On the Road Again: Costa Rica

On night one, I sat in the sterile-meets-snazzy hotel restaurant, knowing it was entirely too posh and AC’ed and buttoned-up for the country I was about to see, but feeling perfectly OK to hover in that comfortable safety zone before launching into the week ahead. I peered around expectantly (and excitedly!) in the restaurant and lobby, hoping to find someone..anyone..from my group, but alas, I navigated that first night alone (probably just fine, considering the exhaustion headache pressing on my temples).

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So instead I dove into my smartphone’s WiFi, ordered the grilled veggie panini—all in English (cringeworthy, in hindsight)—acutely aware of and nearly embarrassed by how “American” (North American, I should say) I knew I appeared during that first evening of the trip.

But I cut myself slack, easing back into what it means and what it feels like to be alone far from home, in a land that is so foreign (and so not Europe, which practically doesn’t feel foreign to me much of the time). And I gave myself permission to enjoy the cookie-cutter accommodations—removed from the humid buzz of real Costa Rican life outside—tiredly, deliriously, disoriented-ly indulging in the comfy bed, real water pressure, cable TV and properly flushing toilet. Even a slice of (something?) cake greeting me on my desk.

Sometimes it’s OK to hover in that familiar zone, I think, before we take the step out into the unknown. Steadying ourselves for the rich, full, multi-tired, multi-emotional experiences that are to come.

Places change us, thank goodness, and before long we become temporarily immersed in their tapestry, their rhythms, their unique cadences. (As I type this, I hear the accented English of Freddy and Diego swirling in my head.) And we come to realize that we can never get back to those night #1s in which we felt tentative and vulnerable and unsure—which really, looking back, is a very sweet and beautiful place to be.

We returned to this same San Jose hotel on our last night, and it looked entirely different to me after a week of experiencing this land of friendly “ticos,” a week I am still processing, because—like all travel—it had many highs and a couple lows.

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Yet I know for sure that the following are key buzzwords from the cumulative experience:

*COLORS, zip line, crocodile safari, sweat, butterflies, monkeys, clouds, city traffic, beach sunsets, rice and beans, fresh fruit juices, surfer man buns, patience, impatience, WiFi, anxiety, tranquility, car time, motion sickness, potholes, flora, bugs, vultures, language lessons, “mai,” tile floors, open walls, lazy fans, roaming chickens, plastic furniture, scamping iguanas, plantains, brilliantly-hued birds, macaws, dodgy AC units, spitting shower faucets, heavy humidity, “sodas,” cumbia, laughter, “cafecitos,” Paris terrorist attack {fear, horror, sadness, heavy-hearted, gut-punched, surreal}, futbol match, garlic “shrimps,” note-taking, “pipa,” Pilsen, miscommunications, camaraderie, “Ole, ole, ole…ticos, ticos!,”storytelling, community,“muchas gracias,” goodbyes, “Pura Vida!”*

Costa Rica reminded me so much of Kauai, Cambodia and countless other destinations, plus allll my time spent in incredible, alive SudAmerica, an era that sometimes slips from my consciousness as time marches on. I am so grateful for explorations that remind me of long-forgotten journeys and inspire me for adventures to come. It is a vast and wondrous world indeed, and I feel forever fortunate to venture beyond my own little corner.

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