When asked how long he had been here, Chon smiled slightly and replied, “Always.” And I believe him. He has that kind of permanence, a subtle and quiet depth, the kind that bespeaks years of growth, both outward and inward, like the roots and limbs of an acacia tree.
Many people spend their lives searching for his kind of acceptance and tranquility, journeying to places far and wide in order to find themselves. Chon is the kind of man who has travelled widely, covered vast worlds without having to move his physical body. And people bring their worlds to him, as does the landscape and creatures of Costa Rica.
His house is small and simple, a concrete form painted soft yellow and ringed by a scrubby yard, a dirt drive and a slew of various deciduous trees. His yards, front and back, are home to various dogs, the occasional chicken or rooster who wanders lazily in the heat of the equatorial sun and, of course, his beloved horses. It is lovely and makes no assumptions. Chon could be a horse-whisperer; he has that kind of air. His aura is one of blues and greens and if he could run freely upon four legs, I am sure he would.
How long have you been here? Always. And so we began our excursion on horseback, leaving Chon’s private sanctuary on the strong and warm backs of his horses. Chon speaks to them in word and gesture and takes off down the road that leads to the beach, kicking up dust and disturbing flies. His horse’s gait is solid and it seems the saddle and reigns are unnecessary adornments he uses to help others feel more comfortable. He wears sun-bleached dungarees and a wide-brimmed hat, pulled low on his brow to shade his eyes. When he looks at me, I see contentment, a man at home in the world and someone so grounded in his own being that he can afford to be generous. He smiles often, opening his face to generous light. His eyes crinkle at the corners and match the color of his chestnut Philly.
We ride along the beach, avoiding the salt water that is harmful to the horses’ hooves. We stroll casually through neighborhoods, looking at houses and wildlife and talking in halting Spanish. He is patient with me and points out sleeping monkeys, termite nests, tracks in the dirt. Everyone we pass waves at him and he stops to speak to many of his friends, young and old. His horse is glistening with sweat for the afternoon is warm. We climb along narrow trails up an embankment, working our way along a ridge past fields and forests. The larger homes, those with gates and security systems, are frequently owned by Americans who only visit when the mood strikes. He tells me this with no malice in his voice. The higher we climb, the scarcer the homes but also the more elaborate. We move further from settled property and traverse a grassy road where hundreds of skinny trees fight for space and a place in the canopy. Our horses know the way and climb with sure feet and a lumbering gait.
I watch Chon’s back sway slightly on his ride and listen to the sounds of the forest and the sea. At the top of the climb we come to a clearing far above Samara beach, which stretches out in a long, flowing curve of white to the east. We are far above it all in the silence of the mountain. The only sound is the faint echo of the surf crashing beneath us on the rocks and the warm whiney and snuffle of the horses that have so graciously brought us here. Chon says this is his favorite spot in all of Samara because it is so secluded; he can come here with his horse and stare at the ocean, far removed from the sounds of civilization.
The horses are tethered to a tree and we peer gingerly over the cliff face. Below, 100 feet or so, the sea churns in varying shades of blue and green. Far off in the distance a fishing boat moves towards the shore and faint sprays of white foam mark the vast expanse of liquid azure when a wave hits a rock or sand bar. The sea stretches on forever and the air at this altitude is cool and fresh. I think about space between sea and sky, what it might feel like to fall freely from the cliff and be embraced by the swirling waters. We are above the pelicans and gulls that fly randomly below us, hunting for fish or diving in the rocks to seek out their hidden nests, bringing salty treats to their young. I fantasize about pitching a tent or building a simple hut in this small clearing at the top of the mountain. Who needs people, electricity, and the conveniences of town when you can feed yourself on the view, converse with the wind and read by the stars? Excitedly Chon points to the water so far below us. “Tortugas” he whispers. And in the waves and blue-green light we spy the great turtles as they swim, float and dive for their dinner. Quietly we stare at the ocean, track the Tortugas and wait for the pinks and reds of the setting sun.
I rode with Chon for three hours, certainly not enough time to even know someone on a rudimentary level. However, I have never met a person who seemed to me more whole, so complete and content in his life. He embodied happiness to me and I felt calm and satisfied in his presence. I only saw him a few other times while in Samara. Each time, he was with his horses, riding along the road or the beach. Sometimes alone, sometimes waiting to meet others who he would take trekking on horseback into the forests beyond town, he always greeted me with that same smile, quick and real, and took my hands warmly in his. I often think of him and his horses, his perfect gem of a house tucked discreetly in the depths of a dusty road in a tiny town dotting the Pacific coast. I picture him riding alone, slowly up the trails to that place of peace and solitude overlooking the waves that forever turn.