A re-post from 2006.
The nice thing about travel is that no matter what mundane activities life brings, a meeting, sitting in traffic, walking to the grocery store, on hands and knees cleaning the kitchen floor, I always have these memories of places I was. Sometimes, if the right song
comes on, or if I catch a smell that reminds me, or the face of a stranger, I remember these places and go back there in my head. I remember that I wasn’t always the teacher/mom with a mortgage and a station wagon. I was once a vagabond in Costa Rica, or a visiting teacher in rural areas of some out back far away country, or on a bus in the sleet going to the Andean cloud forest to soak in hot springs.
I can go to how I felt and what I saw, what I ate, how people acted, and for that time, I am not doing the mundane activities that occupy my days. I can go back to being a lazy traveler in Costa Rica for 5 weeks, walking trails or streets that went God knows where, because I had all this time, and I was in this place, a place that when people say the name of the country now, it seems idyllic. In this, I know that in my mundane existence now those places are only ever just a plane ride away, but I am happier still here, for now.
Five days after I arrived home from living in Russia for two years, to my father’s fury and to my family’s dismay, I was headed back to the airport. Five weeks in Costa Rica. To them, it seemed like I had evaded the workaday world not only the four years of college, but and additional two in Russia and now this? Was I ever going to try to make money, settle down, get married? I was 29.
And in my head I knew, I had my whole life to pay bills, go to work, and worry about maintaining the accumulation of material possessions that come as part and parcel of stateside life.
Sade and I planned to find a jobs, so we had planned five weeks to do this. However, right before we left, she told me she had found a job stateside. So the plan to get jobs lost steam. I didn’t want to be there alone, I was tired of being surrounded by strangers. So we just traveled up and down the west coast of Costa Rica, we did not go to the east coast mainly to avoid the anti-malaria pills. So we had five weeks to kill in this tiny country. We could have ventured out to say Guatemala, but we did not. For my part, because I was living on a shoe string and could not afford to venture into the unknown that Guatemala represented.
I had less than a thousand measly dollars to last me 5 weeks. That’s 190 a week for bus fare, accommodations, food and any entertainment. Accommodations alone were the better part of 100. Food was cheap, but it still ran about 12 dollars a day. After food and accommodations, I had a measly 25 dollars a week to spend to travel. I must have been insane. I came back skinny, to be sure. We dined on papaya, gallo pinto and an occasional empanada. This was a theme for the trip: I was strapped.
These were the things I learned 1. I was 29 and too old to stay in stanky hostels with my own sheet to cover the bare mattress. They were places with bare bulbs over head and lovers who carved their names in the walls. An occasional roach and a view of a brick wall. 2. Traveling poor is akin to getting the experience of being a native, except there is no family to take care of you, and you aren’t a native, you’re a gringo. In fact, most of the natives have more money than you.
But c’mon now, I was in a beautiful country, and after having emerged from what at times felt like the Arctic tundra in Russia where on cold wintry nights we sat around and tormented each other with remembrances of how much we missed tater tots and tacos, Costa Rica was heaven. Russia, where we all had to wear five layers of clothing for 9 months of the year to Costa Rica, a tropical paradise. That is, as soon as I could quit saying “Da and Nyet” the the taxistas. I had forgotten most of my Spanish in Russia. This broke my heart, it was like forgetting my first love’s name. I had made a commitment to Spanish, that luscious romance language had been replaced by the razor sharp, subtle and cruel tones of Russian. For five weeks I was to speak as much Spanish as possible and retrain myself back to my first love.
I was determined to not let my lack of funds drain the beauty out of this luxurious trip. Sade and I traversed from coast to orient up and down the west side of Costa Rica. If I could sum up the trip in one word, it would be unhurried. We had time to burn, things to see, mountains to climb, waves to play in and beaches to doze on and we did everything on the cheap. We would be up early to catch the bus outta town with enough time to catch a meal at the tortilla factory, sitting on a mottled wooden bench next to an old lady with her hen, and some kids dressed up to go see a family member. Enjoying a slushee thing from a plastic bag and straw under an awning at a street cart while the rain pelted the streets that were filled with bicyclists trying to wrap up their leisurely evening ride with boyfriends, sisters, brothers. Unhurried to watch lightning shows dazzle our eyes for an hour while we laid in a patch of soft grass. No rush to make it to the museums, the restaurants or back to the hostel. We had time and sunshine and plenty to see.
I got my Spanish back and was back yelling at the taxistas to not take us the long way around. We skinny-dipped in a pool, we watched the full moon rise over the ocean, we walked and danced and napped. We met a band from Portland and played pool with them, we stayed out all night till there were no taxis to take us back home and stayed in a shed where our friends were. I could hear the monkeys of the rainforest of Manuel Antonio screeching all night, and watch the little line of ants crawl on the perimeter of the mattress, underwear soaked and zipped into my goretex shell from the unprepared late night swim. In the morning I remember the people we were with, one of them read from the bible in the morning. I remember that seemed so unusual, like the bible came from another planet, but it was good.
The places we stayed, the things we did…visiting college campuses for fun, walking the hallways, imagining what it would be like to be a student there. Sade would go out photographing and I would occasionally just stay back and read. The rainforest, the mountain, the beach rainforest, mountain beach rainforestmountainbeach. By the time the last weeks were upon us we were both done. We were ready to go back to a normal life. Our days were filled with random trips to wherever to see whatever just to do something. Sucking down shakes, eating enough black beans and rice to kill a goat, considering rollerskating, taking pictures inside a panaderia. I can hardly imagine now, the hours that just slipped by as we walked down paths just to see where they went.
Here stateside I always feel like my days are a frenetic push to be productive. I can’t just sit around, I have to get things done. What things? Pay bills, buy a card for so and so, take gifts to someone’s house, clean the floor, make the bed, clean the tub, correct those papers, plan up the week, go grocery shopping, fold the clothes, buy this thing or that that we need. In Costa Rica, the evenings were filled usually with the sound of rain or thunder, someone playing samba, and the ticking of the clock. There was nothing to get done, nothing to buy or clean.
I cherish knowing that this is now, and what is elsewhere is always within my reach, no matter what it is.