It is windy the afternoon you arrive and the white caps off the beach do not look as if one will be able to swim there. You are handed large green coconuts with bamboo straws sticking out of them.
You have come from a city teeming with the rollercoaster worry of two years in a pandemic. You would not have chosen a resort to be the first trip since COVID first altered the patterns of the world, but you have been invited here and it is warm and sunny, while back in your life it is January and cold.
A young man in a blue shirt and mask introduces himself as your Experience Manager and tells you about the resort. If the dwellings were taken down today you would see no sign it had been here. It is up to you what kind of experience you want here—to do nothing at all, or kayak, snorkel, yoga, et cetera, but the hope is that you will relax and connect with nature.
Your companion would love to kayak the next morning, and yes, snorkel. You think, I need to nap.
You do not particularly like being waited on. Pampering yourself seems unseemly. Your companion however takes great delight in being looked after and is gracious and appreciative when offered a late lunch of red snapper and a chicken club wrap.
When you step out of the shadows the sun feels like a strange homecoming.
Your quarters are named Laughing Turtle. There are glass walls in solid wooden frames; the cove and blue water can be seen through straggling branches past a deck. The bathroom is huge and airy with a slatted sauna bench, mango lotion in a jar, and white towels rolled like spring rolls.
You lie on top of soft white sheets, your bones sinking below to the smooth wooden floor. The ceiling is a white cloth, scooped into a tent point at the center below a thatched roof. Already you feel the relief of not being surrounded by your shelves, your kitchen, your books. You think, When I get home, I will get rid of everything.
The sound of the waves crashing, the dry leaves swishing in the wind. The foreign sounds turn things over inside you, then shake them out. One feels, I will improve my life.
In the morning on the porch, at breakfast in the thatched shade, all guests stare toward the sea. To our table, servers bring sliced mango, melon, and pineapple—all at perfect ripeness. Scrambled eggs, toast. Watermelon juice! Cappuccino! It is delightful to be waited on.
Vacation. To vacate. Empty usual thoughts. Let in new air.
You sit on the chaise above the beach half in sun, half in an umbrella’s shade. No one is in sight. Lovely. Your companion has energetically paddled a kayak to disappear behind the buttress-like cliff. Your heart beats heavily, still catching up to being here. You look down at your pale legs. Yes they are yours, but.
You have left the lull of habit which envelops you back home.
In front of you, past the empty beach, is a line of islands lumped like gumdrops, and a mountain range beyond with many pointed volcanos. The volcanoes here are dormant, active, or extinct.
You have nothing you need to do. It’s like falling luxuriously. Will you waste these blue and green days?
Some tree trunks are butterscotch smooth and stripped of bark. They are molting. It is the beginning of the dry season, and plants lose leaves and bark; flowers drop seeds to scatter in the wind. You hear a crackle of leaves and watch an iguana, big as a skateboard, waddle onto the beach path. He bobs a helmet head tipped with pink and blue spikes. Soon he is prehistorically chomping on the rubbery vines ruffling along the beach. You note with relief that he is not extinct.
Your companion returns full of excitement after snorkeling with five black sea turtles. They were huge, your companion says, already showing signs of sunburn. As big as me. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I stared straight into the eyes of one, its face the same size as mine. We both thought, There you are.
At the top of a nearly vertical road, you are driven to a spectacular wooden deck where dinner is served. An open roof is dotted with round baskets circling light bulbs, a pink sky is splashed with orange clouds, and a small florescent ball is making its way to the horizon. On vacation, time is set aside to watch the sun set, with a spicy margarita in a shapely stemmed glass. Tables near the railing or cushioned sectionals all face the view. In peoples’ hands, phones are raised into small slabs of worship. The sun sits for an instant on the horizon then vanishes. A warning blip.
It is quiet; there are not many guests since the resort has few dwellings. You look at them and try to tell if they’re happy. One family with teenage children, speaking Spanish or with British accents, another with adolescent sons and a mother who talks quietly and continually in Norwegian? Swedish? Tonight guests drift silently in after darkness has descended: a mother and daughter, an older couple, a younger couple, an older man with a younger woman. All pairs. You look at their silhouettes as the woven basket lanterns bob in the warm wind and wonder out loud who they are. Your companion requests you keep your voice down.
On vacation you can choose what to vacate. Your companion is reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, a 1924 dystopian novel where people live in a state-controlled world. You are reading a memoir manuscript by a friend you’ve known for forty years. You are here on the other side of the world getting to know a friend better.
Your first dip in the water, you feel strangely like an intruder, pale and parched, the octagonal shadows undulating over your legs. Strands of dry straw tangled together drift down to the sea floor and turn into a stick crab that scampers away.
Snorkeling, your mask fills with water. You are not getting suction because of your glasses, without which you cannot see. Spit does not effectively de-fog the lens. Breathing spastically, you feel you aren’t getting enough air from your snorkel and begin to panic. You never panic! I’m in good shape, you blurt out to the kind young guide as a wave smacks your face, adding to humiliation. But what stays in the mind afterward? The guide’s hands as he caught a pale blowfish underwater and held it like a football, and you watched it swell and change color with its old-man eyes.
The black sea turtle lays her eggs on the beaches here and staff patrol to ward off poachers. Raccoons also poach, and crabs.
In the still darkness, you and your companion follow the guide’s silhouette in a flashlight’s round beam, up a steep rustling path with wooden steps and rope railings. You stop near a tiny green gecko throbbing on a trunk. Your guide shines a red light—less disturbing—on a sleeping bird tucked behind wiry vines. It is an elegant trogon; there is a red, heart-shaped mark on its white chest. You will write down the name later. You want to remember the new words, but you also want not to have to concentrate on remembering. You then decide filling your mind with animal names is more interesting than vacating. Some names you can remember: the leaf-footed bug, the black and orange Halloween crab. The howler monkey.
You stop and, with lamps off, listen to the high peeps of a screech owl. Your sneakers slip on the dry dirt. The trees click in the evening wind. You recall how when you were young, being outside in the total dark was a normal thing.
Above the beach the moon is a sliver, but it casts an ashy light showing your shadow on the sand. Tumbling low surf glows with phosphorescence.
It may be too bright for the turtles, your guide tells you. They prefer the dark. Then halfway down the beach he whispers, There’s a mama laying here. You creep toward the trees and hear a thump deeper than the rumble of the waves. The red lamp gets pointed, its circle of pink with a red center, to a fan of sand flinging into the air as if off a propeller. A flipper! A turtle the size of a round table is digging, slowly and deliberately, half-hidden in a fire pit depression. She swoops another spray of sand. Unwittingly you gasp. Your companion elbows you, sshhhh. The turtle will lay eggs every other year, in four or five nests. Only one of a thousand eggs laid makes it to adulthood. The hatched turtle will never meet its mother; the mother will never meet her offspring. Her exhausted head lifts and turns slightly back toward you. Maybe she hears you. Around her mouth, saliva glistens, there is an exhausted glint in her eye. This is the extent of her motherhood. She continues digging.