Big Suprises in the Jungle of Costa Rica
The last time I saw a crab crossing the road was in the Caribbean, and I accidentally killed it with my car. I was shocked when it happened, because until then I did not think it would ever be possible for a person to kill a sea creature with her car. Ever since then I’ve considered myself hardened to any such surprises, so when I reached a little beach town—on the Paciﬁc side of Costa Rica—called Montezuma, where the roofs are thatched and the roads are dirt, I thought I was prepared. I was walking back to the bungalow I’d rented for 10 bucks, set in a mango grove with an ocean view, when, “Oh, look, a crab,” I said, pointing to an apple-green creature skittering across the road. It was sizable, bigger than the hand of a chubby adolescent.
“I don’t think that’s a crab,” said my friend Jen, who was already in the distance. I peered down at it, and upon closer examination, I noticed it behaved oddly for a crab. For example, don’t crabs walk sideways? And where was its shell? Do crabs shed shells? And it had the hugest ass of any crab I’ve ever seen…
“JESUS GOD! THAT’S A SPIDER!” I screamed. “THAT’S THE BIGGEST, GODDAMMINEST, HUGEST-ASSED SPIDER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD! OH, MY GOD! DID YOU SEE THAT SPIDER?!?!”
It took me exactly one-half nanosecond to reach Jen. “DID YOU SEE THE ASS ON THAT THING? I asked (I talked in capitals about the spider for the rest of the trip), “IT HAD A BUTT THE SIZE OF A COCONUT!” “I told you it wasn’t a crab,” said Jen. She acted amazingly calm for someone who’d just encountered a neon-green arachnid big enough to hump her leg. She walked serenely on, in complete contrast to me, her travel companion, who every third step would break into a ﬁt of ﬂailing arms and head slaps, as it was just a matter of time, I thought, before we encountered the giant spider’s giant web.
“I can’t believe how unfreaked you are,” I told her, ﬂailing. “THAT THING WAS PRACTICALLY A PLANET WITH LEGS!”
“We’re in Costa Rica,” she answered. “What did you expect?”
CURSE OF THE DAY-GLO ROAD SPIDERS
Her question gave me pause (not actual physical pause) because, the truth is, I came here not expecting anything. I needed a Latin American locale to study Spanish before taking the test that would qualify me as an interpreter, and I picked Costa Rica because it had newly established non-stop jet service via Delta Airlines. Plus, my friend Tanner had e-mailed me some information about a school located in the capitol city of San Jose that specialized in total-immersion courses—ones that, more importantly, I could afford.
Jen was a fellow student at the school, and she and I were part of a group excursion to the beach that included Tanner and his girlfriend, Laurie, who had both been to Montezuma before and who were also unimpressed with a spider big enough to win a ﬁght with an alley cat.
“It’s a jungle,” said Tanner. “Things grow in jungles. They grow big.”
Tanner and Laurie planned to put bananas on the balcony of their bungalow to attract howler monkeys. We had heard a few in the trees earlier that day, and Jen had warned us not to stand under their branches because they like to urinate on tourists. I wondered how the monkeys could distinguish the tourists from the locals. “It can’t be too hard,” Jen said.
Before I left Atlanta to come here, a neighbor had given me a guidebook to Costa Rica with a rainbow-colored tree frog on the cover. I never bothered opening it until I got to Montezuma, hoping to ﬁnd something in there about the curse of the giant-butted, day-glo road spiders. All it said, though, essentially, was that if you were hoping for an out-of-the-way, remote little coastal village to get away from other travelers, Montezuma was not the place for you.
So there it was again, another big surprise, because to me Montezuma was hellaciously out-of-the-way. It was hardly bigger than three neighborhood blocks, and it took four hours of travel over unpaved (or poorly paved) roads, plus a two-hour ferry ride to get there from San Jose. It seemed rustic, serene—the very depiction of remote to me. But then again, I’m a city chick who is only now becoming accustomed to day-glo tarantulas. Maybe after more time in the jungle, Montezuma will seem like a big city to me, and I will be found further in the wild, fully acclimated, truly hardened to any more big surprises, breeding those spiders to make purses out of their pretty, huge-assed, lime-green hides.