photo source via}