Traveling with Sound and Image in Costa Rica and Panama

Author's note: the following sound recordings and still images were taken during a recent Spring Break trip in Costa Rica and Panama at the end of March and beginning of April of 2015. The sound was recorded by Jason Conger and the pictures taken by Greg Bem. The textual response included in this was written by Greg roughly three weeks after the conclusion of the trip.


Day 1: Houston Airport

Travelogue Selection 01 - 03-25-15 - Houston Airport

The moment before the action there is action. And there is standard re-action. The movement of knowing as “constant.” The moment of knowing is “present.” I understand the concepts. I understand “drive” and “agency” too—close cousins but still there is difference in knowing time. Houston, like many airports: walkways. Chairs. Observance of ambience. You can hear the click of the loop of the physical material. Clanging. Belts. We have industry. We have progress. We have a space in between spaces that we occupy, that we have occupied, that we will occupy. Reliance on dependable circumstances. The dim chant of neon. The feeling of rubber. Lack of health. Lack of cleanliness. Everything is still yet flashing, sterile yet soiled. I am of the everything, this moment of tranquility amongst the humans we all know and will all fall in love with, incrementally: the Travelers.

Day 2: Hotel Javy, Liberia, Costa Rica

Travelogue Selection 02 - 03-26-15 - Hotel Javy in Liberia

We are like water, dripping into the stillness of exhausted energy. Through time and space: through craft. We sit and we imagine what it would be like to capture, to keep, to imprison. For some, it is sounds. For others, images. The darkness here is a darkness I know well. I know it well because it awakens us beyond the light pollution. There is the smell of burnt palms. There is dust and dry. There is the fountain beneath the mango tree. The bananas clumped together like ribs, dangling above the pool that reflects as we will it to. I take many angles in and click many angles into my memory. I feel for this being. This existence outside of that which we currently associating. I do enjoy this. I do feel exhausted. I do need to be mellowed by the repetitive splash into the tiny pool. Above birds are probably sleeping. Below rats. And beyond? Humans. Humanity. Every sense of it suddenly gone. Every channel and eyesight is gone. We are in a chamber of echoes, and the night sky is our only audience.

Day 3: Beach, Playa Brasilito, Costa Rica

Travelogue Selection 03 - 03-27-15 - Playa Brasilito Beach

Amidst the ripples of the footsteps of giants. The moon’s sudden guffaw or gush slowly wrapping us up, an auditory blanket. I am mellow in this heat, crouched and in love with the endless, empty horizon. There is land out there somewhere. There are giants splashing, surfing. The children dart about. I see ebony eyes glancing back through the sunlight. I see apparitions. I see the palming of water to face, the salt caking in the cracks of eyelids. There is sand made of crushed rock. And further crushed shell. Browns, tans, pinks: everything spins its own story. The markings are markets. There are patterns of natural art. There is journey here. We have walked and we have become burnt, but the siren’s call is that of the wave, no rocks to splash but the deepest wells within our ears.

Day 4: Beach, Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica

Travelogue Selection 04 - 03-28-15 - Playas Del Coco Beach

I learned the word “grace” at an early age. I committed it to memory because it gave me hope. Now we know the intrinsic relationship between grace and leisure. Between grace and comfort. We walk through swirling tides of culture and the waves pushed through lunar drifts of air. Everything is summer. All the time our mind is made up of a median of pleasure, a heat made of desire, lust for ease. We do not stumble here. We cannot. We can only open our eyes, our ears, and let our minds slip across the plane. Time and space are cloaked in a casual perseverance. Everything here is for us. Everything here is for everyone else. We step along and let our curiosity and love for the world calm our hearts and moisten our hair with flecks of salt water and the passion and love this strong music of life gives us.

Day 5: 151 (Street), Playas Del Coco, Costa Rica

Travelogue Selection 05 - 03-29-15 - Main Street

We do dream you, America, from down here, another angle on America. Another space of flux. We are tourists. We are journeying through the night. The day has been as long as it has been easy, for we flourish when we are opened like chests filled with treasure, when the night crusades and carry us from position to position. Words flow across in Spanish, then English, then a mixture of both, a hybrid, and the static chanting of our breaths turns into maniacal breathing. For we know our senses have much to offer, and we are transformed by the inclination that we know nothing but where we have come from, and where we want to go. The road here is busy, fast, and loud. There is a draw, an attraction, and the heat swirls across our gaze like a mirage or knife thrower’s trick. When was the last time we were more distracted by the tangible reality in front of us over the Internet waiting for us inside a device?

Day 6: Waterfall, Miravalles, Costa Rica

Travelogue Selection 06 - 03-30-15 - Miravalles Rainforest Waterfall

Force does not require brevity to strike a blow. Like a cannon or an airplane’s engine, like a poem, water shoots through the greenest plants on earth to the orange surface of cut rock. I know not of this exotic location. I know volcanic activity sits higher up, but this is one vessel, one vein, sending the earth’s lifeblood outward. Where water exists on the ground, the heat exists up above. Virility through the combination of wet and dry, blue and red. The cool and the hot. We sit, capturing the infinite poses of water, the world’s best, most beloved dancer, who gives us a show, never desires to cease, will not cease until dead, and even then we know the performance will be elsewhere, hopefully some of which is down our throats, for we have walked many steps, ridden burros, zip-lined upside down, and are slightly tired.

