On the plane, Guatemala airport, 18/03/2011, 12.55pm
Met a nice lady while waiting to board my connecting flight. A Christian who’s working in a missionary school. She’s from San Salvador but is heading to Costa Rica for a retreat. Has three kids, 7, 5, 18 months, all bilingual and her husband’s from Texas. She quite readily shared a lot of information about herself in a way which was inviting me to be just as open with her. The open arms and kind interested face of an evangelist. Not that she’s trying to save my soul, but I sense the sort of kindness and openness one is only capable of when one sees himself as a child of God in a vast, homogenous plain of sheep–the type who sees the good in everybody and would tell you just as much. We’re 2 seats apart and are filling out embarkation forms. She asks me if I know where I’m staying tonight. Neither of us know where we’re heading. I give her an address out of the Lonely Planet on my Kindle. 3 & 4 Calle, Ave 2. We plan to look for each other after immigration in San Jose, but in the end we lose each other and part ways.
San Jose, Costa Rica, 18/03/2011, 3pm
Met another really nice person–all smiles and no English. Colombian this time, bubbly and extremely friendly. She works in an advertising firm in Mexico and loves it there, and is in Costa Rica for a holiday. She told me I was very pretty for an Asian and was plenty impressed with my 5-month old español, even though I stuttered for the right words and blundered around with my conjugation. We shared a cab downtown and had a nice conversation about all sorts of things including Spanish swearwords that delighted her into giving me 3 pesos as a souvenir from Mexico. We swapped contact details and she told me to look her up in MX someday or even in San Jose that same night at her hotel with her friends. ¿Quieres bailar?
Finally found Fran at the Teatro Nacional, a small but dignified building south of La Plaza Cultural. As usual, she totally outpacked me. By saying that I mean she barely packed anything at all. Here I am with one ungainly backpack and one light collapsible sling bag where I keep my personals and already I was feeling rather pleased with myself.
Costa Rica’s cityscape is nothing be wow-ed about, apparently. Not even too different from Tijuana, minus the sleazy feeling along the Avenida de la Revolucion.
Pension Santa Elena, 19/03/2011, sometime past 4pm
Got up at 6am in our little Maleku Hostel in Alajuela, left at 6.30am and waited at the bus stop up the street from where we were. Alajuela isn’t very special or charming. And I’m already being rather generous. It’s a rather forgotten-looking town where little seems to happen. Not quite the countryside but one of those provincial and somewhat depressing places that attempt urbanisation halfheartedly and thus falls in the rather charmless void between. Though, to be fair, we did arrive past sunset last night and barely ventured out to look for life.
So yes, we got up early to catch the morning bus to Monteverde. The bus actually departs from San Jose at 6.30am, but arrived in Alajuela en route around 7.15am, which was when we climbed on–no problem–except we were told unapologetically: “No hay asientos. Solamente a pie.” We scooted to the middle of the bus between a bunch of other tourists “a pie” and huddled on the ground, half falling asleep. At some point, the bus made another stop and took on even more passengers so we couldn’t even huddle knees-to-chest anymore and had to get on our feet. We stood for about 3 hours listening to our iPods until, finally, about an hour before Monteverde, a lady kindly gave us her seat and her child’s, getting off and pointing vigorously back at the empty seats with a large smile on her face.
Here in the hostel now and there are more tourists all around. We are sharing a dorm with a Swedish guy. We just got back from a nice tour to a small coffee plantatioon and were walked through the process of planting, nurturing, harvesting, drying and roasting coffee. The tourguide–an energetic and American-accented man–and the van driver stopped by the hillside before heading to the plantation and picked us all flowers. The plantation we visited belongs to a man called Juan who’s married to a Quaker woman from Maryland or some other American state that begins with an M. There was a lovely dog called Sombra and an ancient cat blind in one eye who solemnly followed us all over the plantation. We sat on Juan’s patio enjoying the coffee (I had limon instead) and it was muy tranquilo.
My favorite moment was when Juan made sure to mention that we weren’t allowed to enter the patio from the side steps “porque hay una araña”. A little garden spider had spun its feeble single-string web across the entrance from one pillar to the other, and Juan didn’t want us to dislodge the fellow. The spider seemed rather suspicious all the same and scuttled to one end of his string and clung to the pillar, eyeing us with its beady eyes as we enjoyed the late afternoon sun streaming in through Juan’s trees and onto the old, toasted floor.
Playa Carmen, 22/03/2011, 1.35pm
Am sitting in a nice beach shack type of restaurant/bar that is so popular on this side of the Nicoya Peninsula. Dust is flying in from the one road that fringes the coast and where all the life is lined in this tropical paraíso. The weather is stiflingly hot and I was most tempted to stay in my room all day with the fan on at full speed, but with only 1000 and some colones left I decided I should be rectifying my financial situation instead. I ended up taking the bus–strangely, for free–to Mal País, but instead got off at the first bank I saw at Playa Carmen. The bank wasn’t open till much later, around 1pm, so I did a patch of window shopping. At some point, I tried Banco de Costa Rica which was 10 meters across the street and had been open since 9am, but for reason I couldn’t understand, it wasn’t working today. Finally waited in line at Banco Nacional behind an old man in a holey t-shirt. The bank had a rather sophisticated scanner thing which I had to stand in for a while before I was let into the bank itself. It was so out of place with all the sunburnt red-faced tourists around in their flip-flops and the dusty shops that I was quite impressed. The old man later pleasantly offered me a ride back to Santa Teresa but I decided that I would have lunch at Playa Carmen first, which has incidentally just arrived. Red snapper with salad and fries, yum!
Maleku Hostel, Alajuela, 24/03/2011, 12.15pm
Taking the free shuttle from Maleku to the airport in about 45 minutes. Haven’t done a thing all day–was told that the volcana at Poás was a little risky if I wanted to make my flight and with only yet another 1000 colones I decided to just stay in and work on my Masters application. Finally sent off the EPP one a bit earlier and have 5 more essays to go for the double diplôme. Am by now so frustrated with the double diplôme’s application that I am wondering if I would actually even want to get in after all.
Met a beautiful man yesterday on the bus from Santa Teresa to San Jose. He was looking for a hostel to stay at for the night before flying off to his best friend’s wedding in Uruguay today. Turned out he’s a surfing instructor who has been living and working in Santa Teresa for 4 years now. Found myself hesitating when he asked what did I do. Being a student suddenly seemed like quite an abhorrently meaningless thing to tell someone who spent years teaching and living the sun, sand and surf out in the middle of Central America’s biggest surfing paradise and who was obviously in love with his job. He also asked if I work, if I’d worked, and suddenly the word “internship” froze in my mouth–it was too vulgarly materialistic and too insignificant to utter. I didn’t want to explain what I was “doing”–studying, applying to grad school, fussing over grades–to this beautiful gold-bronze man with the intensely peering eyes, the clear light-coloured type that never waver in their gaze. Apparently the people in Uruguay are descended from European blood, and this creature was in fact part Italian and Spanish. He would be swarthy, but has instead tanned so marvelously from his day job that he is a deep tawny fleshly gold. A most handsome hybrid.
Men like him, diminutive in build but fit, bronze and chiseled like a statue, intimidate and fascinate me. A Roman nose and profile and the sun-kissed skin of a man from a tropical paraíso. I never know where to put my eyes–every and any area of his face and body seem too sexual to stare at, too tempting, like forbidden fruit.