Playas del Coco, Costa Rica
Last night for nearly two hours I stared into my laptop trying desperately to find a way to get to Costa Rica. The young woman working the front desk at the hostel I was staying at in San Juan del Sur could have brokered a peace deal with all the effort she put forth to help me with my very first world problem.
The truth is I didn't have much business trying to squeeze another stamp on my passport with the time constraints I was facing. A practical man would have just opted to enjoy another two days in this cozy beach town then casually hopped back on a bus for Managua leaving plenty of time for a Saturday departure back to the states. The problem of course is, I'm not a practical man, at least when it comes to travel. The thought of getting this close to Costa Rica and saying, "Ah, maybe next time," seemed like the most impractical act imaginable.
So, this morning at 6:00 am I boarded a shuttle for Playas del Coco, Costa Rica. As I took my seat I noticed another passenger sitting in front of me. "I'm June," she beamed. It turned out the two of us had quite a bit in common. We'd both decided on Costa Rica on a bit of whim, had just come from Managua, and get this, were both from Oakland. Not surprisingly, the two of us got on swimmingly.
The journey itself was mostly uneventful, which I suppose is a good thing. There were 7 of us in total -- 2 Americans, 3 Germans, a gentlemen I gathered to be from Eastern Europe, and a man from Italy who sat up front as our driver barreled down the interstate.
We made a brief pit stop at the border. It was standard protocol where we were forced to get out of the bus, show our passports, and provide proof we would in fact be leaving this country in the relatively near future. Just a few hours later I came to appreciate their concern. It is after all, a lovely, lovely place.
In fact, it took only minutes into our drive for me to realize Nicaragua may just as well have been another planet let alone a neighboring Central American country. Costa Rica's infrastructure alone made it evident that if Nicaragua was the second poorest country in the western hemisphere Costa Rica was not the third by a long shot.
After we were dropped off in the parking lot of a strip mall in Liberia, I was picked up by an adorable older man named Don Luis. I'd made arrangements with him through my AirBnb host the evening before.
"Don Luis is a small man who speaks great English and usually wears a fedora."
He stood about 5'5, sported a short-sleeved collared shirt, and was missing several of his teeth when he came around the car to greet me. Part of me was upset he wasn't donning the fedora, while the other half wanted to scoop him up and hug him.
We spoke easily during our 45-minute drive. He regaled me with all the wonderful things Costa Rica had to offer. "Our politics are fair, our schools are great, and our country is beautiful." I started to feel like I was on Birth Right. But as we weaved through the lush and verdant countryside he had good reason for all his bold proclamations. The topography of this place is quite remarkable. One minute you're driving on a country road and feel as though you could be on some stretch of highway in South Africa. The next minute you're wading in the ocean looking off at the countless islets making you wonder just how different southeast Asia could really be.
Still, my relationship with this place is already a complicated one. I am of course enormously grateful for the chance to be here and relieved I decided to make the last-minute journey, but I can't help but wonder if a little of this place's magic was lost by the influx of folks likes me. It seems as though the tourists outnumber the locals. They sip their coffees, while scanning their phones making me feel at times like I'm in La Jolla, California rather than Central America. I'm not judging, I'm just saying.
Of course, I still look forward to what the next day or two has in store in this beautiful but strangely familiar place.