Day 7: Snorkeling Trip, Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica (Remembering the Boardwalk from Day 6)

Travelogue Selection 07 - 03-31-15 - Snorkeling Trip

Dreaming of the bottom of the ocean, we set sail for the secrecy of the beach shaped like the blade of an ax. We are plump from the eating, leaning forward from anticipation. Our memory is one of walking endlessly throughout the nightlife of Tico tourism. This is Holy Week, after all, and happily I watch as Catholicism and the Christian Identity is mesmerizingly beach-going. Surf’s up, first, then down, second, and so on, and so forth. Back on the boat, my memory is still of the darkness. Not as dark an ocean spirit as the Bay of Thailand, but close: a gallop from moment to moment, feeling to feeling. Costa Rica and the Infinite Movement. Costa Rica and the meta-adventure. For we sit still in such confidence despite our ability to be fleeting heroes and villains. The sun cascades giving Monkey Island, called such for its monkey-shaped head, a bright green and dark grey haircut. When nature is instantly symbolic, what does it become for us upon processing?

Day 8: Expreso Panama Bus Trip

Travelogue Selection 08 - 04-01-15 - Expreso Panama Bus Ride

I care. The sun bellows and bows, setting pink fire to every horizon. Clouds in the distance look as though they are at war with one another. I glance, then part my vision, then glance again. I cannot stop. I will not. I am warm and comfortable. Reading. Listening to motors. Watching. We are still, and the bus is half occupied, and the roads are smooth, and the hills are forever, and the forests are utterly entrapping in their density. A visual display of the phenomenon: chaos juxtaposed with order. Stillness juxtaposed with movement. I think of her. Always her. I wonder what Jason thinks of. We are wandering and wondering and the motor of the bus sounds like insects one moment, frogs another, birds another, my stomach another. I interpret the sounds as phantasms or phantoms. This coming of age story is a coming of time, as we make our way toward Panama, a land unknown but beckoning me with a finger of liquid and emptiness—suppositions I counter with a sunset now complete.

Day 9: Park Bench, Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama

Travelogue Selection 09 - 04-02-15 - Casco Viejo Bird Shit Bench

Madness. You don’t know madness until you know a tree that is a den to an infinite number of birds. Raptors. I imagine all of their talons in a row, collected. I cannot think. I cannot stop to think. I cannot keep moving. I am beyond myself. The knowing of the squawk. What makes that? And that? Who? And where? I lean forward. One bird multiplies into ten. I retreat. It is important not to get shat on, I think, noticing the incredibly layers of bird shit scattered across every surface surrounding their haven of insanity. Is this emblematic of Sodom? Is this the award they’ve received for grouping themselves together, riotous and forever sexual? Don’t they get sore up there, mating into oblivion?

Day 10: Rain Forest Discovery Center, Gamboa, Panama

Travelogue Selection 10 - 04-03-15 - Gamboda Hummingbirds

In the distance: the monsters. The monsters: howler monkeys. Never has there existed a more menacing sound in nature than the mountainous roar of those beasts. And yet the Panama guide says nothing. He does not follow us. He points and describes. Then he looks elsewhere, and disappears from our thoughts. Thoughts taken over by the flutter of the frantic. The small and the quick. Never has there existed more elegantly supernatural a sound than the incessant buzz of the hummingbird. In the foliage beyond the canal, the hummingbirds congregate, move along, seeking all that is sweet. Hundreds of the mechanical bodies twitting and flitting in romantic, surreal ways. Every instance taken as instant. We risk sleeplessness as we risk wakefulness. They call the shots here, as long sugar sits still before them.

Day 11: Tocumen Airport, Panama City, Panama

Travelogue Selection 11 - 04-04-15 - Panama City Airport

Did it miss us and what did we learn? What did we have to know and to encounter and to believe in as we spirited away from present to present from past? The crowds move about with eager honesty. A belief that they follow their paths with an agency and an understanding. If only I knew more ways to describe the dotted noise that consumes us. For we are part of this noise too, always, and we stare on passionately, allowing that which opens its throat to let us in to do so in harmony. I make my own breaths slightly louder, understand my contribution to the totality of networked movement, and understand that we have succeeded as Travelers this time, and perhaps every time, justifying our movement with very nodding in acceptance, exhibited and exerted energy filled with effort and courage.

Bonus: two pictures of the authors!

Travelogue Selection 12 - 04-03-15 - Bio Pic for Greg

Travelogue Selection 13 - 03-28-15 - Bio Pic for Jason

Greg Bem and Jason Conger live and work in Seattle. Jason works in digital advertising and Greg works in a couple of libraries. Before the trip documented in this post, Greg and Jason traveled throughout Southeast Asia together. You can check out their adventures there via this travel blog.

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