Why trash a ticket to paradise?
“You didn’t understand what I am. I am love. I am pleasure. I am essence. I am an idiot. I am an alcoholic. I am tenacious. I am. I simply am. You are a sh*t my love.” - Frida Kahlo
Some might be inclined to say... “What the hell were you thinking?” when looking back on an experience like this. I think... no, I know for sure, my traveling partner thought this about me many times over while we were together, to the point of arousing her complete disgust towards me.
In the end, she abandoned me in Central America.
But seriously, what was I thinking?
Nothing...and that was the point.
In my mid-20s, I left the longest relationship of my life and impulsively drove across the U.S. (for the third or fourth time from one coast to the other to touch down in Portland, Oregon) I loved it there but still, I had been all over this country now. I'd seen the canyons and mountains, the Craters of the Moon in Idaho, and the flat, flat highways in Texas. I'd also seen the Great Lakes and the Great Salt Lake. This time, something different was calling me. A completely new piece of land, a tropical place far away.
So I sat in my local coffee shop and tried to put my vision into words. The girl behind the counter, my new Portland friend, liked my idea and so we cooked up a scheme to fly to Costa Rica. But what exactly would we do there? Well, work on an organic farm or two of course... loosely, we had a plan... I was dreaming of a turquoise ocean and heat that never ended. I'm not quite sure what she wanted... at this point I'll never know.
Fast forward a few months later, I flew into San Jose a day before she did. I arrived in total shock, shaking a little; from nerves, excitement, and being scared shitless of being in a foreign country totally by myself. It was the first time out of my homeland, and I barely knew any Spanish. I managed to grab a taxi to our hostel and then took a walk in the blocks close enough so that I could recall the way back without having to ask for directions. But that night I think I might have shed a little fear-tear lying on my bottom bunk.
Lindsey arrived the next day also in a taxi, although somehow completely money-less. I had to pay for her taxi. “What happened Lindsey?”
“I got a new ATM card... and I was trying to get some cash at the airport before I left... so I entered in what I thought was my passcode like 3 times, and then I got completely locked out!” Chaos.
Geez, we were young and dumb. And now what? I loaned her some money and we went to calm down in the hostel main room. We met some nice Germans or whatever- you meet a lot of people from all over the world in the main room at hostels- and they talked us into checking out a dance club that night. “Yes! Of course!” I felt back in my old skin. Now that I had my side-kick to depend on, I wanted to get out there and really feel this new place. See what it was all about. Apparently the fear-tears had passed. I was ready for adventure. Bring it on! Bring on anything! Everything!
A Costa Rican with a hemp necklace- Robert (yes with no "O” at the end)- would be our guide. We piled into a taxi and swept along dark streets to one of the biggest night clubs I'd ever seen. As we walked in a bottle shattered and people tumbled into a fight, but somehow I wasn't frightened. It only contributed to the frenetic energy I was feeling... the go, go, GO! feeling. There was a huge, blaring screen at the back of the club and people writhed everywhere. "Gasolina” was echoing deafeningly over the crowd... I looked, and dove in. Throbbing, pulsing with the crowd, I was in love with this night and even though I couldn't have a proper conversation with anyone, it didn't matter. Here, it was body language.
Somehow the Costa Rican guy found me, and we danced, closer and closer, and then he put his hand up my shorts. Woah! Who told you to do that... in public?!?
“My cousin said all American girls like that.” Really?!?
Apparently they do because we ended up in our own room that night, which he made ME pay for (stereotypes get thrown around a lot when you're traveling). I had no idea where the rest of my gang was, but it really didn't matter. As we awoke the next morning more than a little groggy, he asked me to marry him, and I had a really good laugh at the absurdity of it all. Maybe on this trip, anything could happen? If I let it?
But now I had to get back to Lindsey, hopefully she had gotten back to the hostel OK with the Australian folks- or Germans? I got a somewhat unexpectedly nasty greeting. “I told you I didn't want to separate! That was the one thing I said we shouldn't do!”
“But, Lindsey, everything came out fine. I knew you would be okay with those guys- it was fun right?”
“NO! What did you do with that guy anyway? Where the fuck did you go??”
Ah, the details didn't matter. It was a night of letting loose, of saying screw responsibility to have a taste of whatever I wanted and not having to apologize. I was far from home, far from anyone to judge me or to have to answer to. I just wanted a little freedom, whatever that meant to me, on my own terms. What were my personal limits? I needed to find out. Alas, I found they were much looser than my traveling companion's. Maybe that was ok, maybe it wasn't. “OK, ok. I'm sorry, I won't do that again.”
At this point I find myself staring at Lindsey as she tries to scream and almost cry in mixed French/Spanish at the lady behind the counter of the grocery store, at the wiring section. Back in Portland, she had gotten bad advice: Don't bother learning any Spanish ahead of time, they said. Just absorb it when you arrive, they said. But those people didn't bet that we'd have to negotiate a wire transfer 2 days into our trip, completely in Spanish.
The organic farm we were set to work on was located deep in the jungle. There, I truly had one of the best experiences of my life up until that point. It was purely soul-satiating. Surrounded by the lush green jungle and bursts of the richest colors imaginable - reds, golds, oranges, and magentas. I bonded with the farmer's helper, an old family man with glossy red eyes and a brown-tinted denim shirt. He saw me doing a pencil sketch of some of the plants one day and decided to take me on a tour. He explained all of the names of the plants and interesting stories about them, of which I could only understand bits and pieces. But he patiently wrote out and had me pronounce names like CHA-YO-TE.
