Look at that Guy Carrying All Those Yoga Mats — By Jennifer Shipp
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Look at that Guy Carrying All Those Yoga Mats — By Jennifer Shipp

In Costa Rica, information about safety is rather scanty and seems to consist primarily of lighthearted warnings in travel guidebooks. It would be impossible to write a guidebook for a location like Costa Rica that consisted entirely of warnings because no one would buy it or be interested in going to the place unless they were a humanitarian worker or a journalist. So the warnings are lighthearted and inserted sporadically throughout the Costa Rican guidebooks. But and they all say to keep a sharp eye out for your things and to keep in mind that the people who mug you already know about all the potential hiding places for your stash. It seems like we would be idiots to throw caution to the wind and walk around at night here under any circumstances, but it seems that this is what we’ll have to do. I’ve been trying to figure out the safest way to get from here to there, but the definition of “safe” in Costa Rica differs substantially from the definition I’m used to in the states.

Yoga in Alajuela Costa Rica
John with a floral-type arrangement of yoga mats in his kid-sized school bag.

Is walking up our street after dark at 8:00 PM technically “throwing caution to the wind”? Am I just paranoid? I don’t really want to find out that I’m not paranoid. The other day, a group of teenage boys drove by and yelled some words at us that I didn’t understand. They were probably mean words given that they didn’t slow down to say them to us and after their vehicle passed we heard them guffawing passionately at us. I thought of them yesterday as we worked out a plan to carry our three yoga mats from here to the bus stop. I realized that I didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves by carrying these brightly colored objects around that immediately alerted onlookers to the fact that we’re doing, of all things, yoga. We already stick out here as “different” and then the yoga mats give people-who-are-so-inclined a reason to make fun of us. Then, once they have a reason to make fun of us, they might decide to gang up on us and try to beat the crap out of the three American yogis, just for fun. And then, once they were threatening us, we’d have to hope that none them had a knife or anything. We’d have to try to use our martial arts skills, but the only object we’d have to defend ourselves would be a flimsy rolled up yoga mat, which would be embarrassing as well as ineffective.

I mean, I think I could do some real harm to someone with my rolled up yoga mat, but I’ve never tried it and frankly, sometimes things in my head don’t work out the same in real life.

We discussed it before leaving the house and decided that John should carry all three of the yoga mats on our way to the MindBody Zone. We reasoned that the mostly small Costa Rican men would be pretty stupid to make fun of the big American guy with yoga mats. John stuck them into his little red schoolbag in a kind of “floral” arrangement such that they were sticking out in all directions. Then, we headed down the hill.

No one made fun of us or threatened to beat us up, but then again, we took a taxi home from the MegaSuper.

John and I go back and forth on the safety of doing little things in foreign countries, like going to a hammam in Morocco after hearing the horrific tales of gastrointenstinal woe experienced by an American woman in Istanbul who swallowed two drops of the water by accident when her bath attendant rinsed her hair. Or driving from Progreso, Mexico to Palenque and back in one weekend. Or taking a train from Beijing to Guilin during the last three days of our trip with only limited Chinese to meet our basic survival needs (we didn’t end up doing that). These are not big risks by some people’s standards, but I don’t even trust the U.S. public school system with my daughter. And yet, I’ll take her out for a walk in the middle of the night in Alajuela? Internally, I feel the contradiction and it bothers me, though at the same time, I don’t want to miss out on life because of seemingly irrational fears (are they irrational? Am I being wise or paranoid?). So, I compromise by making John carry all three yoga mats sticking out of his kid-size school bag in all directions. As though people won’t make fun of us or take note of us then.

It is merely a gesture, I suppose, that metaphorically earmarks my paranoia and makes it into a silly parody that everyone can

Walking Calle Vargus in Alajuela Costa Rica with an assortment of yoga mats
John and Lydian walking along the shoulder of Calle Vargas in Alajuela, Costa Rica on our way to the bus station.

see and wonder about (why is that guy carrying all those yoga mats that way?). John dutifully goes along with my half-baked plans and probably, in the end, no one attacks us or looks at us as good prey because all the men feel sorry for him.

Related Posts:

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Finding the Alajuela Yoga Studio — By Jennifer Shipp

Yoga, Alajuela-Style — By Jennifer Shipp

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