How The Blind See Costa Rica (A Tribute To My Dad)
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A PERSONAL TRIBUTE TO THE BLIND IN COSTA RICA
No other place can accentuate unnoticeable beauty quite like Costa Rica.
For years I have travelled the country’s lush landscape in search of the rarest and most awe-inspiring sights. Treks to mountainous highs and valley-sunken lows have taken their toll in the form of heel blisters, achy limbs, fatigue, and homesickness, but in return for the fare, I am richer than I ever thought I would be. Wealthy in wanderlust, I have witnessed something I never thought I would see: the imaginative spirit.
The day I met the world’s smallest orchid in a musk-whiffed and foggy cloud forest (through a device I can only assume was the world’s smallest magnifying glass) was the day I was introduced to life’s magnificence; how unobtainable it is, often, to be captured by the human eye. The night I sat on my front porch and watched strands of flickering fire tumble down the side of a volcano playfully and with haphazard ease (the same volcano that serenaded me nightly for a number of years with a lullaby of seismic grumbles), is the night I recognized my innate incognizance of such magnificence; a perpetual cycle of ignorance furthered when we (as a collective) give more thought to what our eyes can trace on a surface than everything they cannot picture below.
I would be lying if I said I had not always placed greater emphasis on what I had seen throughout my travels when sharing stories with loved ones and members of our blog community. After all, most of us choose to communicate with each other with reference to sight, and I was no different. I have seen the resplendent Quetzal, after first hearing its song in the distance. I have seen all five of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes, in addition to cupping and smelling remnants of their ashy sediment in my hands. I have seen the stunning Caribbean Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Nicoya Gulf, albeit my tongue has tasted the sharp bite of their salty waters. I have seen the most breathtaking Costa Rican wedding unfold amid a wonderland of natural heliconias, although even more beautiful than the tropical backdrop was the feeling that overcame me when I said “I do” to my better half.
Over time, I watched my international family grow to love the country with a similar passion and adopted sense of comfort to my own. Much of their admiration too was rooted in the things they saw in Costa Rica that were different than the things they were accustomed to seeing at home. My father fell head over heels the most; he never shied away from the people, their purposes, and the mantra “pura vida”.
For a relatively inexperienced world traveller, my dad knew Costa Rica. As a tourist, he rafted raging rapids on the Pacuare River, navigated rental vehicles through flooded backroads, basked in the Guanacaste sun, ate a lifetime supply of rice and beans, shimmied to a marimba beat, hoofed national parks, picked fresh yuca from the plant, toasted an Imperial cerveza (“beer”), soaked in smelly (but rejuvenating) sulfur-ridden hot springs, and perfected the pronunciation of the Spanish order “no culantro, por favor” (“no cilantro, please”). Most importantly, he knew that “being Costa Rican” evidenced kindness, sincerity, generosity, simplicity, and a strong work ethic. He observed each of these qualities in nearly every Tico he met.
And, dad was legally blind.
Without sight, I knew my father was unable to see Costa Rica the way I could. He could not witness his reflection in the crispness of a drop of morning dew resting on a branch in the rainforest, or watch an army of leafcutter ants march in unison up and down the rugged terrain of a tree’s bark. But, he would feel the dampness of the rainforest cool his skin and he could touch the jagged edges of its half-eaten leaves with his fingertips, emoting as much of a reaction and appreciation for both as any sighted other.
In fact, dad could sense Costa Rica, in the most practical application of the word.
With heightened olfactory (smell), auditory (sound), gustatory (taste), and somatosensory (touch) senses, my father knew Costa Rica from the inside out. When a howler monkey called, he did not search for it among the trees–he let the baritone notes echo through him like a drum. When a cloud rolled in, he sought not to find clarity amid the fog–he inhaled and exhaled the smoke-smelling mist with every breath. At dusk, he did not watch the sun set over a pristine beach–he dug his toes in the sand, felt a breeze roll in from the sea, listened to the rustle of swaying palm tree fronds overhead, and enjoyed the sweet and aromatic concoction of a canned Cuba Libre (“rum and coke”).
I could never understand what it feels like to be blind, but my creative soul insists that as humans our imaginations are far more reaching than what we choose to set our sights on; that in our mind’s eye, what we believe can exist is infinite, and that such limitlessness is more beautiful than anything the eye can see.
Close your eyes, for a moment, and familiarize yourself with the darkness. What if within this darkness there was bountiful light? Illustrious colour? Multi-dimensional texture, shape, and motion? If seeing is in fact believing, when seeing does not exist, are we left not to believe? I choose to think that life is whatever we imagine it to be.
One of my father’s favourite places in Costa Rica was a hummingbird garden. The steady buzz of hummingbirds hovered around him was a source of calmness despite the species’ rapid and frantic sudden movements. Their earth-tone bodies decorated with hints of emerald green, cobalt blue, and a vibrant purple flashed at each feeder unbeknownst to my dad. I like to think that in his mind, each bird was painted in a spectrum of bold colours and, much like fine beaded embroidery, showcased enough intricate detail to keep him entertained for hours. When he heard the birds zip by him, perhaps he saw them dancing. When he imagined them nourishing themselves with nectar, perhaps he saw them sharing. And when he held his finger in the air for two or three to seek respite on his perch, perhaps he saw them smiling.
Sadly, dad passed away a short time ago. Although he did not see all of Costa Rica, he certainly experienced much of it, and I am undoubtedly a more conscious traveller as a result of the time I spent getting to know and learning from his imaginative spirit. My level of awareness has expanded; through travel I now seek not what can be found, but opportunities to create. I listen. I touch. I smell. I taste. I feel. And, I remember that life is richer when one’s consideration of vision is superseded by their willingness and fearlessness to envision.
This is how the blind see Costa Rica–not short of ability or void of visual memory, but much like the inspirational figure my father was, as self-sufficient, admirable, and imaginary visionaries.