March 16th, 2015
10:36 AM, JetBlue airline seat 13A
I just opened the window and saw, for the first time since 2009, the marvelous Costa Rican countryside sprawled out beneath me. My stomach has been writhing all morning with fear, excitement, anxiety, and all the other sentiments that come together in the emotional snakepit known as “the jitters.” I’m starting to wonder if this is all going to go as smoothly as I fantasized.
12:30 PM, Hotel Santo Tomas, San Jose
I’m here! I made it! I say to no one out loud, since it’s just now hitting me that I’m alone in a foreign country with minimal communication skills. Out of a desire for the ‘authentic’ tourist experience – an oxymoronic illusion nursed by the dopes like me – I took the bus from the airport to San Jose. My jitters have been alternately swelling and receding according to my internal tally of wins and fails thus far. Figured out the map on the bus, helped other tourists do the same – win. Smashed the tiniest of said tourists not once, not twice, but THREE times on the same busride with my immense rucksack – fail. Put all that hiking and city speed-walking to use to navigate San Jose’s merced and locate my hotel – win. I’ll take it.
Giddy from that successful win-fail ratio, I made some extended small talk with Tom of Hotel Santo Tomas (and silenced my musings of what kind of person names his business after his ‘sainted’ self), whose North Carolina accent exuded warmth and hospitality. This guy is in the right business for himself. We chatted for a little with a Texan guest, and when it came time to explain my purpose in Costa Rica I must have stuttered on the phrase “cacao farm.” The next thing I knew, the two expatriots were warning me to check the gender of the animal before I start to milk it “or else he’ll just keep comin’ back for more!” I decided it was more enjoyable for all of us if I didn’t disillusion them.
8 PM, Hotel Santo Tomas, San Jose
Welp, the wins-fails tally has resolutely swung in an unfavorable direction, but I choose to see the humor in all this. I set out this afternoon to address some outstanding needs before I head for Puriscal tomorrow. At the top of the list were 1) a prepaid phone card and 2) stamps (hey guys, when I get an address I fully expect letters from y’all!).
The saga of the phone cards really has no humor in it so we can skip that. The upshot is that I perhaps got ripped off but I can’t really tell, that I now know that I need to familiarize myself with the conversion rate here, and that I got to call my mom. That evens out to a net zero in my book.
I would estimate that I covered more ground over the same 6 blocks of this city this afternoon in search of the post office than Tom did in a 30 minute segment of chasing Jerry – and let’s not forget that the post office neither moved nor tried to hide from me. Armed with my handy dandy Frommer’s map and my shallow reservoir of Spanish vocabulary, I asked no fewer than 5 people, each of whom responded with some version of “ah, el correo!” followed by a rapid expulsion of directions from which I understood that I was in the right neighborhood. Unfortunately, I understood correo to mean a large avenue, which I rationalized because correr is ‘to run.’ Ironically, yo estaba corriendo (I was running) past the real Correo Central on each loop of those 6 blocks until I finally took a break right outside it and noticed all the giant signs of packages and letters that decorate its entryway. The takeaway from this is that I will not leave my Spanish-English dictionary in the hotel room again.