Here at home, the days are growing shorter and the nights are turning cooler as we turn towards fall. I can't believe it's been two months since I was in Costa Rica. How is that even possible? As I sit down now, to type out the last part of my journey in July, I'm a bit shocked by how quickly time has passed, and a bit saddened as my travels begin to blur into the deep realms of memory. It's been difficult to write this final part of the story because I've let reality kick in a little too fast. You know how it goes. The routine seeps back into your days, you work long hours and drink too much wine until you begin to forget. But then a song plays on your ipod on a sunny morning and just like that, you remember. I also have to do this for myself, to finish it (as too many things are often left unfinished)
That morning (not so long ago really) I shoved my possessions back into my pack yet again, this time a little less neatly, as the possessions had begun to mean less to me. I left my books behind for the next traveler to find, space was limited as gifts for friends grew in number. It was bittersweet leaving my wooden cabin on the hill, but I was on the road again, and that's what my heart really desired. I had been surprised before by how good the road between San Jose and Monteverde actually was, so I was expecting much the same this time. I was wrong. It had been raining all night which left the road in a state of slippery disrepair, thick with mud and at times it was scary. Clutching the sides of my seat as the van churned and fishtailed, up and down hills, around tight bends, edging the cliffside. As always, the view was lovely, but there was nothing there to hold that van up on the road should it tip. Our driver stopped at the base of a steep incline to wait for the van in front of us to summit safely; "once we start, I can't stop!" he said before he hit the gas. Oh. My. Nerves.
Needless to say, all went well on that daunting four hour journey, which a German couple compared to 'riding a horse', and we were dropped off on a muddy beach on the shore of Lake Arenal. The dark storm clouds were gathering overhead, and in the distance was the black outline of a smoking volcano. At once I thought we had made it as far as Mordor as the rain began to fall. I would learn later that La Fortuna has two seasons: rainy season, and rainy season. We crossed the lake on a slow, chugging ferry that seemed to take forever, but I loved every minute. I was still in happy heaven, snapping photos on beat up cel phones with the only other solo gal on board. Cool misty wind whipping hair and fluttering jackets, and a man constantly mopping the deck. It was refreshing as hell for the shaken nerves.
Once we hit land, the Arenal climate hit us back. Unlike comfy cool Santa Elena, this rainy place was a hotbox of humidity at the base of that ominus, steaming volcano. I had chosen to end my vacation in La Fortuna because of the hot springs. My plan was to spend my last evening soaking away all the remaining aches, thoughts and confusions in my mind (which were really successfully already gone) I checked into my room (complete with a giant burgundy step-up jacuzzi tub right out of a bad 80's movie), cranked the AC (thank god for that) and poured a glass of that $5 wine (not realizing it was only 11am) ...Funny that, how 'time' as we know it disappears when we live the way we were meant to. Oh traveling, how I miss you!
The skies cleared up and the rain subsided leaving only hot, hot driving sunshine. Again I counted myself lucky that I had the foresight to book a place with a pool (with a poolside bar even!) and became instant friends with the bartender Alvaro, who would be my family, for the next few days. During my travels up until this point, I had mostly spent time with other travellers, but here it was the locals I grew close to, which brought even more joy to my trip. It was a new and different perspective for me, to see life through the eyes of those who are just so damn happy to be alive (most of the time) Of course everyone suffers, we all have our realities to deal with, but somehow it seemed that Costa Ricans were able to cope better, with a fiercer calm and a smile.
I ended up swimming and sitting poolside the rest of that afternoon, beer in hand, chatting away with Alvaro, reading, writing and sending pictures back home (thank you wifi). The fog rolled in quick, taking over the volcano and the clouds grew dark all over again. Lightning began to strike over the green land, the orchards and hills, filling me with inspiration until the sky opened up and the downpour began. I took shelter under a thatched umbrella, howling with laughter as everyone scattered, then waited out the rain sitting at the covered, outdoor bar as the storm raged around us, knocking out all the power, which made the moment even better.
...and the next!
Candles were lit and placed around the bar and I decided to take refuge for a while in the hot tub. Night had fallen, darkening everything, rain pouring off the roof around me, lightning flashing through the sky. The most beautiful little boy tried his best to keep candles lit around the hot tub for me as I watched the storm in the night sky, but the strong winds kept the flames at bay. We shared the same language of laughter. The water began to grow cool so I gathered my things and ran back to my room to change into something dry. I spent the rest of that night sitting at that bar talking of travels with an Australian man who was living in Germany. He went on about the adventures of his youth, trying to convince me that my generation doesn't know adventure like his. I grew tired of his showiness and booming voice, and the pull of the long day took me right to bed.
