Friday, February 24, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 3

January 29 (1:00 pm)

Everyone is finally here including John Kapelos (from Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Seinfeld and many other things) and my inner 80s nerd is freaking out a little.  I thought I would play it cool but since I've not been cool at any point in my 46 years on this planet, I decided to just be a nerd and took a picture with him 24 seconds after introducing myself.  You know I was excited as I posted the photo on Facebook even though I was wind-blown and looked like a big ol' mess.

We grabbed some snacks at The Wal-Mart, which they call Maxi Pali; I think it's Spanish for Big Pallets, but I could be wrong.  We started the 3 hour trip south to San Buenaventura and our host Nick wanted to show us a part of Costa Rice many don't experience - the tall cool mountains with the chilly weather and beautiful views.  In between bouts of motion sickness, I did appreciate the thought behind the idea.  It did lead me to my first essay in Costa Rica.

"I'm sitting with my face poised above a Wal-Mart bag in the front seat of the Mercedes bus headed to the San Buenas Writer's Retreat by way of a mountain pass.  I'm trying to soak up the scenery although it is near dark but I'm also trying to keep from vomiting as I get extremely ill when traveling a meandering route in a vehicle as a passenger.  I know the roads are following the path of the mountain but I feel like the surveyor who mapped this area was either drunk or chasing a burro as I have never experienced so many curves on one road, with the possible exception of the Pacific Coast Highway.  Our expert driver fortunately is fearless like the other Costa Ricans I've noticed walking on the edge of the road, at night, without reflective protection mere inches from hurtling traffic.  I swear I could have tousled the hair of the last guy as we sped by. 

Fearless is not something I instinctually am but I do have a constant inner push to move forward regardless of fear because I know it is what I need to do.  It is why I'm here, in a country that is outside my comfort zone, at a retreat to push myself to tell the story I'm almost afraid to tell because I'm not sure strangers will understand me.  But I'm here because I'm supposed to be, for some reason.  The voice inside me who hijacked my mouth and agreed to this trip in the first place, demands to be heard.  I have to tell my story, so I will."

January 29 (8:00 pm)

We stopped for lunch and dinner but I did not eat either time.  You can't throw up if there's nothing inside you.  We finally made it to the villa and disembarked from the bus.  Juan the driver was so kind to me.  I have never been so happy to be on solid ground.  My room is fantastic and they were telling the truth - there is air conditioning.  I'm happy because if there wasn't I would have felt the need to fight someone but I am unprepared for fisticuffs on a good day.  I could be beat down by most anyone in my present state.  To bed, to bed I go.  I will sleep the sleep of the traveling tired.   

Friday, February 17, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part 2

January 28, 2017

I’m headed to the airport – just said goodbye to Ben.  I will miss him but since we only get to see each other on the weekends, this week will be like normal but with more expensive text messages and no hope of meeting my daily FitBit step goals.  I fully intend on seeing Costa Rica, through the looking glass, as it were.  If I wanted to commune with nature and animals and those who don’t necessarily understand me while sweating in the heavy humidity, I could simply go to Mississippi.


I’m sitting in the Delta Sky Lounge as I got to the airport very early to ensure a stress-free passage.  When I showed Delta my return flight ticket for Alaska Airlines, they said, “No problem” and I fairly zipped through security arriving at my gate a full four hours ahead of my flight boarding time of midnight-thirty.  The Sky Lounge is very quiet with comfy seats and great food and now that I’ve experienced it for the first time, I am hooked.  Gonna go peruse the buffet.  Yes, I said buffet.


January 29, 2017 (7:00 am – 1:00 pm)

Sleepless flight.  I’m in row 18 and the light outside the restroom is shining in one spot and that would be directly into my face.  I asked if they could turn it off, point it elsewhere or at least dim it.  I never realized how many ways you can be told no.  At least I caught up with my TV viewing, watching Season 9 of Big Bang Theory.  It’s not as funny as it used to be.  Awoke tired but with the bonus energy often afforded travelers, I was able to speed through customs like a visiting dignitary. 


First impressions:  cool and windy at 8:30 in the morning.  Costa Rica doesn’t seem any more “foreign country” than Miami if I’m being honest.  Just bought a bottle of water from a very friendly lady, paying Lord only knows what as I don’t understand the exchange rate or their currency – colonnes.  For my change I received colorful bills and two rather impressive coins.  These coins have personality as if they might have magical properties or allow me entry to somewhere off-path and spectacular. 


