There’s something about engaging in a (slightly) revolting activity in the presence of an attractive individual that is not preferable. By presence, I specifically mean sitting one inch away from a nice-looking Canadian man on an airplane, and by revolting I mean unwrapping a half-devoured, room-temperature burrito in your lap from a mock “Chipotle” in the Dallas airport and spilling black beans on your shared armrest. Excuse me, sir, care for a luke-warm lentil?
I had four more hours of traveling next to my burrito and this Canadian man and then I would arrive in Costa Rica. I planned a one week, solo vacation because I knew if I didn’t leave the country soon my head would explode like the aliens in Mars Attacks! and my heart would turn to lead and that perspective that I needed so badly was going to reach unattainability, dissolved by anxiety and my choice to spend my last year’s vacation in Idaho where I watched a potato drop on New Year’s Eve for love and loss. So, here I was. Despite living and teaching and studying abroad I had never traveled alone before, but I couldn’t imagine it being worse than what was going on in my mind in a city where I knew many people.
I decided to go to a beach town for a few days, left the last days unplanned and booked a room at the Hemingway Inn for my first night when I landed in the capital. (The opportunity to mock Chingy’s Holiday Inn with a literary figure replacement swayed me in the end).
Halfway through the flight I made a joke to the Canadian about my brownie crumb which inspired conversation and I learned that he was going to volunteer at a cacao farm in the mountains and that he had done so for the past seven years. I told him I wanted to work on a farm in Costa Rica, but in my haste to plan the trip I hadn’t looked into it further.
“You should come! We have volunteers there all of the time.”
I agreed, that yes, that was exactly what I wanted.
“I will look forward to having you there. Uh, I mean we will!” He quickly altered his statement.
We shared a cab downtown, while he wrote the farm’s phone number on a torn notebook paper stained with a bit of burrito juice. After I admitted my atrocious Spanish speaking skills he instructed me to call the day before I wanted to come to the farm and simply say his name and the family would give the phone to him so that he could give me directions.
I spent the next few days in a hammock, eating tacos and drinking beer on the beach for lunch, in the ocean while a Dutch woman watched my bag after I rubbed sunscreen on her back, sweating – in a hostel dorm room and in the jungle, and everywhere else, in the company of a Swiss lady and other Americans, and a man who was going to sleep on the beach because his travel funds had depleted. When you’re alone you’re automatically bonded to the other loners, and you easily find yourself with them at dinners and drinks and zip-lining and eating very awful toast that the hostel provides you with.
We hiked down to the beach through the dark jungle one night, and I was scared of tarantulas the size of, well, tarantulas. We sat on the sand and stared at the stars, all facing the same direction. I declared quite loudly (and annoyingly, as anything you utter sounds that way when you’re with a pack of charming accents) that all I wanted was to see a shooting star. And then I saw one. There was lightning in the distance above the ocean and after seven cycles and a discussion of The Hunger Games and our potential to be struck while sitting on wet sand we were inspired to leave.
Earlier that day I had called the farm and was given these instructions from the Canadian man:
- Take the one bus leaving towards the capital, but passing through a specific town at 1pm (This is the only bus, so don’t miss it. Or else.)
- It will take 2.5 hours-ish (heavy on the ish)
- It will turn off into the mountains onto a dirt road
- You will need to tell the driver to stop at Santa Rosa
- There will be a bench and a fork in the road when you get off there
- Sit at the bench and I will come get you on a motorcycle
I did as told and felt quite content as the shaky and crowded bus headed for the dirt road and into the mountains. I walked up to the driver after an hour to tell him (or attempt to tell him) I needed to get off at Santa Rosa. There were no stops, the bus simply stopped whenever a passenger requested him to. Because they knew where they were going. Because they lived there. Eventually I understood that three other women would also be getting off at my stop.
When we arrived at Santa Rosa it was raining thick and cold, the humidity left behind at the beach. I put on my backpack and got off of the bus and saw the fork in the road and the bench and nothing else. There were no homes or shops or even an ugly cow or two. I was in the middle of nowhere in Costa Rica with a backpack and was soaking wet and had no way of communicating my location to anyone. And I wasn’t worried.
Yes, I really hoped the Canadian man was coming for me, but all I could do was sit and wait. Ten minutes later I heard a motorcycle and saw a blonde man driving down the dirt road. There are few things that compare to riding a motorcycle through lush hills and puddles and fog in the rain while you are wearing a dress with a backpack strapped to your back.
In the next days I hiked in the jungle for hours before getting caught in more rain, played in waterfalls, went to the one bar in town, picked plants and leaves from the ground and garden for salad, cuddled with puppies that were home to hundreds of fleas, made truffles and didn’t understand what the family at the farm said to me most of the time. It was beautiful and simple and I was forced to be there and live in the present without wifi or my phone or anything except for what was right there with me. Sometimes that meant lying in a hammock with sleeping puppies on my lap and staring at the mountains until dinnertime.
It was exactly what I wanted in a trip and none if it would have happened had I over-planned or neglected to make conversation with this stranger on the plane. I think often we close ourselves to opportunities because we’ve planned, because we are scared to be alone, because insecurities and pressures and anxieties rule our actions so that we feel safe.
Traveling alone, I was completely vulnerable and open. If I needed help I asked for it, if I didn’t want to do something I didn’t. Nothing was guaranteed and I had to take things step by step and somehow it always ended up working out whether I had planned on it or not.
On the way home from my trip I had a layover in the Dallas airport; my flight was delayed one hour. I felt fine about this as I imbibed in a beer. A little while later I emerged from the airport bar, slightly drunker and more emotional than I had been an hour before and saw that my flight was delayed another two hours. I lost it.
“I’m just so dirty!” I cried to my sister on the phone in a hidden stairwell-corner of the airport. Forgetting shampoo on my trip had been a serious downfall of mine and washing my hair with Neutrogena Morning Burst Facial Cleanser had resulted in me picking orange beads out of my hair for the few days that I was brave enough to get my hair wet with ice cold water.
“With one “R” or two?” She asked in reference to Christina Aguilar’s song.
“I hate Texas!” I yelled.
“Dude. Someone is going to hear you.”
I experienced fully the challenge in bringing that perspective, the traveling, take-it-as-it-comes, viewpoint into our every day lives of expectations and plans. I was shocked at my reaction in comparison to my contentment days prior – at waiting in the middle of the mountains for a man on a motorcycle who may, or maybe not was coming for me. This reaction occurred because what I expected and what I planned on had changed, and it was out of my control. It didn’t matter if I cried or had another beer; the plane was going to come when it did.