Sometimes I wonder if memories leave residues.
If we touch people and places and objects in the moment but we never fully release our grip.
I feel this here in Puerto Viejo.
Like the trees all know me because of the layer of my memories they wear on their leaves.
Like the sand responds to my foot as a familiar imprint of so many steps I took on its skin before.
And I don’t just feel my own memories here. I feel the memories of people whom I don’t even know.
Memories of people perhaps so different from me in appearance and culture and time, but who also took those steps and shared their secrets with the trees. Sometimes I sit alone and try to listen for their words that still linger. I want to hear what their wisdom of this place might teach me.
Maybe this is why returning to Puerto Viejo feels like coming home to someone I love so much it hurts.
I remember the first time I rode through the banana plantations and over the rivers to arrive in the dark jungle at night. Miles from town in a rustic wooden cabin in Punta Uva I felt simultaneously enchanted and terrified. But it wasn’t the men with machetes or the howls of the monkeys or the pounding surf that scared me most. It was how in the quiet of the jungle the thoughts I avoided in my own head grew deafeningly loud.
Away from my old city and my old memories, in the company of the trees I challenged my fear and began to listen. I told them my secrets. They told me they loved me. In their acceptance I loved me too.
I’ve left and returned nine times since then. Sometimes I leave just to escape the memories and to feel the lightness of being somewhere new. Sometimes I return just to feel the darkness to remember that it still lives inside of me.
Coming back two weeks ago after being away for more than a year in Southeast Asia, I wondered if the sea and the rain had washed my residue away. I wondered if my memories still remained.
As the bus emerged onto the coast and crossed the bridge into town emotion flooded me. The turquoise ocean sparkled under the bright afternoon sun and the sounds of reggae surrounded me. My eyes welled with tears and I felt a strangely comforting sense of familiarity. I felt like nearly nothing had actually changed. What had in fact changed was me.
I carried this feeling as I walked the paved road outside of town with my home still on my back. I sweat under the heat of the sun and the straps on my bag sliced into my bare skin. But I didn’t feel the pain. I was too preoccupied with the embrace of the trees.
By the time I reached Cocles I became confronted with traffic and music and crowds. The surf competition had just ended and the exodus began from the beach to the bars. I felt overwhelmed with sensation.
I reunited with smiling faces who told me “welcome home.” I played with friends in the sunshine and drank out of green coconuts on the beach. I dined in restaurants and hosted parties in my temporary mansion and sipped tropical smoothies by the pool. I watched fire spinners and danced in beach bars and went to bed far too late.
I had fun, but it wasn’t what I needed.
I needed to be alone. I needed to rediscover myself among the trees.
So one evening I walked out onto the beach in Playa Chiquita alone at sunset. Glassy coral pools reflected a soft lavender sky and the islands in the distance became silhouettes against the jagged coastline. There, I finally allowed the memories to settle.
I felt every step I ever took on this beach over the last three years. I felt every step that had ever been taken before me. I felt every step taken since. I felt every laugh every tear and every smile. I felt everything.
And then I heard them. The whispers of wisdom that still lived in the trees.
They told me that I belong here.
That I have always belonged here.
That I belong here now just like I belonged here the first time and the nine times after that.
That I belong here for the same reason I always have.
They told me that I belong here to heal.