By 3:00 I was back in my room, exhausted. I had gone to lunch at a touristy place where Juan Carlos, my waiter, poured the mango juice fast and loose. I ate the first of many servings of arroz con pollo (rice and chicken). Then I climbed a steep street and found myself in the Plaza de las Artes. (Note: plazas are as popular in San Jose as squares in Philadelphia.) I listened to musicians play in an outdoor tunnel and watched bored- and annoyed-looking Ticos wait for a bus.
The streets were steep, and I ran out of breath several times. I wondered whether my life would be different were I not burdened by extra pounds. Yet I felt healthy and tried to push those feelings away. I climbed a hill with the goal of capturing an interesting photograph of the city. As I shot away, a taxi driver pulled up and warned me not to stop for photos--that it made me a target for pickpockets. Away the camera went.
I had hoped to spend the afternoon at the Museo Nacionale
to learn more about Costa Rican history. The museum is housed in the city's old army headquarters, adjoined to the Plaza de la Democracia. But I got so turned around that I ultimately got in a taxi and headed
back to the hotel. I felt lonely but knew it would be only a few hours until I met my travel mates.
Already I liked the rythmn of life in Costa Rica, or at least the rythmn of my
life on vacation in Costa Rica. With the sun setting so early, I had no reason to stay up late. I awoke when the sun filtered light through the small window across my bed. I got up and stretched like a cat, then curled up again under the covers. Now, as I sat in the hotel room, I listened to the afternoon rains of "green season," the clever moniker travel agents use to market Costa Rica during the rainy months. There are benefits to traveling then, however: fewer crowds, lower costs and, I had been told, lots of baby turtles. I couldn't wait to get to Playa Matapalo
and the sea turtles.
At 6:00 I met my new friends under the covered terrace at the hotel. Our tour leader, Corina, screamed introductions over the clatter of the rain. Corina, originally from Germany, lives in Peru and conducts tours for GAP in Central and South America. Tammy and her roommate, Roxanna, hail from San Diego; they hadn't known each other before the trip but became fast friends. Tammy broke the ice by telling us one of her gay friends says she's a "Crasian," or Crazy Asian, and that every gay guy should have one. Now every time I hear the name Tammy, I imagine a wrinkled-up cranberry raisin...although the real Tammy is the opposite: open, adventurous, healthy, alive.
Two older women--well, older than me--came from England and Israel. Hellela and Arella sat quietly and revealed little, but we later learned they are sisters. Dustan and Lanita, a young couple on their honeymoon, came from Washington State, and our representative single guy, Chau, traveled from Canada. He chose Costa Rica over the Rocky Mountains because, he sa
id, he "wanted to meet new people." Three of us were missing: two women from the U.K., and the Belgian who would be my roommate.
Between the pelting rain and the awkwardness of a first meeting, Corina told us about the"rustic" and "remote" accommodations of Matapalo. She prepared us for night shifts patroling the beach, requiring a walk of about 6 kilometers each night (about 10 miles). Looking around at my marathon-running, Olympic pool-swimming and rock-climbing friends, I wondered whether I could keep up with them. Still, I couldn't wait to go. No TVs, no phones, no modern accoutrements outside of electricity and plumbing. Maybe I could get back into, or out of, myself. Even though I had "survived" a day without my cell phone, computer or e-mail, my mind was still racing, racing, racing. Living in the moment seemed so hard, let alone thinking about what happens at the core. Sometimes it seems like steading myself can be too much to bear.
Nevertheless, I felt hopeful and excited for the real adventure to begin. After a dinner with the group, I returned to my room, shut my eyes and calmed myself with thoughts of the cat I'd seen in the window of a nearby house that looked very much like Tug.