My friend Juan Mora was musing on the unusual origins of his name while we were out in the beach of Playa Tamarindo. There were actually two Juan Moras in Costa Rican history, who were especially important in the years after Costa Rican independence from the Spanish.
Juan Mora Fernandez was Costa Rica’s first head of state. A liberal, he immediately acted land reform, making the country financially independent and succesful. Ironically, this Juan Mora also enabled the environment that would allow the cafeteleros, or coffee growing landowners, to attain wealth and power, that they would later use to usurp the government he formed.
The other, Juan Rafael Mora Porras, was a war hero and cafetelero, and the very same who tried to undue many of Juan Mora Fernandez’s work. He was ambitious and very smart, but his ambition would later prove to be his undoing.
While musing on the lives of famous, larger than life people, I found my mood being elevated and excited. As I darted in and out of the water for short peeks in the water, watching leatherbacks from afar, I started imagining how exciting it would have been to live in those times. Two centuries ago, there was a small place on earth that was trying to make their way after colonization. Left to their own devices, they were to start making a city state on their own, and they were to do so in a way that would benefit everyone.
On the other hand, I would not have wanted to have been around for the time of the Coffee Presidents, like Porras. It was around this time that the grand experiment was to slowly unveil from external pressures, such as the impending threat of American colonizer-adventurer William Walker, and the elites’ attempt to reform the country to their benefit.
Physically, my head was floating in water. Mentally, it was floating in thoughts of adventure and grandiose enterprises in the past. Coffee, which Juan Mora Fernandez had hoped to bring Costa Ricans together in a state enriched with equitable prosperity, was poised to become the reenabler of the coffee landowners, and as they themselves grew coffee and learned the ways of their workers, would climb up the steps of influence and become powerful again post land reform.
What a time it would have been to be a young Latino then! The chance to make your mark in that era, and eventually choose whether you were to be fellows with the coffee growers, or become their master.
It was while I was musing on this that I noticed I was in unrecognizable waters. Suddenly, everything seemed a dark green around me and I could scarcely notice any leatherbacks around anymore. I rushed towards the surface, but found I just kept swimming upward.
Everything seemed so strange. I was sure I was wading fairly near the surface before all this. As I kept going higher and higher, I started to notice a faint light from the distance, breaking the darkness of the sea. Maybe I found myself in an underwater cave? But even then, I could find no explanation for how I got there without noticing.
As I motioned more towards it, the light became brighter and wider. I was not sure what was going on or where I was being led to, but I strangely felt no sense of panic or alarm. The water was cool and silent, lifeless and still. Somehow, I felt intimate with it, even familiar. Maybe this is all happening in my head?
But then, I reached the light, and saw that there I was close to the surface. I got out of the water, finally, but could not find my friend Juan Mora, or our belongings or clothes, or the van that brought us there. The beach suddenly seemed barren and empty.
I shivered as I made my way back to town, and it was then that I came to appreciate Tamarindo’s well-paved road as I learned what walking through the beach was like without it. It was the middle of the night, and bathed by moonlight, I made my lonely sojourn.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t long before I found myself in the middle of a coffee plantation. Acres and acres of coffee, its fragrance goading me to keep going. As if merely smelling it was enough to load me up on caffeine.
I kept going, feeling suddenly energized, even though my body was already telling me it was tired. At this point, the water had unpleasantly dried up, to be replaced my mud on my legs and sand and dirt sticking all across my body. I was uncomfortable and slightly itchy, and just as sudden as I was woken up by the smell, I crashed in the middle of the fields. The following day was to prove even stranger than these past few hours.
(to be concluded)
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