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A Long Time Coming

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Various photos from our first trip to Costa Rica, 2004

Joey and I met in 2003.

A year later we took a trip to Costa Rica that was a life changer. Not only for us as a couple, but for each of us individually.

It was the first "big" trip we'd taken together. We bought plane tickets, lined up a small SUV online assuming we could camp in it if we wanted or needed to, and flew down with a heavy dose of adventurous spirit that led us completely in the right direction.

From the moment we landed that "let it happen" free-flow spirit was put to the test, but what might have been vacation trauma to many just made the trip more memorable for us.

First mistake. Main mistake really. We didn't tell our banks we were traveling outside the U.S., to a country in Central America, to Costa Rica.

Really long story short, after landing and taking a taxi to the car rental agency, we discovered that those cards were useless for the rental SUV we'd set up. No go on that for some reason I never understood really. So unexpected issue to deal with #1, right out of the gate, no transportation.

Next lesson: How things are handled in a place like this when you have to fix an issue.

The guy at the rental desk could "call someone". He did and a few minutes later we hopped in a beat up old, small car with a guy we couldn't understand and headed away from the airport.

We ended up at a used car lot a few miles away. They rented us, all cash upfront, a 1990's Isuzu Amigo. Purple. They taped up a few parts under the hood as we left and sent us on our way. So much for worrying about the speed traps where you pay off the police we'd been told about and read about, we accidentally looked like we lived there. Plus it took the massive pot holes and wash-outs in the road really well. And this was on the major highway.

We had intended to wing it. No plans, no reservations anywhere, nothing but a rented vehicle. And a book. Other than the vehicle we actually ended up with, things were on schedule as much as a non-scheduled vacation could go.

We brought a travel book with us that included a pull-out map. So we pulled it out and decided to go north. We'd landed in San Jose, the centrally located, congested and smoggy capital of the country. Big city. We wanted ocean and palms.

So we set off. Towards the Pacific. It didn't take long for the congestion of the city to give way to beautiful lush jungle lining the roadway. We made our way up the highway, slowing sometimes to a crawl based on the condition of the road, traffic, cattle crossing the roadway, buses. What would have been a 2 or 3 hour drive took most of the day.

We ended up in Playa Coco - a little town on the coast that, at the time, wasn't much more than a block or two of shops and buildings lining a dusty dirt road that led straight to the surf. Chickens wandered in the street, monkeys were above in the trees. At the road's end was the police station surrounded by a little public park / square and the beach. We decided to stay for a night which turned into 3 or 4. It was fantastic. There were just a couple restaurants, a couple bars, a couple dive shops, a larger hotel with 20 - 30 rooms and a few smaller places to stay like the 8-room 2-story beachside spot we chose. At the hotel we were fed black beans and rice for breakfast, sometimes it came with an egg, or a hamburger patty, or nothing.

We spent the days snorkeling in the surf and around the little bay, the first time Joey had ever snorkeled. (He's been obsessed since).

We drank Imperial beers in the public square surrounding the police station right on the beach. Everyone did. Seemed the logical place to drink and not get in trouble I guess. We might have bought a little weed from a Nicaraguan we met. We ate up all the local cuisine, higher end and low end. We drove to nearby Liberia for what I can only describe as their equivalent to a county fair. Fields of pavilions and tents with livestock competitions, food and drinks, and horse racing. With no fencing, just across the fields and through the crowds. When people made noise and pushed you back, you moved - and the horses and their riders came rumbling through.

We fell in love.

Even more with each other, but also with where we were. What it was like to be there. The beautiful jungles, beaches, people, food, sounds, smells. The life we could see there. The life we could see for ourselves there.

After a few days in Playa Coco we took off for the mountains, drove up Mount Arenal and around the lake at the top, One of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. Over the next couple days we stayed at the base of a volcano spewing lava, talked to frogs (which actually worked somehow), drove through chilly mountain passes, found the end of a rainbow, past hot springs, around curves barely wide enough for two vehicles but loaded with busses and transport trucks. We spent half a day in a bank (guarded by security guys with machine guns) waiting to try and get money - still having issues since we didn't tell our banks we'd be there - only to find out it wasn't the right kind of bank for our ATM type. Or something confusing like that. So the other half of that day was spent in another bank.

We drove back into San Jose with less than a hundred bucks cash. Cards weren't working at all at that point. We turned in the car, got a taxi into town, found the cheapest hotel we could and settled in for a weird night. After figuring out how much we'd need for taxi fare to the airport the next morning we set off for the grocery store. The hotel we were able to get was lined with barbed wire on the roof and didn't have A/C. The neighborhood wasn't shady or sketchy, it was completely frightening after dark.

We had enough cash to buy a little food and a lot of rum. We drank all of that on the way back, went to our room and passed out. Me inside the room, Joey on our stoop halfway in and halfway out.

The next morning, as we sat in the airport waiting to leave, Joey doodled a little sketch on the top of our suitcase. We found it a few days ago prepping the house for our current move. It looks just like the home we are moving to in Port Royal, Roatàn. A hillside, an island home, a beach and some palm trees. From that trip forward we've always talked about one day moving to Costa Rica, or somewhere like it.

This has been a long time coming.

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