Central America: What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
I woke up the morning of my trip full of excitement and energy. Despite the fact that it was 5:30 AM, I was blissfully unaware of how long the day of traveling ahead of me was really going to be. I knew I had a long way to go, but I didn’t understand the reality of the fact that I would be spending the next two and a half hours in a car, another two in an airport, three on a plane, and somewhere around six on a bus, but I did understand that I would be waking up the next morning in a hammock on the beach in Costa Rica, and that was all I cared about!
I got through airport security in a breeze, and waited at my gate with my backpacks, and charged my phone while I could. I boarded the plane, sent out some goodbye texts, powered off my phone for take off, and thought, “This is it! Here I go, all this planning and it’s finally here!”. The plane took off, I drifted into sleep, not thinking about the potential chaos awaiting me.
I got off the plane, made my way to immigration and customs, and after getting through all of that without a problem I was walking through baggage claim. I didn’t check any luggage so all I had to do was walk through and make my way to exit the airport. That’s when it hit me, I finally realized what I had done. I was alone, in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by people speaking a different language, and suddenly became aware of all the things I didn’t know. I knew I needed to get on a bus, but didn’t know how to ask for the bus stop in Spanish, and didn’t know how to get there from the airport. I changed some money at the currency exchange there (not a lot because they always give you a bad exchange rate at the airport) and figured someone there would speak English and be able to help me. I was wrong. One girl spoke broken English, and she tried to help me, but I couldn’t understand anything she was telling me. I messaged a friend who was thankfully able to send me a screenshot of directions to my next hostel, and I wandered around inside for a couple of minutes trying to figure things out. I walked out of baggage claim into the great unknown where I was met by a bunch of guys screaming, “Taxi! Taxi!”. I ignored them and crossed the street to find the bus stop. One of the screaming taxi drivers stopped me again asking me if I needed a taxi, and I gave him a stern, “No.” and kept walking when he asked me if I needed directions. Noticing his ability to speak English I decided to tell him what I was looking for, but of course, he instead told me he could take me where I was going in a taxi for $160. No way. So I turned around and walked up to the parking office at the airport parking lot, and started speaking to the man there in English, he didn’t understand me, but opened the door and motioned me inside to a guy my age at a computer who spoke English and was very helpful and descriptive of where I needed to go. I was relieved and so grateful. I walked in the directions he gave me to a bus that would take me to San Jose, and I saw another solo girl getting on the bus with a backpack. I didn’t know this girl, I didn’t know anything about this girl, but I knew I wasn’t alone, and that brought me a lot of comfort.
I got on the bus and when I sat down she came and sat next to me and we started talking. She was from Mexico, so she spoke Spanish and her English was also great, what a relief! We got to San Jose and even though we had different destinations that day we were both leaving from the same place so we stuck together and she asked around to get directions to the next bus terminal. We talked and joked as we walked for what seemed like forever, following a lot of misguided directions through San Jose when eventually we came to the conclusion that we would be going from two different terminals, so she walked with me to mine as it started pouring down rain, and when we got there she got in a taxi and headed to her own.
I went to the ticket counter to get my bus ticket, when the guy in the window told me that I couldn’t get a ticket from there to Puerto Viejo. I couldn’t understand everything he was telling me, but I could understand enough to know that I was in the wrong place. My new friend was gone, and I was alone once again. I scanned the bus terminal for someone who looked like they might speak English, maybe some other backpackers, but nothing. I saw a group of about five guys my age sitting in a row of chairs, and without any other options I walked up to them and said, “Hi, do any of you speak English?” four of them looked at me like I was crazy, and one of them said, “I do, do you need help?” I told him my problem and he told me that the buses from here didn’t go direct to Puerto Viejo, but I could take one to Limon, and would have to get on a connecting bus to Puerto Viejo, then he offered to help me go get my ticket. I was grateful for the help, a little bit concerned about being so obviously lost and depending on a stranger that could’ve been anyone, but I knew I needed the help and accepted it. He helped me get my ticket, took me to where my bus was, waited with me for the bus, and introduced me to someone on my bus who spoke English that could help me when I got to Limon. Once again I found myself grateful and relieved.
After six hours soaking wet in an air conditioned bus (two of which were sitting in traffic) I arrived in Limon around 8pm. The bus I was supposed to get on next had left around 6:45. The girl I had been introduced to walked out of the bus terminal with me when we ran into another English speaking friend of hers who she told me would take me the rest of the way. As we were walking to the bus stop he told me it was probably closed and if I needed a taxi he could get a friend of his to take me where I was going for a good rate. I asked him if we could please go to the bus stop just so I could be sure and he kindly agreed and took me there anyways, and from the looks of it, it was closed. (I later found out that there was probably a 10pm bus, but that is neither here nor there.) He took me to his taxi driving, non-English speaking, friend who said he could take me to Rocking J’s in Puerto Viejo for $60, but we ended up agreeing on $45. I said a prayer for my safety, messaged a friend about where I was and where I was going, and we set off to Rocking J’s, my hostel, my final destination for a day that lasted way longer than I had expected.
I was thrilled to arrive at Rocking J’s safely with all of my belongings, I had made it to my first hostel, the hardest part was over. I paid my taxi driver, and thanked him, and walked inside to check in and get to the hammock that would be my bed for the next few nights. I got settled, ate some real food, and walked out back to the beach that I couldn’t see in the dark, but I could hear it and I could feel it. I imagined how beautiful it must be and once again I was met with the same excitement I had earlier that morning leaving for the airport.
I was exhausted and so eager to experience Costa Rica, so I went to bed in anticipation of the next day that awaited me. I thought about how far I had come that day, and despite the frustrations I had faced how blessed I was to be in that place. I felt a trace of guilt for the poor attitude I had freezing cold and soaking wet on the bus, and was reminded that my love to travel is not just for the good parts, it’s about experiencing the highs and lows of the journey.