That first trip

Did I ever tell you that story about what happened the first time Carrie took me to Costa Rica?

So, I had been out of the country before a few times. My parents had briefly lived in Canada while I was obtaining my undergrad degree, and we had gone on some vacations when I was a kid that were outside the US. By outside the US, though, I mean, at Club Meds in Mexico and the Bahamas. So, just a tad different than the trip I had just embarked upon with Carrie. We left our house that morning at around 3am, flew to Ft. Lauderdale Florida, and had a short layover. We then boarded the plane to San Jose, and arrived a couple hours later in a place that just felt different in so many ways. Waiting in line for immigration, some guy who was there for his bachelor party starts playing salsa music. No one bats an eye, no official looking people come over and tell him that’s not allowed, and quite a few people actually dance in line. After waiting in this (rather fun, actually) line for a while, we actually get waved over to a shorter line, because the officials noticed we had two children with us, one of whom was seriously contemplating meltdown mode (Reese). Huh. We’re warmly welcomed, passports stamped, and ushered through.

A little while later, we’re in our rental car, trying to get to Puntaraneas to make the ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya in time. The ferry is scheduled to leave at 5, and even though when we pull up a few minutes after, they wait for us to buy tickets and get on board. We get the car situated on the lower deck and go find somewhere to sit up top; there are good views to take in. I am sitting on the outdoor deck of a ferry, somewhere in Costa Rica, more than 6,000 miles from where I woke up that morning and just trying to take every second of it all in. It’s right about then that it ever-so-slightly registers that I kind of have a headache. Of course I do… I’ve been traveling all day, haven’t eaten an actual meal the entire time, I’m probably more dehydrated than usual from the flights, and about 15 minutes ago we were pretty convinced we were not going to make this ferry and would either have to drive around the Gulf of Nicoya, or else find somewhere to stay for the night. Carrie buys us all some snacks from the snack bar inside. A little container of cut up tropical fruits and as I bite into a chunk of, I believe it was papaya, I realize that I’m tasting the best papaya I’ve ever put in my mouth, sitting on a ferry, crossing some large body of water, somewhere in Costa Rica. So, I pretty much forget about my head.

After about 90 minutes, the ferry reaches the other side of the Gulf, we disembark, and continue with our journey. It’s now roughly 7:30, it’s dark, and I am getting my first crash course in why they tell you to rent something with 4-wheel drive in Costa Rica. As we bounce along the paved-but-full-of-potholes road, that gives way to unpaved-but-somehow-still-full-of-potholes road, my head begins to really pound. Uh oh. I realize that the area in which we currently are, and likely are headed to, is giving a new meaning to the word “rural” in my vocabulary. I mean, I grew up out in the country in Ohio. We had to drive 20 minutes to “town”, our power went out all the time, our “driveway” was a half mile long, and no one delivered pizza out there. That was nothing compared to this place; a place I was pretty sure no one knew existed and wasn’t on any map. Everyone is hungry, so Carrie stops at the next Soda (roadside restaurant) she sees. I am so excited as I sit down, and try to remember my Spanish when I order my first Casado and I ask for the bisteak instead of the pollo….and about 30 seconds later I realize I just cannot sit there any longer. I have to lay down. My head is pounding so hard I can feel my heartbeat in my brain, and I’m beginning to feel nauseous. I apologize to Carrie and the kids, and head back to the car. Greeeeeaaaaaaatttt. I have not had a migraine in years and one decides to show up today! Thoroughly checking my bag for ibuprofen and coming up empty, I recline the seat back all the way, and try to at least drink the bottle of water I had just ordered.

I think I drifted off for a little bit when they finish eating and return to the car. We still have probably 2 hours of driving to do. At this point, Carrie is beginning to look at me a little warily and asks me if I’m ok. She’s brought me my food in a to-go container, but I can’t touch it. She asks if she should look for a place to just spend the night. I know we’re possibly miles from anything that resembles a hotel, so I tell her no, let’s just keep going. She begins to pull out of the parking lot, I put my seat back up…..and there it is. I am going to puke my mind out. There is no stopping it. I don’t even wait for her to stop the car all the way before I open the door and let it fly, right in front of the restaurant we had just eaten at. There is a ton of it (all that water I had just drank), and it was especially acidic, burning my throat and nose, thanks to all the fruit I had eaten on the ferry. When I am finally done, I attempt to rinse my mouth out a bit with what little water I had left in the bottle, and put on my brave face, telling her to go ahead, drive off into the jungle for another couple of hours. The rest of the journey pretty much went on like that for another couple of hours- when I wasn’t puking on the side of the road, I was nearly passed out with my head stuck out of the window (the fresh air felt good).

FINALLY, FINALLY, we come to a place where there is a small collection of sodas, restaurants and shops with some people milling about and she tells me that is Montezuma. Even in my mostly delirious state I recognize that again, this place is unlike anywhere I have ever been before. I do my best to look less like a half-dead, wasted American tourist and more like a curious American tourist who just HAD to put her window down to get a better look. I’m not entirely sure everyone buys it. At last, we arrive. It’s close to 10pm. We have been traveling for almost 20 hours. My efforts to pull myself together a few kilometers back in Montezuma have me exhausted and feeling nauseous again as we pull into the parking area. Carrie tries to reassure me, telling me that I should stay in the car, let her check in and unload everything and she’ll come back to get me. Now. I am in an extremely remote area of a foreign country, surrounded by rain forests containing all sorts of insects and wild animals. And I choose to ignore all of that because I just can’t imagine actually trying to walk right now, so I fall back asleep in the car. A while later, I have no idea how much later, Carrie appears and tells me that we’re all set, she can take me to our cabina now, but warns me that it is a bit of a walk through a “jungle-y” area. I somehow manage to sit up, get my feet under me, and stand up, but I just cannot open my eyes. If I open my eyes, the world swims, and my stomach threatens to show us it’s contents again. Carrie walks backwards, holding my hands like she’s leading a toddler who’s just learning to walk, and helps me through the aforementioned “jungle-y” area. I feel horrible. I want to open my eyes and see everything that’s around me. I want to be able to enjoy this moment with her, not have her need to take care of me when she’s supposed to be on vacation. I want to go back in time to when I was packing for this trip last night and not be a naive American tourist, and have the presence of mind to realize that there will NOT be a Walgreens on this corner, so I should probably bring some ibuprofen, just in case. I open my eyes just a bit and…….. here we go again. I lean up against a random palm tree and puke and puke and puke into some beautiful tropical plants that I had never seen before. Somehow, Carrie manages to get me to the cabina, upstairs, and into bed.

The next morning, I wake up to a low, rumbling, growling noise outside. Carrie reaches for me under the covers, whispers “that’s just the howler monkeys” in my ear, and I fall back asleep.

A couple hours later, I wake up and there she is, standing next to the bed, with several Advil in her hand. “I got them from some other people staying here. They’re here from Canada.”

I love that story.

Nicoya Península, Costa Rica, 2017



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