Pura Vida

August 31, 2013

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I don’t even know how to begin describing Costa Rica. A simple enough landing, a quick rush through immigration and customs… only to have yourself deposited in a mine field of family members and taxi drivers asking where you need to go. In that respect, it’s not much different than Bangkok. In fact, Costa Rica reminded me a lot of Thailand: developed but still lacking paved streets to most roadside shops in the countryside; tropical, with palm trees, sandy beaches, and a steady rainy season; sketchy parts of society most decent human beings would like to pretend don’t exist (child prostitution, domestic violence); even their own rambutan, called “mamones”.

One of the first things I learned was the hand gesture for “no thanks”: a quick raise of the index finger and a small wag to show street merchants I wasn’t in the mood to purchase anything. Haggling is uncommon, and prices aren’t that much cheaper than those in the US, with some exceptions: tolls and hotels ($30-50 in a touristy area will get you a decent room for 2-3 people), among those I noticed in my short stay.

Costra Ricans are runners, and nothing made me happier than seeing people of all shapes and sizes jogging alongside the road, avoiding cars and buses like their lives depended on it. Though drivers are certainly aggressive here – out of necessity – I still don’t think traffic holds a candle to cities like Bangkok and Beijing. One factor is numbers: only two million people in San Jose. The other is infrastructure: more roads have been built and lined with lane markers; however, with the rain and constantly wet ground, collapses are relatively common and there aren’t always alternative routes.

While the language center of my brain has certainly been stimulated by this brief excursion, I’m still a long way from holding my own in a Spanish conversation. Hello, good day, good morning, good evening, good afternoon, good bye… these words will be my friends until others find their way to me. It doesn’t help that I bothered to learn local slang, as opposed to the Arequipa dialect I’ll be exposed to in a few days. Nevertheless, one step at a time. I can still remember when all I knew of Japanese was “konnichwa” and “sayonara”; my first attempt at something I could use in the real world was understanding the Family Mart clerk asking me if I wanted my bento box heated, and responding with the appropriate “please do it”.

In Spanish, I haven’t tried anything as complicated as a phrase just yet (nor will I until I’m settled), but the possibilities of this trip make me realize just how good of a decision it was. This world is just as foreign to me as Japan was seven years ago. There may be more familiar brand names, and the letters of the language can be more easily understand, but it’s still a brave new world. One with different peoples, most of whom have never known life in Asia. Their values are different, their cultures unique. What will I get out of this? How will I grow? Will I find myself more at peace?

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