Canada to Mexico: Part II….Costa Rica

In the office a couple of weeks later, my friend Julie was sharing photos from a trip to Costa Rica she’d recently taken. Julie is a vivacious French Canadian woman with whom I share a love of sports, languages, music, good food and life in general. She put the joie in joie de vivre. She announced she was enrolling in Spanish lessons over the noise of the radio, which she’d tuned to Latin dance music. She flitted about the office as she told me about her trip – making dance moves that seemed as exotic as the tale she was telling me. It all sounded so wonderful and passionate and exciting. And out of my reach. She showed me her photos and surprised me when she explained that she’d gone on the trip by herself.  

“Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked her. It had never occurred to me that a woman could travel on her own to a foreign country. My conservative, angst-ridden view of the world had just been stood on its head again.

According to Julie it was very safe and she explained how she had traveled from place to place on local buses filled with other foreign travelers just like her, many of them making their way on their own. It sounded too good to be true. The travel virus from the Tuk boy’s van came out of dormancy and my head spun with dreams of travel and the hot tropical sun beating on my ghostly white skin.

My excitement waned when my financial reality superimposed itself on my daydreaming head. I really couldn’t afford the airfare, but Julie said that once you were there hotel and food prices were remarkably low.  Still, I didn’t see how I could afford it.

The next day it dawned on me. The one thing acquired from the marital assets was the collection of airmiles accumulated from 6.5 years of household credit card expenses (a large outstanding balance of which I sadly also took away with me).

I pressed Julie for details and began to plan a trip following her itinerary. I called the airline and booked a two-week trip for February 2000. I ordered Spanish for Beginners.

Time flew. Before I knew it I was bound for Costa Rica. On the plane, I pulled Spanish for Beginners out of my backpack and cracked it for the very first time. I’d sworn I’d have basic Spanish down before I got there, but between work obligations and the demands of writing my master’s thesis there wasn’t much time left for idle pursuits like learning a new language. I cursed my job and myself as I tried in a last minute panic to cram as much Spanish into my brain as possible during the four-hour flight to Miami. By the time the plane from Miami touched down in the capital city of San Jose, CR I’d managed to memorize “My name is Dawn,” “Where are the bathrooms?” and “How much is that?” I could also count to ten.

The plane was abuzz with the excitement of other travelers as we all waited for the cabin crew to open the door and set us free. Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to remove my wool socks, revealing two very white, cold-to-the-touch feet.

At this point in my life, my feet were perpetually numb with cold and had been for round about 17 years. On a high school night-skiing trip I’d managed to frost bite all ten of my toes to the point that they turned black, the result of all the capillaries in my toes rupturing in an excruciating explosion of pain. Yes, I cried. Then I went out for pizza and forgot all about it until I went home and took my socks off. A friend who was staying overnight with me screamed when she saw my toes. That’s when I remembered the pain I’d been in just a few hours earlier. In the days that followed, I hid my grotesque feet and the pain they induced, too petrified of parental wrath were I to reveal my fetid phalanges, and thereby risked gangrene setting in. It was just dumb luck that let me keep my toes, but not until all the nails and a thick layer of skin peeled off several weeks later. It was pretty disgusting and painful. Ever after I had semi-numb, cold feet.

I slipped my Teva’s back on and waited.

The next thing I knew they were opening the cabin doors and the airplane filled with the warmest, softest most sweet-smelling air I’d ever smelled. The warmth enveloped my feet and I felt them tingle with sensation as they warmed as though placed in a tub of balmy water. As I disembarked, my whole body was enveloped in the caress of the tropical air and seemingly sucked it in through its pores. I felt my shoulders and then my whole body relax. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much tension my body was carrying as it braced against the cold of a Canadian winter. I slowed to a crawl as my senses were overcome and I wanted to stop at the bottom of the stairs so I could just drink in the sensation. But there were Costa Rican airport officials there herding us towards the terminal. Air appreciation would have to wait.

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