There’s been a vile and unforgiving sound in the evenings lately here in Guanacaste. I’ve spoken to several locals who have heard the same thing, though none of them have reported anything. Nothing happens here when something is reported. But, an acquaintance who has lived here for 24 years told me it was nothing new. He also told me an unbelievable tale of dangers in…
A national park known as Rincon de la Vieja. He also warned me about going to the police, or the Ministerio de Turismo…they didn’t want to hear anything about what he told me had been growing out there for a few hundred years. KILLER TREES. My interest was piqued. The Philosopher Red insisted we mount an expedition at once.It took us several hours to get there, and much of that time was spent working our way through road blocks, which are not very common around here. The police – along with several stern-looking gentlemen in plain clothes with sunglasses and suspicious bulges along the waist of their pants – questioned us about where we were going, why we were going there, and what we thought we would find IF we got there. My friend Miguel feigned ignorance, which he is good at, and The Philosopher Red didn’t help matters by carrying on about his rights as an American. That’s something he’s become good at since he’s decided he’s a revolutionary, and it’s not appreciated by police or plain clothes goons when gringoes go snooping around in their country. But, we finally made it by taking a few back roads and crossing a river infested with crocodiles. And there it was. I, being the sort that will do just about anything once, approached the massive tree to take a closer look.
The tree had little to say for itself when questioned, and Miguel speaks fluent Spanish and Fig Latin, the language of these monsters, known as Killer Figs. I decided that if we were going to make any sense of what had gone on here, we would have to go and interview one of the last remaining live trees in the area.
Not far away was a pathetic Coyol palm, the last of its kind in the small valley. It was suffering from a painful root injury, and had been unable to escape, Miguel explained to us after a bit of intense whispering. It told him a miserable tale of abandonment by its parents, who had moved to a nearby resort, even building themselves a strong protective fence from the flesh of a cousin Guanacaste Tree. The Philosopher Red stayed to keep an eye on the suspect while Miguel and I went to locate the scoundrels, which we did, lurking not 20 kilometers away from the desolation of the valley.
Miguel questioned the two, asking for their side of the story. All he could get out of them was, “What?”, “Excuse Me?”, and a “It’s hard to hear you over the noise of this waterfall.” At least that’s what Miguel relayed to me, but it’s hard to tell who’s on what side when it comes to these dysfunctional family situations. I didn’t sense much remorse from the trees or my guide. We returned to the scene of the alleged crime to make sure The Philosopher Red had everything under control. When we got back, there was nothing but the Killer Fig, and a muffled moan that sounded similar the cries of some wounded beast.
Where the Philosopher Red had gone, I had no idea. He has up and disappeared before like a wisp of red smoke, and he had seemed uneasy being left alone with the Killer Fig. And, the strange muffled moan had stopped…but that could have been anything. We saw two wooden benches the tree had engulfed, as well as the handle from a plastic bucket and the bones of some large animal. “Horse, cow maybe,” Miguel said with a sigh that sounded like resignation.
Miguel told me how these Killer Figs go about their treacherous business. They start out as a vine, usually curling up and around a Coyol palm. Over decades they grow hard and woody, strangling the palm, then spreading out over centuries to drive down sucker shoots which they use to move on to more victims. I asked him if we were in any danger. He told me that if an elephant stood next to the Killer Fig for long enough it would be engulfed. I backed away. Miguel and I called out for The Philosopher Red a couple of times, and getting no response, decided to get the hell out of there…the red-cloaked maniac could make his own way back to Tamarindo. He found me here in the wilds of Costa Rica, I’m sure he could do it again, if he wasn’t Killer Fig food.
Something to think about the next time you water that cute little Ficus plant your mother-in-law gave you for your last birthday.