Maybe I really was only ever free there. In that tropical place. I let myself be whoever the moment wanted me to be. I didn't try to make sense of my changing personality from day to day. I just let me be ME.
Our time at the farm- sleeping in hammocks, spotting enormous bugs and weird see-through blue-tinted worms, dipping our hands up to our shoulders in soil, avocado trees to climb and pilfer with the biggest avocados I'd ever seen in my life, discovering indigenous walking paths with broken down tiny bridges across tiny ravines- didn't last but four days. The lady of the house was gone and our work was little. So we moved on, caught a bus to the ocean and found a cheap hostel on a dirt road running along the beach. I loved the bronze-skinned surf instructors; women and men. Theirs was quite a lovely looking life.
We met a few cute surfer guys at the local internet café, also from Portland, who invited us to a waterfall to drink mushroom tea. But Lindsey panicked and said she missed her boyfriend, so I dutifully stayed in with her that night.
Even she regretted it the next day. So she let loose her reigns a little. We swam on the beach in our underwear during the day and went dancing all night, but inevitably another freak out occurred. So we walked home in the dark, damp, stillness; through tall palm trees, down a muddy, dirt path, our heads kind of held low. At least I know mine was. When an excited someone asked if we would like to join them on the beach for a bonfire, I raised my eyebrows at Lindsey - now I knew to check with the boss first. Oh alright, she agreed. I don't know exactly when her ropes snapped but as I sat at the bonfire, not really having the best time or talking with anyone, I searched the crowd and couldn't find her face. Dawn was approaching as I cast my eyes out to the waves and saw two bodies mingling in the glittering water.
There opened a crack in her impenetrable fortress, not to salvation but to ruin.
The next day the Portland guys asked us if we'd like to travel to Nicaragua with them, but this time I had the ammo. “Come on, they say the beaches there are incredible, it's even cheaper, and they'll split all expenses with us. We'll go there for a few days and then we can come back, go to another farm or the butterfly sanctuary or whatever."
So with that, we were off. Crossing borders and almost not getting my passport stamped, bus rides switching seats, listening to music, checking out super old Of Montreal albums, and bumpy taxi rides. I loved the Costa Rican people, I think I wore a smile at all times. At the border crossing we waited a lot, and I passed the time cooing at babies and giggling with children. I smiled pridefully with the mommas and puffed my chest out with the pops. I wanted to be a part of everyone's family. I noticed at some point Lindsey had barely spoken, and then we landed in San Juan Del Sur- a sleepy town on a huge bay with lapping waters. We found a room with 10 beds and set off on adventures, scooping out the seeds from papayas with our hands to slurp out of its shell riding in the back of a bumpy truck carrying us to the beach, collecting all the shell specimens I could find, drinking 25 cent ice cold beers.
Wait, but where was Lindsey?
She sat alone, away from the waves. Girl! We're here in this beautiful place. Enjoy it! Wake up! She literally growled.
Then I knew I was the embodiment of evil to her, maybe even of the freedom she just couldn't allow herself? Me with my combat boots on the beach, my bikini top stuffed with shells.
We decided to take a ferry across shark infested fresh waters to a volcanic island (Omotepe), and this time she really disappeared. Lindsey stayed at the hostel, plotting, gripping onto her last thread of control.
When we got back from the island, I tried to approach her and she turned away, at which point we plunged into a soap opera of sorts, the Portland guys splitting us up and taking us in opposite directions, an intervention. They drilled me, she was leaving they said. She had paid to change her flight, she was leaving tomorrow- she had been to Rivas all by herself and gotten ripped off by a guy there but she didn't care. All she saw was me and her hatred for me burning in her eyes. She wanted to get as far away as possible from me. I pleaded with her that night, told her we could leave together- I didn't want it to end this way. Her face was red and her nose turned up. No. no no no no NO! Me and you Jess, we just want different things.
And I never saw her again. Ever.
She woke up the next morning before any of us, determined in her utter disgust.
But she was gone and I was free.
I did the same things as before. Ate peppered avocados for lunch and whole fresh-caught fish for dinner at the one-table outdoor eatery/abode just off the beach. Hollered “Hola amigos!” to silent folks hanging in hammocks who were accused by our hostel guide of cold-cocking an American guy just 3 weeks before. Discovered a preserved blowfish carcass, drew a lot of landscapes, wrote a lot, rode on the back of a moto to a small town to drink beers with locals away from tourists... wandered... freely.
When I got back to the US, I had to take sleeping pills for a while. I couldn't go back to normalcy. Of course I did eventually. And I never even saw the Portland guys again, although we had grown close and parted with happy feelings. They understood my spirit for adventure. They didn't mind.
Now I can look back and ask... What was I thinking? And smile at myself.
For me, it's important to return in my memories to times like this, because sometimes I find myself getting too dogmatic in my thinking or too strict with those around me, those closest to me. I remember there are other ways to be in life. Everyone should test themselves, experience what is their “own way”. Try out something new to see where you begin and end. Or if you do? And let others do the same. For christ sake don't be like Lindsey, trying to strangle every last drop of adventure out of yourself and others, punishing yourself and your loved ones for trying something new. It's a type of death to new experiences and new ways of thinking. That's no way to live.