A girl walks into the jungle

photo: David K. Browning

 

There are many reasons why one chooses to travel: escape, exploration, a chance for a new start. At times it has been a combination of all of these for me. The thrill of burying myself in a place where I knew nothing of what lay to the left or right excited me. Perhaps it was due to all of the moving around I did as a kid that made the unfamiliar less scary. By 9th grade, I had been to 8 different schools, and while always being the new kid was tough, figuring out an unknown place became a challenge that I enjoyed.

Throughout the years, I found that travel can sneak up and call us when we least expect it. That is what happened when I first went to Costa Rica. I was 25, and I wanted to go somewhere that required a passport. I had been living in NYC for three years, and the majority of my vacations up until that point revolved around me going to Florida to visit family. I loved visiting my family, but I wanted to discover a new place, to have a new type of adventure, but I thought I couldn’t afford it or would be able to get the time off. So I pushed the idea of an international trip out of my mind and put it on a shelf.

In January 2005, my friend David sent me an email from Costa Rica. He was on a surf trip and said I would love it where he was and I should check it out. My wheels started turning, and I began doing the math. The hostel wasn’t that expensive, and the flight was much less than I thought. I assumed I would have to pay at least $1,000 to fly there. I think I ended up getting that ticket for around $300. The tough part was asking for time off at the salon, where I worked as a hairdresser. If I wasn’t working, it wasn’t just me who didn’t make money but them as well.

When my vacation was approved, I began putting money into a box every week. I placed it under my bed like a grandma saving for a rainy day. Each week I saw the money grow and not under any circumstance would I touch it. It was tangible, and it began taking on a life and purpose of its own each week I added to it. If I had a slow week at work, I would stay in. No bars, no brunch. I would not touch that money for anything. Then on March 4, 2005, I boarded a flight to San Jose, Costa Rica.

David gave me a hand-drawn map of Santa Teresa and some simple instructions. I was to take a taxi to the Coca Cola bus station from the airport and board a bus to Puntarenas. The bus was sweltering. I began playing a game with the woman behind me who seemed to enjoy the bus sauna. I would open it, and she would shut it. I had no idea why as it must have been 100 degrees inside, but she had a baby, and I imagined (as my own Latin mother would think) the wind would make the baby sick. So I sat there taking it all in, looking out the window for two hours with my army backpack laying across my lap and sweat dripping down my face.

I missed the ferry I had intended to make, so I waited for the next one, which was a few hours later. I grabbed some food and began to drink the local beer, Imperial. I had one too many by the time the next ferry pulled up. I remember sitting, at the top of it and on the floor next to a bunch of rope. Thinking back, I believe we all were sitting on the ground. Now they have a snack bar, tables, and chairs and sometimes insanely loud music blaring from the speakers. We weren’t provided such luxuries 14 years ago.

Circa 2005 on top of the ferry heading into the unknown of Santa Teresa. This may have been one of the first selfies I had ever taken and it was definitely done with a flip phone.

Circa 2005 on top of the ferry heading into the unknown of Santa Teresa. This may have been one of the first selfies I had ever taken and it was definitely done with a flip phone.

The horn blew, and a few of us jumped. I bought more beer on the boat and wrote a poem. I listened to music and watched the stars. At some point, I realized I had no idea how I was getting from where the ferry docked to Santa Teresa. This was not NYC, and taxis would not be waiting. It was already getting pretty late, and my hostel, Casa Zen, was a good 2 hours away.

Right before we docked, I began talking to two girls. They had already arranged a ride with a taxi driver they had used previously and were happy to share the cost. The driver had a mullet and was blasting 80’s hairband music. He offered us all a beer and while the Nikki in the US would have said, “no thanks, I’ll walk” I got in, had a beer, and we all laughed for over two hours.

The winding road and bumps made for a slow trip. It was so dark outside that I couldn’t see what kind of terrain we were driving over. We stopped to pee on the side of the road at some point. I was quite nervous as I was and am terrible at popping a squat. I naturally peed on my feet and made a mental note to shower when I got to where I was going. We finally arrived in Santa Teresa close to 11. I couldn’t make out the town very well, and Casa Zen appeared closed for the night. Marilou who worked there was playing chess and mentioned she thought I wasn’t coming. Luckily for me, she was still there. She showed me to my room, and I somehow remembered to wash my feet before I passed out.

The next morning I was greeted by the garden with the sun peering between the trees. I asked in which direction the beach was, and I headed down the dirt road. The jungle hugged the sand like a wall of protection. My feet touched the sea. All at once, I felt that this place was something. The past, present, and future all wrapped up into one second. It was as if we had always known each other. A familiar and comforting feeling, just like I had felt the first time I arrived in NYC. I knew it would be home someday. I didn’t know when.

Flash forward 14 years as I write this entry at my house in Santa Teresa. My dog, Max, is playing with his ball, and the hostel next door keeps playing the same reggae song over and over. I can hear monkeys howling at times and have hummingbirds in my garden every day. I have learned that running water is something to not take for granted, and I also have learned how to use a sump pump when mother nature decides to flood my house. I sit under those palm trees to the left in the photo above. They now tower into the sky, full of coconuts.

This place picked me so long ago. It snuck up on me. I am forever grateful for the little push I was given to come here. I would have never thought it would have been able to take a trip to Costa Rica. Once I realized travel was possible, my world opened up to endless possibilities.

Everyone will say why you can’t go somewhere: it’s too far, it’s too close, it’s too expensive, it’s not safe. But what if that place is one that alters the path of your life in the right way? Shows you things you never thought possible? You will never know unless you go. This thinking is what made Roam & Wander come to fruition. I hope to encourage any of you that want to look out of a different window once in a while.

I am here to help get you there.