Beaches, Sunsets and Butt-sniffing: The Best Vacation Romance Ever!
I was sitting on the beach in Costa Rica with my brother-in-law, Roberto, last week, when he leaned in, poised to tell a story.
I love his stories. They’re vivid, filled with humor, and even a little mean. Not because Roberto is mean – he’s not. What he is, is a keen observer of nature, human and otherwise. Of reaction and interaction, of the way the light reflects upon the sea, of the way a campfire can smell like winter even on the hottest day, and a young woman can smell like a summer night no matter what perfume, or lack thereof, she’s wearing. He’s also a Latin bon vivant – a man who taught himself French, just so he could read Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas in their native language. And the only straight man I have ever known who can credibly wear an Ascot.
His stories are filled with piquant details, and I’m always happy to put down whatever book I’m reading in order to listen.
“Look,” he said, pointing to two dogs wrestling on the beach. They were roughly the size of Golden Retrievers, but in form looked more like Dalmatians without spots. One was pale yellow and the other a rusty-brown.
“Cute,” I said. And they were. Frolicking, rolling in the sand, nipping at one another.
“I’ve been watching them all week,” Roberto told me. He and my sister-in-law, Sheila, had arrived a few days before my husband and I, settling into their time-share and stocking up on supplies: insect repellent, Spanish ham, fresh papaya, gin, tonic.
“The female, the light one, belongs to a family who’s on holiday, while the male belongs to one of the beach vendors and lives here all year.”
Lucky dog, I thought. Because if there is a dog heaven, it has to resemble Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica. Black, volcanic sand, tiny islands just off shore – easily swimmable to a gifted athlete, a sky so blue it makes rain seem impossible. And these dogs were chasing each other on it. Sniffing each other’s butts, trouncing on sand crabs, radiating joy.
“Yesterday, a man walked by and made friends with the male dog,” Roberto said. “He had treats in his pocket and was giving them to him. And when he continued on his walk, he beckoned the dog to come with him. He didn’t call the lady dog along for some reason. Perhaps he didn’t take to her. Only the boy.”
I could see why. The male dog seemed like a bit of a rogue. Free and handsome. The perfect partner-in-crime for a young, single guy with a pocket full of kibble.
“And the male with the brown coat, he ran after him, so happy, while the lady dog, she sat up, cocked her head. She sat right there on the beach.” Roberto pointed to a log and some driftwood next to a colony of volcanic rock. It was the only lonely place on Playa Hermosa and even people in search of solitude seemed to avoid it. Although the palm log there was one of many that had been downed by a hurricane the previous week, no one would sit on it, while the others were full of coconut salesmen, women in sun hats, and beach volleyball players anxious for a way into a full game.
“This lady dog looked after him with such sorrow,”Roberto told me. “She watched her lover run away and follow this man, chewing his treats. Forgetting all about her.”
I looked over at the lady dog, with her pale yellow fur and one paw up, elegant, holding it the way a woman at tea might hold her pinky as she takes a sip of her Earl Grey. Then in the next moment, she crumbled, stretching out onto her back and taking playful swipes at her fickle beau. You’re too good for him, I wanted to tell her.
“And so it went for some time,” Roberto said. “The lady just sat there. She couldn’t even whine, she just looked on as he scampered away, oblivious to her suffering.”
“Typical man,” I said, and Roberto laughed, running his fingers through his thick, black hair, and scratching his scalp as if it were a decadent pleasure. The dogs were rubbing off on him.
“But every once in a while,” he continued, “The boy dog would stop and look back. The lady was still there, still looking after him. And this seemed to please him. Then the man would call him and he’d go. He’d take his treat and keep following this man down the beach. The boy dog was prancing, cheerful in the presence of his new friend, but then he turned around again. And still, there was the lady, longing for his company. She wouldn’t move. Such sadness.
Once more, the boy dog turned to the man, who gave him another treat, and he ate it. But as he started to go with the man again, the boy dog with the brown coat turned around one last time. Of course, she was there, faithful and heartsick, just as she had been.
And right then, he left his new friend and came running back to his lady. I have never seen such delight in the eyes of another being as I saw in that lady dog’s eyes. He ran to her and he jumped up and she sprinted towards him. And they have been in love ever since.”
It’s funny. Yes, they were in love – these two dogs. It was as clear to me as it was to Roberto and anyone watching them. I wondered how long the lady dog would cry once her family took her back to their home in San Jose. Or how long it would take before her vacation lover forgot her. Stopped gazing out over the water and moved on to another visiting canine, or another man with treats.
But that’s not the story, is it? The story is that he did come back. He chose his girl over his buddy, and over treats. That’s what this story is about. And while it probably didn’t end happily for the dogs – they are, after all, dependent upon their masters and will in all likelihood never see each other again. Their love, however, did inspire another story, as all great romances do.
It inspired mine.
My husband and I were having our first vacation alone, without our children, in fifteen years. Even Sheila and Roberto were leaving us after a couple of days, driving back to their home in San Jose.
Of course, we knew our romance wouldn’t last either. Soon, we would have to get back to our children and our jobs. Like the beach dogs, the week was pretty much it for us, and we relished our time together with the same, unbridled enthusiasm.
We got a couples’ massage right on the beach, took long walks, drank fruity drinks with little umbrellas, held hands, swam in a warm, frothy ocean, and kissed while watching a sunset that looked like burning embers.
We said I love you with real feeling, instead of tossing the words off in a hurry as we do when we’re on our way to another work event, another soccer game.
Sure, I whined for a couple of days when we returned. And my husband stared at his computer screen, barely able to move. Until a call came in and he had to take it.
Slowly, we moved on.