“Oh isn’t it just paradise?”, exclaimed the woman next to me as i shuffled around uncomfortably, jamming my bursting backpack under the seat in front of me. A middle seat. Not the aisle, not the window. No view, no freedom. Just the middle. “You mean Costa Rica?” I asked, taking longer than I should to put two and two together—we were flying out of San José, it was the only thing we had in common at this point. “Yes, oh my goodness, it’s just GORGEOUS, my daughter and I are already planning a trip to come back!” I couldn’t help but chuckle as I envisioned a side-by-side of what both she and I had experienced during the previous few days. On her side, tour-guided volcano visits, lush waterfalls, exotic wildlife, delectable gourmet food, secluded yoga resorts. Zip-lining over tropical jungles, enjoying the view without stopping to risk an actual mosquito bite. On my side… oh on my side. Suffice it to say, “winging it” doesn’t always play out the way you might hope.
Lauren, my beautiful friend of years (decades at this point) had told me last summer that she would be getting married in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, and I immediately told Ben that this was something we couldn’t miss. Before he could say no I had found a pair of tickets to San Jose we simply HAD TO BUY (try arguing with Holly in travel mode). Yes, they were to a city that was hundreds of miles away from the actual location of the wedding, and yes, I somehow managed to convince him that it would all be for the best. “We get to see more of the island this way”, I said. “It’s not an island, is it?” “Riiiiiight.”
I’ve always considered myself to be pretty good with maps. I am fearless behind the wheel, have a good sense of direction, am pretty accurate with estimates, and can handle practically anything that comes my way. Plus, technology, you know? So when google told me that it was a 3 hour and 46 minute drive with no traffic from the airport to the resort, I didn’t flinch at all. (I also knew that Ben is a fantastic driver and happens to actually enjoy it, so win-win, right?) We would arrive two days before the wedding and explore some towns and beaches, I thought. The non-touristy ones. The places the locals go. The real nitty gritty of Costa Rica.
Well, I guess you can say we got what we wished for. And by “we” I mean “I”.
Here are a few take-aways from our 4 1/2 day terribly-planned trip to Costa Rica:
- THOSE ROADS!
Oh, to be a bird. As the bird flies, it looks to be a relatively easy country to get around (especially coming from the magna-state of Texas). But do not be deceived, my friend. If you are planning on renting a car, prepare your guts, your wits, and add a loved one to your will. We found nothing but narrow, crooked, bumpy, over-run, run-down, downright torturous roads. Ok, so they were one lane each direction with no shoulder and lots of curves. But seriously. Try dealing with that for 8 hours straight with sluggish semis appearing in front of you ad nauseam. A ripe combination of frustrating and terrifying.
- THOSE SIGNS!
Ben and I could not get over how many times we saw signs by the side of the road for bars, restaurants, hotels, gyms, cafés, you name it, with, wait for it… NOTHING ELSE IN SIGHT. As in, you’re literally in the middle of NOWHERE and you’ll se a sign that reads “Bar Pura Vida” surrounded by absolutely nothing but trees. For miles. Un-freaking-believable. Other highlights:
- Soda el Camarón
- Pipa Fría
- Lubricentro ‘El Coyote’
- Aqui hay pianguá
What even is happening? We felt like we were in some sort of twilight zone where nothing quite made sense.
- THAT NATURE!
To be fair, we weren’t totally bewildered as to why people flock to Costa Rica. Little glimpses of the beaches, the mountains, the sunsets, the wildlife—all provided a welcome contrast to the treacherous trails we’d traversed to see them. In the province of Guanacaste, a significant portion of paradise has been snapped up by the big resorts, but we were able to find a few pockets (through severe trial and error) that were wild and unclaimed. Bahía Salinas and Playa Rajada certainly deserve an honorable mention.
- NO MATTER WHAT, TRAVEL IS ALWAYS AN ADVENTURE
Our first night we drove all the way out to Puntarenas, a beach town on its own little peninsula (the map showed that it was secluded which in our minds translated to exotic). We soon realized why it isn’t much of a tourist attraction. It’s less a beach and more of a port, with the water coming right up to the concrete of the city without so much as a grain of sand in between. Although I will say, they make a MEAN ceviche at the restaurant that everybody recommended, if I could only remember its name. Our next stop was Tamarindo Beach, which had a lot more going on, but we had driven about 7 hours to get there, and were feeling the pressure to go further north to Guanacaste for the wedding the next day. Didn't do much more than stop to wet our feet. From there we attempted to just “drive up the coast”, imagining it to be something similar to Pacific Coast Highway in California. Mistake. There is no such thing. And so, we found ourselves driving inland once again, our frustration seeping out in the form of laughter that slowly mutated into exasperated yells and heated rants.
The night before the wedding as we drove down a desolate dirt road, unable to find a place to lay our heads for the night, Ben’s eye caught a shimmering light and he drove toward it (I had given up all driving at this point, for everyone’s safety). “Blue Dream Hotel”, the sign said. And lo and behold, there was an actual hotel there! And despite the fact that I was in one of my less pleasant moods, we were greeted with such a sweet, cheery smile by the girl at the front desk that we knew this was our place. She proceeded to tell us all about the kite surfing school that they also run, and Ben immediately made plans to kite surf the next morning at the crack of dawn.
Yes, he did it, and yes, I lay on the beach like a slug without sunscreen for the entire duration. Hence, me being fluorescent pink by the time we arrived at Lauren’s wedding. But we arrived!
Nothing in Costa Rica managed to stop us from making it, and nothing in the world could replace the joy of witnessing my friend tie the knot. Seeing her shining, beaming face as she recited her vows and shared a kiss with her husband. Enjoying an intimate candle-lit dinner as we celebrated Lauren and Frank and laughed the night away, telling stories of our past, and dreaming about our future.
My birthday happened to be the next day, and I must say, life truly is a choose-your-own-adventure book! Ben and I enjoyed a relaxing time on the beach (although it took about 3 U-turns to finally find it), and contemplated the wonderfully humorous ways in which life allows us to co-author our own story. Sure, we could have planned things better, but then how would we have truly learned how important planning actually is? And how would we have proven to ourselves that we can come out smiling on the other side of what some might have categorized as a catastrophic trip?
Also, somewhere during our 8-hour trip back to San José, God gave us the biggest, brightest, most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen.