SARAH JEAN ALEXANDER
The cab ride to Laguardia is before the sun rises. The plane takes us from Queens to Charlotte, Charlotte to San Jose.
On the first morning in Costa Rica, we blow ants off our toothbrushes. Danie has a UTI. We walk along the beach in an area called Monkey Point.
On the first night, Jake and I have sex during the loudest rainstorm I have ever heard.
Our trip to Costa Rica is predated by Johnny and Danie asking if Jake and I would like to come here on a vacation. We say yes, of course, and they choose the dates, find the plane tickets, reserve the car and select the 2 Airbnbs - one on the Caribbean side, minutes away from both the ocean and the Panama border, the other in Guanacaste (about a 2 hour drive from the Pacific). It feels similar to an all-inclusive package assembled by a travel agent, or Groupon. I feel very “along for the ride” in a good way - this vacation is just going to happen to me.
I am the only one who doesn’t wear sunscreen on our first beach day. It’s overcast, and I of course understand that people tend to disregard the sun & burn more when it’s cloudy out (I am a 30 year old adult after all!), but I don’t… care?
On our third day, the lush front yard of the AirBnb we are staying in becomes surrounded by a pack of capuchin monkeys. Our presence doesn’t seem to bother them for a bit, but after about 10 minutes, they become annoyed that we are staring.
In retaliation (!), they begin to pick on and swat at a mother sloth (!!) who has her baby sloth clutching firmly to her stomach (!!!). The next few moments are tense, and then everyone - the monkeys, the sloths and us - we move on with our lives.
I stay at home alone & out of the sun on this day. My chest and face have begun to blister.
I spend my solitary hours reading the first of the 3 books I’ve brought for the trip, trying to connect to our spotty wifi so that I can post Instagram stories, and selectively wandering into the yard for direct access to UV rays when I need a little warm up.
There is a monstrous plant in our front yard, over 20 feet tall. I feel impressed by it, but upon closer inspection - it’s fake! I reveal this to everyone when they come home, and they are shocked. Upon their closer inspection, it is not fake. After a couple days, I admit probable defeat and agree to drop the subject. In my heart, I know it is plastic, simply engineered to appear authentic.
I am surprised that every restaurant or bar is outdoors. Tables are set up on porches, or there are no enclosing walls at all. The temperature outside is perfect for it. Medium to large sized dogs are everywhere, and thankfully they are not run over with common occurrence, at least in the 5 nights we stay here. They do not have any interest in becoming roadkill, and politely walk in and out of restaurants.
Meals that I eat multiple times include shrimp fried rice, chicken and rice, and pizza. Danie eats an entire lobster twice. We all have many Imperials a day - it is Costa Rica’s most popular beer judging by the numerous billboards we began to see as soon as we exited the airport.
Most nights, I am in bed by 9pm, unless we have a late dinner, which is rare because restaurants in Playa Chiquita close at 8:30pm. We do not know why (and very nearly miss being able to eat dinner altogether a few times).
Most nights, Jake, Johnny and Danie hang out on the porch for a couple hours longer.
In bed I read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I enjoy my time alone, reading & listening to pieces of the conversations my friends have through the cracks in the door leading from the bedroom to the porch.
Google Maps says the drive will take 6 hours to arrive in Sabalito in Guanacaste, but it takes us 9. While there are mostly cars on the larger roads, motorized scooters and bicycles are so common that we almost rent some to feel the breeze through our hair. A thing we quickly learn is that drivers (in cars or on scooters) rarely drive behind another driver for too long - instead they accelerate past the driver in front of it, on tiny 2-way streets, like a continuous game of leapfrog. It can be terrifying, but everyone seems to be very good at it.
We enjoy the scenic views of banana factories during our hour-long stint in complete standstill traffic, which we later find out is due to a car wreck. I hope it’s not from someone trying to pass another car! I hope it’s for a completely different reason!
We stop at a Taco Bell for lunch.
Our new Airbnb has a porch that overlooks the rolling hills that surround Lake Arenal, of which we are perched on top. We can’t see this until the next morning, and for the time being it seems we are living inside a thick, endless darkness.
On our first night in Guanacaste, Jake and I have sex during the loudest windstorm I have ever heard. I thought our roof was going to rip in half!
The closest town to our new home is about a 30 minute drive down the mountain, Nueva Arenal. We find an organic food store named Organic Food Store, run by an American woman named Sarah from Massachusetts. We buy smoothies, chocolate and a jar of homemade bolognese, and we talk with Sarah about yoga. Then we go to a cheaper grocery store for pasta that doesn’t cost $10 a box.
Most people we interact with speak English, comforting (and shaming) to me, since I cannot speak even basic Spanish. Johnny and Jake do most of the heavy lifting, language-barrier-wise. On the trip, I vow to learn (some) Italian before Jake and I honeymoon there in October.
We take turns cooking bolognese, trying to time it against the sunset. In between cooking, I read Signs Preceding The End of The World by Yuri Herrera, the second of the 3 books I’ve brought for my trip. We line up in a row on the deck, bowls of bolognese in our hands, and watch the sun lower below the horizon.
During the car ride to Rio Celeste, I ask my friends why there are so many wind turbines in Arenal, when it is already so windy, momentarily forgetting that wind turbines do not create artificial wind for the residents. They aren’t fans!
We walk on a well-beaten trail in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. As a person who does not think she enjoys hiking (tell me the point), I am not sure if this is considered a hike. We walk near children whose entire bodies barely pass the height of my knees, which make the hike seem easier (and if I begin to get tired, I think jealously of the children, who run through the trail with ease).
Needless to say, I enjoy it!
We reach Rio Celeste in about half an hour, and the color of the water is exactly what we were expecting after googling images of it - bright and milky blue from a mixture of sulfur and calcium carbonate which are seeded into the water from the nearby volcano. That sentence is brought to you by Atlas Obscura, which I just googled to find the reason for the if-Pepto-Bismol-was-blue water.
As an experience, it is hard to separate the absolutely wild natural coloring of the water from the packed bodies of European and American tourists on the overlook taking selfies with their arms & sticks. We join them for as little time as possible. We walk farther into the forest for awhile, and then turn around and walk back. Johnny discusses writing a thesis on buffet culture. I am surprised at how few mosquito bites I am getting.
The second half of our vacation is filled with sunsets and an acceptance of our trip coming to an end. My constantly aloed face has stopped peeling completely (the chest blisters are still there), I finish my reading list (the third book is Ultraluminous by Katherine Morris Faw), and I have successfully removed my day job from my brain (I recommend deleting the gmail app).
I’m so fortunate to be able to just go on a vacation, but - travel is exhausting! Sitting in a car or airplane for hours is one thing. There is also adjusting to new day times and night times (the sun rises at 5:45am and it is immediately bright; the sun sets at 5:45pm and it is immediately pitch black). There is also endlessly staring into trees for so long your eyes hurt, looking out for monkeys, sloths, snakes and other animals to eagerly identify (of which, we successfully identify many: capuchins, howlers, agoutes, poison darts, coatis). There is also spending nearly every moment with the same 3 people for 12 days and nights. It’s nice in a new home, new family type of way, but then you miss your cat, your bathtub, your refrigerator.
If you are exhausted, then arriving home is just as exciting as leaving. It’s as if the vacation just turns into another one, until it is time to leave again.
Jake and I are able to easily swap seats with fellow air travelers so that we can sit next to each other, just by asking nicely. Flying over Virginia, I notice what seems to be a massive forest fire. When we land, I try to google for a reason, but cannot find any reported brush fires. I promptly put it out of my mind on the cab ride home.