Robyn and I had landed home following our recent trip to Kauai, Hawaii, and I was on the train to the central city where I live. My mind was still flashing to tropical images, but these were images of my first trip to Costa Rica with Lee. It has been twenty-five years or longer. Back then Costa Rica was still relatively unknown, a postage stamp sized country and adventure travel destination that most people could not locate on a map.
I will always remember the first glimpse of the upscale jungle lodge we stayed at for a short time. The “lodge,” such as it was, consisted of a moderately sized dining room and outdoor bar and a small cluster of chic tropical huts built from teak and cedar. The place sits on a tiny slice of paradise deep in the Osa, and high above the Pacific Ocean. With great effort human beings had managed to reclaim this sliver of land, and only fleetingly I suspected, from the relentless encroachment of the rain forest.
Getting there was half the fun: a short flight from the capital of San Jose on a tiny prop plane that chugged and climbed up and over Costa Rica’s central mountains, before making a steep descent into the emerald jungle. Suddenly, in a clearing there was a dirt runway where there once might have been banana trees. Next, a bumpy ride on a dirt road led to a river with a dock where a small boat was moored, awaiting our arrival. A lengthy float trip on the brackish waters follows, the rumble of our boat’s motors alerting scarlet macaws to our presence. They scatter from their tree top perches at our approach. We slowly cruise past an indifferent caiman, lounging on a narrow strip of sand bordering one side of the river, unfazed. A welcoming cool breeze, courtesy of the blue Pacific, signals that we are nearing river’s end. At last, entering the ocean, we snake along a coastline consisting of sand beaches with palm trees against a backdrop of green mountains. No other humans in sight. After several miles, we arrive at a rocky harbor where a steep path leads from a beach up a hill to the as yet unseen lodge and its grounds.
A holiday featuring wonderful and colorful birds and butterflies, white-faced capuchins, dark spider monkeys with long, thin arms and hooks for hands, built for swinging through the trees. At sunset and dawn, the howler monkey cries echo throughout the rain forest. One day, after a morning scuba dive, we come upon a female humpback whale and her calf, lolling on the water’s surface under the tropical sun, then calmly diving in unison whenever our dive boat gets too close for comfort, showing us the backsides of their enormous flukes–the humpback whale equivalent to “flipping the bird,” perhaps? One moment a Jesus lizard rests on a rock near a stream in the rain forest, the next moment, a Jesus lizard is snapped up in the jaws of an enormous snake that has been waiting in ambush. We are awakened one dark night by the scurrying of an gigantic wolf spider hunting small rodents in the rafters of our hut. What a wild adventure!
By the time we made this trip, Lee and I already had a long history together. Indeed, before we ever thought of dating, we shared common friends, attended many of the same parties, and ran in the same social circles. For several years we also worked in the same downtown office. We were friends long before we became lovers. For us, dating had seemed like an inevitable outgrowth of our friendship and common bonds. We always had sparks and great chemistry. And the best part of our magical trip to Costa Rica turned out to be the realization that we could spend our lives together. So we did.
Robyn and I ventured to Kauai under very different circumstances. A little more than one year ago, we “met” on an internet dating site. You might remember there was a raging pandemic, so, at first, we merely exchanged online messages and viewed the photographs. Next, we talked over the telephone. Finally, we met for dinner on neutral territory. I wore what I had hoped would be a funny hat, so she would recognize me, but it only caused Robyn to look at me a little bit sideways as if there might be something “funny” about me. (A story for another day.) After dinner, we left the restaurant for a nightcap elsewhere. I escorted Robyn to her car and clumsily kissed her good night. I still cringe thinking about it.
Our first date nonetheless must have been a success because we continued getting together on a nearly weekly basis. In short order Saturdays became – and still are—date night for us, except now we spend the night together, as well as most of the day preceding the night and much of the next day, too.
We do have our differences. For example, I am childless. Meanwhile, Robyn has three adult children and several grandchildren. She still works. I don’t have to work, and most days don’t. I am 100% urban dweller, Robyn is 100% suburban dweller, and believe me, these choices reflect different lifestyles and vibes. These differences come across to me most clearly when I attend her family’s gatherings. As I listen to the conversation I am struck by how insular, in some ways, even uninformed, they seem to be about my world. Such differences are not trivial for me.
