After three steaming days backpacking in a Costa Rican jungle, my thoughts should have been on a more predictable topic. A shower, perhaps. Maybe a memory of scaling waterfalls, or seeking famed tapirs. Instead, I was watching in astonishment as one of my hiking companions writhed in perfume-induced pain.
Shortly before, with just under an hour remaining before our departure to Puerto Jimenez, my four cohorts and I calculated we had enough time to investigate the local scene at Carate, perhaps even find a remedy for Kenny’s increasingly impressive ear infection. The “local scene” consisted of a break in the densely forested Osa Peninsula jungle, two or three beachcombers, an unhealthily large collection of hermit crabs, and a Costa Rican gipsy, complete with make-shift lean-to and plantation-fresh coffee.
We approached the wizened woman under the lean-to, inquiring after a remedy for una infeccion del oido an infection of the ear. The colorful, tattered, but well meaning, woman had two: cebolla and colonia. She promptly retrieved and diced an onion, then wrapped it in a handkerchief before squeezing the searing juices into Kenny’s ear canal. After a few uneasy twitches, he still looked pained. The woman repeated her other cure. “Colonia.” Though between us, we had nearly 25 years of Spanish, the term was unfamiliar.
After some clanking and rustling among cupboards, the woman held a small blue bottle in her wrinkled and leathered hands. It was a powerfully pungent perfume. Wary, Kenny permitted the woman to trickle four drops of the vile-smelling colonia in after the onion. His drooping eyelids shot open, and faster than a spider monkey can leap from branch to limb, he was on the ground, nearly howling. Alarmed, we rushed to find a cloth for the burning drops, but he quickly quelled his cries, and bravely stood. A bit shaken, we tipped the gypsy and hurried down the overgrown path to await our ride into Puerto Jimenez.
Where one might normally experience a famed colectivo, or collective taxi, to be a sizable bus, the road out of Carate had a more rustic version in mind: A Toyota Tacoma, complete with tarp. We five settled onto rickety slat benches, not attached, but wedged against the sides. Two other travelers clambered in, and we accordingly squished together. As we bounced down the road with more potholes than road, the afternoon rain began, and with it came seven more passengers, excluding two in the cab.
In its full glory, the colectivo carted sixteen people. Each bench boasted five squished bodies. What standing room was left in the center was consumed by two enormous red coolers, straddled by the two equally enormous, brilliantly colored, Costa Rican women. Two local men, drenched to the knees from particularly prodigious potholes, clung to the tailgate. I was thankful our backpacking gear fit in the cab.
That 3-hour ride in the colectivo from Carate to Puerto Jimenez easily constituted the most memorable adventure on the trip, and was the most well spent $8 imaginable. I laughed for essentially the duration. However, our first order of business when we arrived in Puerto Jimenez was to seek a viable pharmacy, and we found such an establishment shortly after disembarking. We recounted in Spanish our cebolla y colonia tale to the pharmacist as he supplied us with genuine eardrops in exchange for a handful of Costa Rican colones. He told us the cebolla fix was a feasible remedy. Onion apparently draws out the infection. The colonia, according to the man, was a very bad idea. With cautious chuckles, we agreed we weren’t going to contest that point.
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