Pouring rain again the next morning, so I lounged in bed listening to the chickens outside my window until getting up to read on the porch to wait out the rain. It was then that I realized I had lost my ebook by the pool in the storm-flurry the day before (and had left the rest of my books in Santa Elena) So shit out of luck I just took in the view for a while before walking into town to explore. All along yet another footpath of a sidewalk creeping alongside a two lane road; the only road into town.
I found La Fortuna to be super quaint and friendly, a bit more of a hippy vibe than where I'd come from. The town was tiny and felt like home very quickly, with a laid back calm I quite liked. I stopped outside the Lava Lounge where a man was making beautiful handmade jewellery, and didn't leave for hours. Something pulled at me to stay there with him, and I think it was obvious because after talking for a while, he invited me to sit down with him and hang out as he worked. He taught me how to make his pieces, showing how he created each bend of metal and wrapping of stone. Carlos was originally from Cuba where he worked the corporate life before escaping to peaceful Costa Rica, throwing everything away and forging a self-sufficient life for himself. He learned how to make jewellery in order to make a living, and has since become the guru of this craft in town, teaching others to create the same way and guiding them into a life less ordinary.
Similar to the words of Modesto, Carlos told me I had a natural goodness, that I exuded positivity and peace. It was foreign to me to continuously hear words like this said about me, because here at home I'm quite the opposite. If only these people knew I'm actually an uptight ball of nerves most of the time, but I suppose out there a new part of me had begun to shine through. A new part I was liking more and more. I explained this to Carlos, about my normal way at home. He said he had been the same, and it was driving him into the ground so he finally decided to up and do something about it. Now he lives in a converted 'container house' with a rooftop view of the volcano. He said I could go far as a veritable nomad, that the serenity suited me well. I decided to agree and bask in that for the afternoon with him, and with 'Lady Gaga' the bar owner's beautiful dog who was named that because he was 'wild'.
Eventually I did have to get going as I had a jungle excursion to get to. Carlos insisted on taking my picture with the volcano in the distance, and told me to come back and find him later that night to continue our talk about life over a Cuban mojito. Postscript: I did go back, but didn't end up finding him so spent the rest of that night out on the town with other locals, drinking lots of beer, bouncing from bar to bar until getting a taxi home at 3am. La Fortuna is a small town, but it is not a sleepy town! I could certainly live in a place like that.
I tried to rush along the road back home to meet my ride, but I couldn't help but stop every few feet to snap more pictures. It was so hot that afternoon, an oppressive, humid, overcast heat that just wouldn't give way. Heading up into the mountains was just what I needed yet again, and this time, I got to pretend I was Tarzan on an actual hanging vine.
I had decided to end my time in Costa Rica chilling in the hot springs at night, and let me tell you, this place was magic. A low-lit path of volcanic silt led the way into a dreamland of natural pools surrounded by jungle. I think I was the only solo person there and I couldn't have been happier. As everyone shared their joy and relaxation with each other, I just simply relaxed, not needing to speak with anyone. With my arms folded up on the ledge of the pool, I rested my head on my elbow and closed my eyes; night bugs and cicadas loudly chirping in the dark, dense forest around me. I was certainly at the peak of relaxation and completely centred in the present moment. I turned my face up to the sky and let the cool raindrops fall on my hot skin and it was perfect.
Eventually I wandered along the path back to the change room to get dressed, then took a blissful taxi ride home, more relaxed then ever. My driver said he loved picking up people from the hot springs because they were always in such a good place. I can understand why. I took my time getting ready that night before heading down to the pool bar. It was Friday night, party night, and I had been expected to join in the fun (as if I had to be asked twice) I joined four friends from Minnesota at the bar as Alvaro blended up the most tropical drinks possible for us. We hung out there with him until his shift was finished, then headed down the street together for karaoke, which proved to be absolutely ridiculous as the only song in English we knew was the theme song from COPS. Round after round of cacique, Imperial and Pilsin, dancing through the night and dying with laughter.
That's just about how I ended my big solo adventure: happy, relaxed and completely at peace with life just as it was in that moment. It's a feeling that can be so easily lost back in the reality of life, but it's a feeling that I'm now trying to harness and hold onto, no matter where I might be. The drive back to San Jose was touch and go as five carsick children cried around me. It was a bit of reality check I wasn't ready for, so i popped a Gravol and went to sleep to shut out the noise, and my own growing nausea. Once back at the Hemingway Inn for my very last night in the very same room, I ate the leftovers Alvaro had packed up for me in La Fortuna hours before, watched a bad movie on a tiny TV and tried to conjure up good dreams of all the memories I had created.