When I wake in the morning, the air is warm and close because I turned off the A.C. before I went to sleep. I breathe, feeling the lump of anxiety in my chest that has been my morning companion for the past several weeks. It’s not the same as fear, but the weight of things I must do seems to settle on me in the night and be sitting on me when I wake in the morning. Some people have cats who sit on their chests. I have anxiety.
On the way to the bus station I make chit-chat with the driver. He tells me my Spanish is good, my accent is good, that I am good looking, and do I have a husband? I say yes—but thank you for the nice compliments. I ask—Cumplido—is that the right word? He laughs, says they call it, piropo. It is like flattery. And it is apparently (from my experience, and according to the guide books) customary among Costa Rican men. These comments are not serious propositions, but little compliments. When I get to the bus station, I look up the word and it translates as “semi-precious jewels” and this seems perfect. Little verbal baubles cast in one’s direction. Conversations with too many of these always feel a little undignified to me, but I tend to get through them by saying “muy amable, muy generoso,” very kind, very generous, and the like. I don’t really particularly think so, but then, they don’t really think I am beautiful or really worth pursuing, so I figure that makes us a little bit even.
The station is an area with a roof but no walls. The landscape around us is dusty and dry. I’m happy to get a direct ticket, leaving in just a couple hours. I go to the little concession counter and order my first food, gallo pinto…a typical breakfast of eggs with rice and beans.
“Con natillo?” the woman asks.
I can’t remember what this is. “Uh, sure.”
When I see it I remembered, it is a kind of cream, and definitely makes the dry-ish beans and rice and egg more palatable.
As I sit at a little table, with my lap-top, eating my gallo pinto, I experience my first real sense of anticipation. I’m still nervous—my hands are shaking a little as I eat– but I am beginning to feel a sense of adventure, and the freedom that comes from being on my own, which I enjoy when I travel. I always miss Paul, like Linus misses his blanket—but in some situations, a blanket can turn out to be a wet one. Paul would not like gallo pinto very much, nor the fact that it is hot here, and there is no air-conditioning in the open air station. Whether the bus will have AC will be a matter of luck.
Luck is with me, and there is AC, but so little leg room that I can’t even cross my ankles. But every seat is full, so I feel lucky to be on the bus at all. My seatmate is a man who overseas construction projects, and for a year has been making the four hour commute each week. A young woman a few seats behind us and across the aisle. Plump, dressed in a tube top and shorts, her only traveling possession seems to be a purple cel phone. She smiles at me almost the whole trip. Whenever I glance back, she is looking at me. Sometimes she says to me “God walks with you.” I don’t know if this is a blessing, or an observation. The other people around look away as if a little embarrassed. With the language barrier it is hard to tell if she might be a mentally impaired, or if she is begging, and that is what makes people stiffen.
The four hours is long, but at last I debark at the station in San Jose. I look for someone who looks like they might be looking for me, but no one appears. A Caribbean Costa Rican man who speaks English keeps me company as go out in front of the station to wait. The young woman from the bus comes and stands there too. She tells the man she needs to get to the other bus station. He points to a taxi.
“I don’t have any money.” she says.”
“Well, then you can’t pay for a taxi,” he says.
She keeps standing there.
The man lends me his phone and I call Horacio. He picks up, “Indy! Where are you?”
I’m a little miffed, since I am exactly where he told me to be. “At the bus station, in front.”
“Which bus station?”
“Ah, Pulmitan! I’ll be right there. Ten minutes.”
I thank the man, and report that my friend will arrive in ten minutes. I give the young woman 2000 colones—about four bucks. She takes it without comment and climbs into a cab.
Each time a cab passes, the man, still standing next to me, asks, “Is that him? Is that your friend/” even though nothing close to ten minutes has passed. I am remembering how it is in Costa Rica—I am constantly in a state of confusion, about whether any given male is protective, or predatory—or both. What will this man do if Horacio doesn’t show up? Recommend a hotel where a friend works? Ask me out?
I don’t find out, as Horacio does show up, looking much the same as I remembered—long curly black hair and a face like Sartre, and the energy of an excited six year old. He is in a cab, which we take to the hotel, where he asks me to pay the driver. As I check into the hotel, he tells me the price is $50 dollars a night, but that I might have to change hotels on Monday because that’s when the discount ends. I haven’t seen him for a long time, I don’t want to quibble over money on the first day, so I don’t question this.
He tells me there is plan for dinner, but also, before that, he wants to take me to a café to meet R, who he explains is an ex-girlfriend, but whom he is living with still. He says they are trying to decide what to do next in the relationship. He says this as if he hopes they are getting back together. When I see her, she is beautiful. And because it is my experience, from know him, that he falls in love with beautiful women who don’t fall in love with him—at least for very long—I assume this is the situation…but I could be wrong.
We end up at Spoon, which I remember from my last visit. Something about the place annoys me. I think the English name, and the prices seem a little pretentious. I wonder if he really likes it, or if he’s chosen it as the closest thing to my comfort zone as an American. H and R have food and coffees, and I have water, and though I’m hungry, I just order a small dish, since this is just coffee, and we have plans for dinner. I present my gifts, of peanut butter and chocolate. I had asked Horacio what I could bring and he had mentioned these items. I see now, they were both with R in mind. She seems happy with them.
As we walked up to the cashier, H says, “I invited you,” indicating he wants to pay. I don’t argue.
But at the register he pulls out a fifty dollar bill—American. The cashier says something I don’t catch—they can’t change such big bill perhaps, or maybe they don’t take dollars, although a large number of businesses do. H turns to me “Do you have colones?
“How bout I put it on my credit card?”
“Yes, that would be best,”
The bill comes to about $30 dollars. With the hotel, taxi, breakfast and woman on the bus, I’ve spent almost $100 in one day, and we haven’t been to dinner yet. At this rate, a ten-day trip is going to make our next credit card statement one that will make me cringe, especially since this is also our first month without Paul’s paycheck.
Later, in my room, I’m rather relieved when H calls to say it would be better to stay in this evening. And although I’m not thrilled about the cost, I enjoy having my own room. I’ve started my period and, I’m still working on my presentation, so I’m grateful for the privacy, and the freedom the room allows. My friend T calls me on skype, and I carry my laptop out to the balcony to show him all the people downtown on a Saturday night. We have a nice chat, and despite the noise from the street below, I don’t have any problem falling asleep.