I was instructed by my hosts to wait at the airport for the other attendees to arrive.  Unsurprisingly I got here first.  There is nowhere to sit other than this concrete bench so I guess my “roughing it” has begun.  Via the wonder of Facebook Messenger, Zeke Tyrus (of the San Buenas Writer's Retreat) gave me the scoop on the one restaurant at la aero puerto; Deli Malinche, where I had a ham and cheese croissant, because I could recognize what it was and point to it, and a café con leche.  Delicious.  Not to take away from their culinary prowess but if I’m being honest, at this point, I would have tried to eat a boot or a dead body if you had melted cheese on it.  Soy Queso!


I’m sitting here alternately reading The Tangier Diaries, as recommended by Zeke, and people watching.  I just marked a great passage, “The difference between our god and theirs is us.”  I’m experiencing some truth while I wait.


After several hours I am hungry again so I am attempting to order food at the restaurant.  I pointed to what I wanted (it was cafeteria style) but when I tried to ask if it was spicy I couldn’t think of the word for ‘hot’.  Asking if it was ‘not cold’ caused confusion.  My brain took over and used the only other language with which I have any familiarity – American Sign Language.  I abruptly signed ‘hot’, which is forming a claw with your dominant hand, placing the thumb and fingers at the sides of your mouth.  Then you quickly turn your hand toward the other person as if removing something hot from your mouth.  The servers eyes widened in fear.  Afraid this choreography was going to leave me bereft of food, I smiled, pointed at what looked like tuna salad, smiled and said, “Gracias”.  She did not smile back.  Where, oh where, is Senora Franklin (my high school Spanish teacher) with her side pony-tail and snide attitude when I need her?  Luckily I can say chicken, watermelon, bathroom, ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ in Spanish.  Also, should the need arise, beer and party.  I think I’m all set.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Costa Rica Diaries, Part I

     I recently returned from a week-long writer's retreat at Villas de San Buenas in Costa Rica.  I am as surprised as you that I actually went on this adventure.  A writer's retreat?  Absolutely in my comfort zone.  In Costa Rica?  Absolutely the farthest thing from my comfort zone outside of going shirtless in public or bullfighting.  When Ezekiel Tyrus, author and ceviche enthusiast, asked me to attend, I found myself agreeing very quickly, much to my surprise.  I guess my inner writer needed to get to the jungle.
     I was productive in the jungle in between eating, sleeping, sweating and failing miserably at communicating in Spanish.  There was a whole lot of como se dice-ing, pointing and head nods.  I accomplished much writing as well as journaling.  I will share with you a little of both over the next couple of weeks.

January 27, 2017
I'm celebrating my second anniversary as Assistant Director the VA Medical Center in Long Beach.  I love my job and look forward to work most every day but tomorrow is my last day before my vacation and I am just beginning to wrap my head around my impending attendance at the San Buenas Writer's Retreat in Costa Rica, where I hope to make significant progress on my memoirs tentatively titled Slightly Pink and Scared of Horses.  I don't think my 40 year-old self would believe this much less my 20 year-old self. 

January 28, 2017
I tried to check in online but Delta wouldn't let me.  I'm sure it's because my return flight is on Alaska Airlines so they can't tell if I have plans to leave, which you most assuredly must have according to the Costa Rica information from the State Department.  This is the price you pay for bargain airline tickets.  I hope all will be well.  I'm heading to the airport even earlier than planned to make sure there are no snafus.  I can tell you I am a little nervous, especially considering what happened to me when I tried to enter Canada in 2010.

I'm packing my clothes for the trip and I realize I am about to embark on one of the most frightening escapades of my adult life and I'm not talking about heading to a place just South of Nicaragua.  I'm talking about traveling without Spanx t-shirts.  This will be the first time I have left my home without foundation garments since my significant weight loss in 2009.  Spanx t-shirts keep my torso in the general shape of a human torso.  I'm going commando under the washable silk shirts of my cabana style wardrobe.  Do you call it commando when it applies to t-shirts?

I am mentally assessing my clothing choices recommended by my hosts as well as friends who have traveled both here and neighboring Central American countries.  I have never traveled to this part of the world and while I am aware it is probably not close to reality, my mind can't help but believe I am Kathleen Turner heading to Cartagena in "Romancing the Stone", but without the earth-toned footwear or deep voice.  I'm hoping the reality will be more akin to rural West Texas, without queso but with air conditioning.  I've been promised air conditioning.  They better have air conditioning.