So there we were, all twenty-two of us. We were eight children (four with disabilities), two mammies (being Yours Truly and Curly), two mentors and a film crew. We all landed with Irish flourish in a rare town named San José.
The country’s prettiness on landing teased us with its odd sporadic forest fires and patches of lights… I pointed out a fireworks display at 1,000 feet but as the ‘plane turned it went out of sight and nobody believed me. Then we all went deaf with the sudden drop in air pressure and concentrated very hard on our brains and our bladders to stop them exploding. Nobody vomited, so that was nice.
Costa Rica was interesting from the start. The night-time airport air is warm. It smells of salt and perfume, and something like the after-notes of sewage. They never tell you about that in travel guides. It’s not an unpleasant smell as such (like horse manure and the way you grow to like the stable odour), but it tells you that you’re somewhere warm. My skin felt different, the night-time fug blocked my pores and soothed them, all at the same time. Big green leaves, croaking squeaking bugs, muted silence behind.
We met four people at departures outside on the musty road. They had white vans and catch-phrases like
“Who has the duct tape… ‘cos this guy’s RIPPED!”
They asked me if I was psyched. Nghh. Enthusiasm is unnerving to us Irish as a stereotype, we’re not used to that sort of energy at all at all and had no idea what to do with it.
They high-fived the kids and gave free smiles and helped us out. They marvelled at mine and Curly’s speedy wheelchair folding technique and asked us what our qualifications were. We felt fairly awkward at having to describe the experience and efficiency of an Irish Mammy and how there is no such qualification, as such. I have my First Responder qualification but I’m all theory and no practice which isn’t much use. Curly’s business is caring for many children at one time which requires dedication and patience beyond means… not to mention a sense of humour. We had nothing to prove, but everything to learn and I think they sensed that in us.
These dudes were strong and mindful, all members of Ocean’s Healing Group. Two were astro-physicists, two were fire-men. One was a woman of flippant strength and beautiful form who smoked cigars. One was a bloke who I’ll dub Billy, he and his wife had battled through his kid’s disabilities just like our family did and had a look and a voice about him not unlike Harvey Keitel’s, or Tommy Lee Jones’. He was also one of the astro-physicists so I wondered if he had satellite input on my picking my nose in my back-garden, or if he ever will do, in the future. You can never be too sure. Another was a Hawaiian fella, let’s call him Mowgli. He had a Ukelele.
The next day there was a van journey, then a boat journey…
…the boat journey was fun. The teens danced on the top deck or looked on in amazement, some stayed inside out of the harsh sunshine and bought coca cola while nobody was looking. We mammies pushed sun-cream like it was illegal. Mowgli let me play with the Ukelele and belted off a tune or two before I had to float off to offer assistance somewhere else. It was a nice moment.
On the other side, we piled into the vans again, and drove to Shaka.
This is Shaka, the base from which we did our first week’s adventures, and a look into the ethos of the people that run it.
It was heaven. In fact, if it weren’t for the wee beasties and the fact that we couldn’t flush toilet paper we would all probably have been wondered if we were on Planet Earth at all, its beauty was that unreal. There were monkeys above us, there was a banquet on the table.
Mowgli showed me how to take a persons blood-pressure around a large wooden table under ceiling fans and eavesdropping lizards and warned me on the hazards of dehydration.
Curly and I shared a room… we began our bedtime routine of medicine giving, comfort giving and bug evicting that evening before sharing a smoke and settling for the night. I say settle… the rare coolness of the air conditioning soothed our sweaty foreheads and gave us a second wind. We giggled at how the rolled-up mosquito nets looked like condoms and laughed when we discovered we’d both brought EXACTLY the same swimming costume. We missed our kids together, and fell asleep at an ungodly hour.