Saying a temporary goodbye to that sweet new litter of kittens in the quaint, royal blue hostel I was unexpectedly to call home over the next couple of weeks, I walked around the small town of vibrant nights and quiet mornings with sweat already dripping from my brow, surprised that so few places were still closed after 8 AM. Life of Pura Vida I suppose.
Finally finding a spot for breakfast on that, my first morning in Puerto Viejo, I was shocked when seeing prices on restaurant menus displaying California-level prices along the streets of Rastafarian vibes there at the ocean. Seeing the pricing trend continue the next day when grocery shopping, I was hit with the rude awakening that Costa Rica had become more on par with the expenses of home than the low cost of most of Central and South Americian countries. Lord knows why it hadn’t dawned on me before that things may have changed from the days of stoked-surfer comments about low cost had been what must had come no less than ten years before.
The reggae vibe brought over from the Carribbean people who had stayed in Puerto Viejo after building a railroad added an extra flavor to mix the two cultures. In addition to that, what I also loved was how many of the men I found physically attractive and how many of them also seemed to feel the same about me. Even down to my thick thighs; an area of my body I was used to being less than favorable in the US. What wasn’t so great was the first guy hitting on me, a thin but muscular Latin man with bright green eyes, going for one of my pet-peeves when giving me the back-handed compliment of telling me how most people say Americans are assholes but I’m cool. Uh…thanks?
There was an upsetting amount of cleaning that first day of “volunteering” in the two-story hostel and it was to continue every day. Also an infuriating moment when Hector, the hostel owner, came down on me for getting two check-ins with the same name mixed up. It was my first day with next to no training and I had been brought in under false pretenses. Dock it from my pay, dude.
I was also grouchy at the lack of bathroom butt blasters and instead, only super thin TP that couldn’t even be flushed down the toilet. Oh how I missed Thailand in those moments. Now, months later, I wonder why it hadn’t dawned on me to buy my own. *Scratching head*
The whole experience gave me a newfound respect and love for our protection in the US in regard to being exploited. Still, I liked Hector and even more so his tico (local) wife, Mary. It also became apparent by the end of my time there that their ethics when expecting next to free labor was not so likely a sign of who they were but more about falling into the “everyone’s doing it” category of their culture. Something I’m sure I’m ignorantly obliviously to in my own as well.
Mary, calm and cute with her long dark hair and one of the purest smiles I have ever seen, had an exciting history. The stories of who she was along with the way she thought and the life choices she had made showed her to be a kindred spirit among the crowd. A native Costa Rican, one would never have guessed she had so much worldly and career experience and had chosen that over being taken care of by men who adored her. Her laid back and humble way of living Pura Vida was an inspiration to show how we can have it all, as was her character that shown bright in moments such as when seeing me biking down the tropical streets full of tall lush green on both sides, whether from a car or a bar, and she was quick to call out a hello with that big smile and a wave or an invitation to join her and Hector. She was also quick to give reccommendations of places to go of which I was soon to follow.
It wasn’t the first time in another country, nor would I imagine it to be the last, before I quickly started being told that I talk too fast. Something I’ve noticed in Big Red (sister/Wendy) and I for years and have always been curious about given that our parents don’t and that we were raised in a multi-cultural place with many languages. If anything, I’d think that would create an environment that would teach us to talk slower. Or at least cling onto other Americans who can understand us better like a girl from Pacific Beach that checked into the hostel, the beach neighborhood right next to my own at home is San Diego, but nope. Most of the time I run from other Americans when travel. In fact, ans oddly enough, most of the friends I’ve been making the last couple of years have been French.
Sitting on the beach and staring out at a large, half-sunken sailboat during sunsets, I reflected new thoughts and revelations about all the things that were happening. How I enjoyed souvenir shopping for the first time, that I was getting to the next step in being ready to focus more on other areas in my travels beyond just beach location (good thing India was next on the list) and that I was at the end of my rope as far as traveling as a backpacker with no money. Also that I was ready to start taking tours at the beginning of my travels to show me more of the countries I go to before planting in one area. Still my preference but it was time to start focusing on getting around.
I love the things I learn about the communities and cultures I visit, not to mention the chance to establish relationships when staying long enough to make it happen. For instance, people would just leave their cars running, volcanic black sand is magnetic and the interesting fuachia fruit with it’s tentacles meant to be peeled before eating looked and tasted like lychee but was actually a fruit by the name of rambutan. While Puerto Rico was still in the lead for Mojitos, hanging at a chill beach bar while enjoying a two for one deal as I overlooked that same sunken ship from a different angle and listened to a Rastafari man selling souvaneers (as well as weed as announced by his larger-than-life shoutouts with the Alto voice of an opera singer) was pretty high up there.
My favorite experience while there had to be going to the Jaguar Rescue Center(please donate). A small and locally owned animal sanctuary that took in injured animals and set them free after nursing them back to health. Sorry to disappoint but there weren’t any actual jaguars there. The name had come from an injured cat that had been brought to the founders for help but had died due to their lack of knowledge. That loss was their inspiration for more education, resources and the small sanctuary. So cool.
