Costa Rica Destinations — By Jennifer Shipp
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Costa Rica Destinations — By Jennifer Shipp

My mattress had collapsed. It was like sleeping in a hamster ball.

This morning when I woke up, I felt as though I were sleeping in a hamster ball. My mattress must have been used by a very large person for a very long time and it felt as though I was sleeping in that person’s giant body-print. John is sleeping in the other bed because there is only one flat-ish lump in the middle of it for one thin-ish person. Very large giants must have slept together in his bed because both sides are pancaked into a precipitous downward sloping incline. Last night, as John curled up on the island in the middle of the bed, he dreamt that ants were crawling all over him. Tonight, he found and then killed a big juicy red ant that was hurriedly going from somewhere to somewhere else via his headboard. I was going to offer to trade John the hamster ball for the flat-ish lump, but after I saw the ant, I decided that I could adapt better to a bowl-shaped bed better than one with ants in it.

After awakening to the stiffness and physical discomfort that naturally follows after sleeping several nights in a small round pit, John informed me that the electricity was out. We would get to take cold showers that morning before hitting the road for Manuel Antonio National Park. Honestly, I didn’t want to go at all, but the national park one of those “must-see” places in the guide books. Our yoga teacher and one of our fellow students asked us what we’ve seen so far since we arrived here in Costa Rica and John, Lydian, and I had to admit that we’ve only gone out on only one “big trip” to Volcan Arenal since we’ve been in Costa Rica, which was both embarrassing and motivating at the same. “Time to go see some more stuff”, we thought.

But it’s difficult enough to find things to get involved in and keep up with our normal work schedule without having to go on exciting weekend outings too. By the time the weekend comes, I don’t feel as though I’m lacking entertainment when we stay in. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to go to a foreign country and move into a new house every month and get involved in the community and do tourist activities on top of it all. (And then write about the experience) And frankly, some of the tourist stuff is fairly mundane. As of right now, what sticks out to me most are the people we’ve met and, well…the 7.9 earthquake that happened while we were staying in Alajuela.

Crocodiles in Costa Rica
They were hardly even visible until we got closer to them. Then suddenly, we were able to see these behemoth crocodiles basking in the mud and gliding sneakily through the murky river water down below. Very creepy.

But we went to Manuel Antonio National Park today even though we were all very tired and not at all enthused about the destination. We all slept in uncomfortable beds and then got up early to take uncomfortable showers to ride in a small car for 6 hours to a place that we were all only moderately interested in seeing. Don’t get me wrong, Manuel Antonio National Park was cool. We saw a sloth, capuchin monkeys, a Jesus lizard, deer, raccoons, and crocodiles nesting beside a river on our way there. But despite the enchanting wildlife, it still isn’t the Taj Mahal. I haven’t heard epic tales of Manuel Antonio National Park. In fact, I’d never heard of the place at all until we bought a guidebook and then came here.

I have, however, heard of Nicaragua.  And Panama. These countries bordering Costa Rica are significant enough to warrant the extra effort it takes to see them (in my opinion). When we travel for several months at a time like this, I have a bag full of everyday toiletries that we set out and use and then I also have a bag full of travel toiletries that we take with us when we go on weekend ventures. Packing to go on an overnight outing when you’re already living out of your luggage in a vacation rental is an organizational nightmare, but I’m willing to endure it if the prize is big enough.

But what exactly does “big enough” mean? I’m not really sure yet, but I know it when I see it. There’s a certain amount of danger that’s really attractive to me but when it goes beyond a high-risk-of-death-threshold it becomes repulsive again. Anything underneath the danger zone or anything that I didn’t read about in my high school history books seems like a waste of energy.

On the other hand, I’ll walk uphill for 2 hours to get to a belly dance class in Costa Rica. Lydian and I power-walked through the entire city of Atenas on Friday trying to find a business called “Su Espacio” (Your Space). We walked up the street. We walked down the street. We turned left. We turned right. I stopped a Costa Rican police officer outside of a bank and asked him innocently, “Donde esta su espacio?” His response was stand-offish at first. He blinked at me and cocked his head in a funny way and I thought, what the hell? Then I added, “Es una negocia en Atenas.” (It’s a business in Atenas) and he thought for a second and pointed me down the street to the left. After walking four or five blocks without finding it, I asked two other police officers about Su Espacio and each of them sent me in different directions toward a school that teaches dance or karate, but never the one called “Su Espacio”. About 30 blocks later, I realized what I had actually been asking these men who all responded just a little strangely to my question, “Where is your space?”

Why would I be willing to sweat bullets and walk 4 miles in 90% humidity for a belly dance class (which by the way, had been called off for the night), but I could care less about Manuel Antonio National Park, the big tourist feature in the Lonely Planet tour guide for Costa Rica? And what on earth could motivate an American with a perfectly solid, yet respectably soft, insect-free mattress at home to sleep in a Costa Rican hamster ball with half-inch long red ants? I’m  not sure yet. But I know I’m not the most extreme traveler in the world and there are other people out there who are sleeping in tents in the Congo or yurts in the Sahara for some reason. I’m working my way up to that. This morning I woke up thinking about how much my mattress resembles the one in the old run down house in Fight Club where Tyler Durden lives. His pep talk suddenly and spontaneously erupted in my head:

“Reject the basic assumptions of society…”

“You are not your khakis…”


And for a few glowing moments in those early morning hours all curled up in my bowl-shaped bed when lucid dreams seem very logical, I felt almost, noble. But I became very cowardly when the cold water in the shower splashed against my lily white American skin and all thoughts of nobility turned back into the fragile, silken stuff that dreams are really made of and the questions that I have about why we’re here or there or somewhere else no longer had clear answers again. But then again, maybe clarity isn’t the goal. Maybe I’m searching for confusion and the possibility of not knowing rather than the certainly of knowing right where I belong and where everything in my life belongs.

When I asked the police officers, “Where is Your Space?” they never sent me in the right direction toward the place I was really searching for because there isn’t a place that’s entirely mine or their’s. I am fascinated by the spaces that other people occupy with their territorial enthusiasm. But I can sleep in a hamster ball one night, a yurt the next, and a Marriott hotel the night after that and feel at home as long as I have Lydian, John, and a good book that I’ve brought along. Seeking after other people’s spaces is only fleetingly entertaining and mildly enjoyable, a veritable waste of time, really. Accepting the humble scenarios that challenge me (like my uncomfortable mattress and the loud yapping dog that barks in my window every morning) when we’re overseas is difficult enough to keep me busy 24 hours a day. I don’t think I need to visit every tourist destination in the guidebooks, or live in every major city here to get the basic gist of Who I Am in Costa Rica. Because in the end, I always discover the same normal and uninteresting truth about things.

I’m still me.

Related Posts:

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