Some times you do something that changes your life forever.
I took a job in Costa Rica. I packed up the house in Wales, confident I would be home in two years and we left to see the world.
The first thing I recognised in San Jose were bizzie-Lizzies flowering in cracks of the city streets and that is where the familiar stopped. I didn’t recognise anything else.
Outside of the city there were active volcanoes belching steam and spewing larva; in the uplands resplendent quetzals plucked wild avocados from cloud forest trees. On the Caribbean coast there were jaguars on the beach and on the Pacific coast giant turtles hauled themselves out of the surf to lay soft ping pong ball eggs in the moist sand. This was my new found land, my America and the exhuberence of the tropical forests; dry forests; clouds forest and beaches blew my mind.
This wasn’t Wales.
When there was so much to explore and so much pristine wildlife outside of the city to see, the personal domain of a garden seemed of less importance, but as l, like all other real people had a living to make, the jungle was only for the weekend and my garden was for the week.
Our bungalow in San Jose had a small wrap around garden with a car porch and a tall white wall on which sprawled the fastest growing bougainvillea in creation. An explosion of pink flowers cascaded from it all year and the huge spiny branches seemed to grow a metre a day. When we came back from a week away we had to hack our way through the gate.
At the Saturday market you could buy orchid plants hanging from scraps of wood and my car port was soon festooned in them. They went against all instincts, they seemed to have roots that should be covered in earth but were happy to absorb water straight from the rain. With some judicious spraying they periodically produced wonderful flowers, but the nakedness of the roots still disturbed me.
We hung up a sugar water feeder and a humming bird came to feed at the window. It was an utterly improbable jewelled mechanical toy that seemed suspended in the air by an invisible wire and to look into its bright eye was like looking into another geological age.
A tiny garden opened out from the shower with a burglar proof metal lattice above. This was the perfect place from which to suspend pots of more orchids and shade loving ferns and when I washed, I felt I was in my own miniature jungle.
Near the bedroom window a chilie bush grew, that produced very small, very fierce red chilies all year round. We tried a few in cooking and they were all seed and heat. Lying in bed under the mosquito net we would watch a plump grey taniger pluck them one by one and toss them delicately down without a tear.
After a while we were troubled by an appalling smell from the drain outside and eventually discovered a decomposing cane toad, massive and bloated. The drain man tossed it into the empty lot next door where it continued to fester and stink for weeks, but its removal seemed to encourage another cane toad to take up residence in the garden. It was as big as a kitten and excellent at catching pests. I know that cane toads are considered the pests in Australia where they were introduced, but in Central America, where they originate, they are wonderful.
There were only two seasons: wet and dry and things grew in both. The rains brought the lushest growth, but the windy dry season was still green. There was no respite from the geckos and lizards, from the frogs and the birds and away from the city, the butterflies, the bats, the snakes and the monkeys.
To us the whole country was our garden of Eden.