There are things about the city where I live that still can shock, perhaps even frighten, Robyn. On the other hand, by nature she seems to be a risk taker. She is capable and self sufficient. Robyn is young at heart, an excellent trait that helps keeps life interesting. Robyn also has personality, which goes a long way with me. So, despite any potential impediments, Robyn and I consistently have grown closer in the the months leading up to our recent Hawaiian holiday.
If my first foray to Costa Rica was about pure adventure, then my recent trip to Kauai was more focused on pure relaxation. However, hiking is an activity I have long enjoyed, and I had been looking forward to doing some hiking in Kauai. I managed to convince Robyn to get a decent pair of hiking boots for our trip and supplied her with the gift of colorful and collapsible hiking sticks that every woman secretly craves. Robyn’s likes walking in the suburbs, but in Kauai I learned that she is no hiker. Unfortunately, trails in Hawaii generally are at least moderately difficult; many are far more challenging.
Robyn could not manage the first one we attempted, a relatively short and moderate uphill climb to a ridge offering a wide view of Kauai and the surrounding ocean. We also did not complete a second attempted uphill hike, made all the more challenging due to moisture that made for a slippery descent. Nonetheless, Robyn seemed to be slightly more comfortable on this occasion and did not fall even once. (I slipped at least three times and left the place covered with thick mud.) Watching her, I had to admire her toughness. I appreciated her willingness to undertake an activity for my sake that she would never have otherwise undertaken. I will return the favor the next time we visit a large outlet mall together.
Our accommodation in Kauai was a pricey, shabby chic, small one bedroom house. The house was centrally located on the East coast of the island, making travel around the place relatively easy, the one exception being a designated wilderness area located on the iconic Na Pali coast, along the northwest edge of Kauai. Think opening shot in Jurassic Park but without the dinosaurs. There are only two reasonable ways in: by boat or on foot. (We agreed that a helicopter trip was completely out the question based (a) on cost and (b) the fact it seems like an inherently dangerous method of traveling unless you’re Tom Cruise.) Before leaving on our trip, we had intended to take a sunny day trip on a catamaran (lunch and snorkeling included!) but had not taken account that it’s “winter,” even in Hawaii, making for less sunshine, colder and rougher seas and virtually no Na Pali boat trips to be had anywhere. The best-known walk is a tortuous 14-mile, overnight backpacking trip, rated to be difficult at least, and reputedly a terrifying experience for anyone who does not relish negotiating steep and narrow cliffs that drop hundreds of feet to the rocky Pacific coastline while wearing a heavy backpack. (I belatedly learned that users are limited in number and the hike itself requires a permit. Thankfully we did not have a permit. Indeed, even if we could have gained entry to the backcountry, good sense would have ruled out such a demanding hike for two senior citizens.)
Kauai is a tiny island, and we covered every side of it, from the beaches on the busy and popular south coast to Waimea, also known as the “Little Grand Canyon, on the West coast, and traveled as far as we could go in a car on the main roads along the scenic North Coast, which had a definite surfing vibe. There, the road abruptly ended.
Kauai is replete with numerous uncrowded beaches, each one with something to offer a traveler. We also hit plenty of local shops and consumed plenty of local foods. I even found that I liked eating sushi with Robyn, who loves the stuff. I assumed it was fresh and local, though I had no way of knowing whether it was fresh and local. Still, I had enjoyed the experience.
All in all, a fabulous, if too brief, trip for two to a place that most folks would agree is a “paradise.”
Two tropical trips separated by nearly a quarter century. Perhaps my trip with Lee was more of a true “adventure,” but, if so, I only mean it in the sense that this trip was more physically demanding and the destination itself was a place many people at the time would have considered to be wild and inaccessible.
As for Robyn, certainly, our trip together proved to be an adventure, but mainly one that tested our relationship. And I hope I am speaking for us both when I tell you that it seems that we are closer today than ever before. (And I am sure that my opinionated girlfriend will correct me if I am wrong in this regard.) So speaking just for me, despite our different histories and backgrounds, I feel completely comfortable and at home with Robyn. Things between us feel right. I might even venture that, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” except I’m afraid that line already has been used.