June 14th.1pm Costa Rica time.
I’ve made it! After almost 21 hours of travel, I’ve made it to the hostel I booked at the airport this morning. I feel a little strange, partly because the familiarity of a Central American city is oddly home and foreign, and partly because I’ve only slept two times for about an hour each. O.o
Now I’m at the Alajuela Backpacker’s Hostel, a budget lodging venture on the corner of a busy street, looking out onto a pawn shop, a vape shop, and a cute children’s park. I’ve been watching the traffic move; I’ve learned to expect the whichever possibility seems most expectedly unexpected. Sometimes cars stop, other times they don’t. A few pedestrians will walk without looking, others wait at the corner for a clear opportunity to cross safely.
^View from where I write this.
I’m sitting in the hostel’s lobby area, as check in is not until 2pm. I might venture out, but it started to rain not too long ago and my umbrella is in my (big) backpack…which is somewhere in Miami? American Airlines said they’d drop it off here when it arrived. I checked it in Tucson voluntarily as to save myself from hauling it for 20 hours who knows where. I will never let go of my bag again. All I really want to do is sleep and change clothes, but as neither of those options are open right now, I will blog.
Honestly, last night (this morning? Time is a blur), sitting in the completely silent and closed Maimi airport I began to have a few doubts about the trip, mostly when I realized that I had minimal ideas on what to do when I got to the airport, and no idea what to do once I left it.
Lesson Learned: While traveling, find a hostel ahead of time if you’re not familiar with the landscape. Book if possible. Make the process easier on yourself by downloading an app like HostelWorld if you’ve just a phone. Do this when you have reliable internet. Don’t wait for, say, the Miami airport. XP
But it all worked out okay. (Positive reenforcement for leaving things to the last minute. Just like studying––they try to get me to study, but it’s hard to make myself do it when I still get As.) I booked this hostel for $15/night (more than their ads online say it would be and more than I really want to pay, but it’s close to the airport), and wrote down a list of what I was most afraid of. Then I wrote a list of ways to conquer each fear.
(In case you’re curious: mostly, I’m afraid of being broke. I don’t know how to be without money. I’ve worked odd or regular jobs since I was a freshman in high school and my parents gave me an allowance, and since I always saved it, I’ve almost always had money. Suddenly, the prospect of going on this 6 week long adventure and having to pay for associated costs was a stressful thought when Minerva looms over me. Luckily, my parents have contributed quite a lot, and they and my community SoCo have made it possible for me to go on this trip. It literally would have been impossible otherwise. On that note, my GoFundMe is still up and accepting contributions! http://www.gofundme.com/phoebem)
The best part of my day, the part that assuaged all my doubts about traveling to Costa Rica alone, was walking out of the airport. As tens of men suddenly started trying to get me in their taxis, my old habits and skill sets returned. I waved them all away casually, without thinking about it. Four years ago when I first visited Costa Rica, I had been overwhelmed by the mass of strangers talking to me in a language I could barely comprehend. The hostel’s website had mentioned something about a five minute bus… So naturally, I asked a taxi driver where the bus to Alajuela was. He gave me good instructions; the bus stop was close enough we could see the buses passing. After a bit of verbal stumbling––I have practiced Spanish very rarely over the last two years, and not in the transportation domain––I got on what I was told was the right bus. Unsure of public transit customs, I asked how much it was. It was some huge number I didn’t recognize, and I remembered with almost fear that they used Colones here, where the exchange is some 500 to the dollar. I can barely count that high in Spanish. “I’ll just take a taxi,” I said, and made to hop off the bus. Everybody was watching as the driver called after me, “hold up, they’ll change you twice as much than they should!” I stepped right back up. “You’re right,” I said, took a deep breath, and pushed forward. With the help of an English speaking woman who knew where the park was, I got off at the right “stop” (bus stops are more of a vague concept here than a concrete structure (literally heheh)). She told me to walk two blocks behind us and then three to my right. I thanked her and started of, head held high. On that bus, hearing the Spanish all around me, the brightly colored houses, the street venders selling all sorts of things, the driving unlike anything else I’ve experienced, I felt a part of me come home.
So there I was, walking down this unknown (unlabeled) street in some part of San José, Costa Rica. (*Note: I found out later that I wasn’t even actually in San José, I was in Alajuela, a town close enough to San José buses run there for 535 colones–a little over a dollar–every 15 or 30 minutes. But still not San José.) I was on my own, with no plans to meet up with my group until the day after next. The Maps app on my iPhone is my savior in Tucson, but here it knows nothing. Instead, I had vauge directions I could only hope led me to the right place and weren’t the product of a joke or misunderstanding. (*Note: Again, later I found out there were two children’s parks, one 6 blocks away that was much more popular and by rights I probably should have received directions to that place when I asked. Sometime I wonder how I get/do anything.) Ticos––Costa Ricans––of all ages passed me. Many men stared at my chest or my face and called out to me: “princess” and “beautiful” and even a “welcome.” (Not as bad as Panama though, nowhere near. The youngers made eye contact and looked away. They younger they were, the longer that contact was held. I never seem to catch the women’s eyes.
(Hmm. Reading this over, ready to post, I realize that it’s no wonder my mom worries about me traveling. I have given her good cause. :P)
Just when I was considering hopping into one of the many taxis, I turned the corner onto a park, and the hostel appeared before me.
Now it’s almost 5pm, when the bar opens. I plan on checking it out, either as a place to just escape the gasoline fumes that permeate the first floor, or as a place to meet my fellow travelers. The main reason I’m doing this trip is to meet them, after all. Other tourists.
I have the rest of today and tomorrow here in San José, before I meet ITE early Wednesday morning. Today I will use to recover from my long trip and hopefully this cold that’s getting worse, and then tomorrow… I may do more of the same. The gas fumes are overpowering while walking around the city, causing my throat (already sore) to swell. It depends on how I feel tomorrow morning, I guess, but based on experience I doubt I’ll feel much better for a few more days if not a week or two.
Bar’s opened. Good night!