A version of my heaven, there were animals roaming around everywhere amongst the green trees and accompanying small bodies of water. Monkeys and sloths with their babies, owels, crockodiles, other kinds of exotic cats and even a one year old color peccary by the name of Gentida that just strolled along with us for a bit. For once I was actually able to pay attention to the guide (hello ADD) and learn cool stuff. Did you know that howler monkeys are the loudest animal in the world? Or that they have been used for sounds in movies such as dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park and dragons in GOT? Neither did I. What about how the holes in a sloth’s coats are meant to collect algae in order to turn them green and make them smell like the forrest for cammoflogue. Also that sloth moths lay eggs in their coats which allow larva to climb in and out, also helping them to cammoflogue. One more cool little tidbit was that their coat grows down so rain can run off since their body doesn’t produce enough energy to regulate temperature. A side effect from all the leaves they eat all day only providing around 800 calories. Also makes sense why they’re so slow. No calories = no energy. !Muy interesante!
Given the old and worn out rental bikes from the hostel “voluteers” were allowed to use for free, it never took long for something to go wrong. Case-in-point, a chain coming off or my yoni going numb after the first half an hour of riding. That combined with a daily work shift after the preserve meant that I didn’t make it to the twice as far Manzanillo beach as I had originally hoped to do after the rescue. What I did manage was to enjoy the more chill beach across from the preserve and another day later at that farther beach. A ride that would have killed me had that old rickety bike betrayed me on the longest and most intimidating of the downward slopes. Managing to survive that, I met a laid back local tico surfer dude with a cute little hut on the beach on my ride back. His chill energy was a relaxing change after all the hot but aggressive guys constantly hitting on all of us ladies. Especially considering that we were going out every night dancing until 3 AM to wherever lady’s night was going down. The only thing that was going on at night, really, given what a small town it was. My little Brazillian pal Andressa’s joke about those nights was how the bars were herding all of us ladies in to get us drunk before the guys pounce. Especially comedically ironic when we were out for Women’s Day.
In all honesty, I probably would have been a bit more naughty if the guys had chilled out. Well, and if it wasn’t such a small town for gossip to spread. Instead, I ended up in a brief backpacker-style fling with that guy I had met on my way home (who had mentioned noticing me in town before that, BTW) after one fun and impromptu double-date night (of sorts) with a lovely British bloke I met at a bar and two of the new French pals I had made at our casa as we sat around a rickety umbrella table in the yard while getting bit by fire ants.
The fling with the tico was sweet and romantic though the grand finale more that of comedy when it included getting devoured by Purrujas (sand gnats) while laying on the beach under a palm tree as we watched the sunset. Bites, mind you, that don’t show with their insane itchyness until the next day. After the yet-to-be-known bites that night, I was also faced with a long bike ride home though the jungle with my headlamp going dead and then becoming spastically nervous that an animal was going to get me. Wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a factor of hot mess, now would it.
Spending time with my temporary sweetheart, the Latin side of the culture and the similarities in beaches made me feel at times like I was in Mexico. That was until the reality of how expensive it was slapped me in the face again. Something that made me chuckle with thoughts about how I may have to start living on dates in order to eat. Like most travel, and I suppose most of life, I could be lonely at times, even despite the amazing romances and pals, but travel moments such as those was a big part of what was giving my life meaning, good moments and bad.
Other random moments of contemplation seem to pop up at the most unexpected times. Say when plans to go out to get some coveted free mojitos for lady’s night turned into staying in, sitting in the dark and listening to the rain while hanging with the kittens (thanks to friends crashing out once a bad storm had hit and I had run a wee bit too tardy for the party). The things that become clear during those moments are fascinating. In that particular instance, that I don’t always enjoy what I’m doing in my travels but I need them. Learning, loving, adventure, growing and turning dreams into reality. Especially because I didn’t do it at the younger age of most, even though my dreams had never changed (much) and I had wanted it even back then.
As is such with the irony of life, one of the things that seemed to create the most growth had been working through rough stuff like wanting to leave so bad after Envision and then almost crying in thankful relief for getting past it and staying. Real travel ain’t for the faint of heart. Another revelation that had been creeping up was the thought (and hope) that it was time to move on into more moments of rest, relaxation and experiences purely about enjoying myself during my travels. Also that I couldn’t believe how much I was starting to crave being around people my own age. A need for diversity probably also played a large roll in that one given that there weren’t too many of my age-related peers around.
Finally time to leave, I wondered why I had bothered to wash anything given how it all smelled like travel/mold. Something that was becoming a constant in the humid places I was visiting. Once having traveled back to San Jose with one of my new pals who was to room with me, I said no to a last night out as I was exhausted and the devistation of leaving Puerto Viejo had set in. A sadness that didn’t start to fade until getting on the plane the next day in my yoga clothes, socks, earbuds and had my charger hooked up below the TV on the seat in front of me.
Managing to enjoy the two meals served between attempts at snoozing (adding to my weirdo = I like airplane food), I began to feel relaxed and like way more of a pro with the last thought before finally dozing off being about how my bag had been so fucking heavy but I had used every single thing in it.
As I settled in, wrapped up in a blanket in that row I had lucked out in getting to myself, the sadness had all but completely faded as the next adventure took hold. I was on my way home to get ready for India.