Nine days is not enough to travel to a new place.
By the time I reached Alajuela, Costa Rica’s second largest city that’s an arm’s length from the airport, I finally adjusted to the Tico way of life. I got comfortable using the colones currency (just multiply by 500!), figured out how the bus systems work, and learned if you don’t ask for your check, your server will stare at you with your empty plate and wonder why you haven’t. But instead I’m in Alajuela to catch my morning flight, I am in a private room with three beds and a garden (ok, that was kinda cool), and I’m reluctant to take a shower and wash the final bits of sand out of my hair.
The trip is finally over.
It also was everything I wanted, so I can be nothing but grateful for my adventure. Here’s a brief timeline of what went down in the land of Pura Vida:
San Jose. I stayed here for a night because my flight got in late, and decided to spend half a day exploring the capital before heading to Monteverde, the cloud forest. I could tell the man who owned the hostel had an immediate hatred towards me, and when I asked when the bus to Monteverde was, he said there wasn’t one and I should take a taxi. I knew that couldn’t be the case, so when I asked him again, he said there was one at 4:30, but the bus station was too far away and I would need to take a cab to the station. I still sensed he was lying, so I left the hostel at 9am to go explore and figure out when the real bus was. The bus station ended up being a 10 minute walk and I purchased my 2:30 bus ticket. I had half a day to walk around the city, but unfortunately everywhere I walked I was stared at, gawked at, or warned I would get my stuff stolen. I didn’t feel threatened, but the people coming up to me were mentally exhausting. Some guy even told me I was in the “red zone” (?!) so I eventually turned around and waited at the bus station for four hours. Not the best way to start the vacation, buuut I got some solid reading in?
Monteverde. The bus ride to Monteverde was my first glimpse at what Costa Rica really looks like. I was unaware of the drastic elevation change, and was awed by the winding hills we were climbing up and the green stretches of forest in the distance. We made it to Monteverde after dark, and when I got out of the bus there was an eerie wind. I walked (ok, sped walked) into town to find a hostel ASAP; even though it was only 8 or so, the town felt desolate and the wind was creepy. I ended up finding a nice, affordable private room on top of a HUGE hill, and tried to sleep as the wind banged against my window all night.
I learned the Sandy-like gusts were due to the collision of the coastal winds and the mountain winds, which also form the clouds, aka…cloud forest. I spent the morning exploring the small town, then rode up to the forest, going hiking, gondola-ing, and zip lining. Zip lining was INCREDIBLE, totally not scary, and I bonded with a 60-year-old man named Lawrence who was my partner when we rode tandem. (Everyone else in the group was 100 years old and married.) When I returned back into town I considered taking a night hike to hopefully spot from sloths (<3), but I had barely eaten all day and opted for a big meal and one (five) beers. I was in bed relatively early, knowing I had a 6 am bus in front of me. It was time to go to the beach.
Montezuma. This town is also known as “Montefuma,” and now I know why. There were hippies everywhere and it felt like some international Woodstock convention. The vibe was super cool and very laid back, but there definitely was that air of pretension. BUT, there was also an incredible, incredible beach. I checked into a modest hotel, and once I saw my $25 private room w/ a bathroom, I almost demanded my money back. You know when you’re convinced you’ll get bed bugs when you sleep on a certain mattress? Or when you feel dirtier after taking a shower? Yeah..that was this place. Instead, I figured ” a bed is a bed” and stayed.
Still, the hotel was lined with hammocks that faced the water, and it was literally in the heart of town. I spent the day exploring the beach, reading, and soaking in the first set of rays (it was cold and cloudy in Monteverde) and then got dinner with two guys I had met on the bus. One was from Canada, the other Austria. The following morning the three of us bought papaya and pastries and ate them at the beach, and then I hiked alone to the waterfalls nearby. Later in the day, Iost my two amigos and checked into Hotel Lucy about a quarter-mile from the center of town.
Hotel Lucy was gorgeous, and for a $5 hostel I had a view I’d pay $500 for. I did more reading, more writing, more hammock-laying (I think I spent 80% of this whole trip in hammocks…) and then went into town for dinner. I went to a place with live music and watched La Jazz and Roll, and Argentinian duo, rock out for two hours. I treated myself to an amazing meal of coconut curry rice with shrimp and sweet wine. It was seriously so epic — one of my favorite nights.
Santa Teresa. Shit. Had I went to Santa Teresa first, I would have stayed there the whole nine days. Seriously. It was a totally laid back, friendly surfers town, with awesome food and awesome people. I found a really interesting hostel to stay at and bunked with four Argentinians. The three days spent there were a blur of walks down the beach, eating avocados with a spoon, drinking mohitos, talking to random Europeans, and feeling incredibly, incredibly content. Some highlights were going to a sunset yoga class in a beautiful studio overlooking the ocean, watching the sunset every other night at the beach while the surfers got in their last ride, and talking to a German guy named Felix who I’ve dubbed The Most Beautiful Man On Earth.
All in all, this trip was exactly what I wanted and what I needed. I had so much time to myself, but oddly, I didn’t really get lonely. I was also able to really think about traveling alone (for another post!) but for now I’ll say there were some unexpected pros and cons to being by myself.
And even though I definitely was a little bummed returning home, I also felt lucky. Lucky that my job lets me travel. Lucky that traveling excites me, inspires me, and fulfills me. And lucky that I have the funds to go away.
Yet, I also realized that I’m not a totally frugal person, but rather I just use my money in different ways. I don’t need a bed frame, but need a plane ticket. I don’t need to spend money on rum in the US, but will gladly spend it on rum in Costa Rica. And that’s the most important thing I learned: If you want to do something, you can make it happen. You’ll find a way… because you simply have to.
Because it’s your life.
So I’ll never stop traveling — I just can’t. It’s an incredible learning experience and adds so much awesome meaning to my life. Plus, who can turn down the views? (: