I arranged to arrive midday on Friday, giving me more than 48 hours alone before I had to meet up with the group Sunday night, when the group flight was getting in. The idea was to make the transition slower, because I could spend the first few days getting to know Liberia and getting my Spanish tongue in shape. I learned to like traveling alone by doing so for a month in Spain last winter. I love it because I don’t have to worry about anything: anything can go wrong and the only one it’s going affect is me. Okay, so maybe that sounds like something to worry about, but most of the time it isn’t, because most of stress of traveling (within the comforts of civilization, that is) does not come from things that could do any lasting physical harm. It’s mostly about missing buses and getting lost and sounding stupid and being hungry and tired. But with no one to empathize with and no one to complain to, those things cannot manifest themselves as anything other than temporary variations from preferred outcomes.
And then’s there’s the fact that when you’re traveling alone, you can do what you want. For example, I wanted to walk eight miles to Liberia from the airport. I was starving for Costa Rica and I was going to devour the landscape step by step.
I filled my Camelback with extra water in the airport bathroom. I wasn’t supposed to drink it, but I new I should take it just in case. It was hot out, and belated diarrhea would be better than immediate heatstroke.
Within the first twenty minutes I saw [what I believed to be] a boat-tailed grackle, a great kiskadee, an ani, and a brilliant turquoise, orange, and green bird that may have been a motmot or a flycatcher. I’d have to look them up later. [I did: 1) Actually a great-tailed grackle, Quiscalus mexicana. 2) I can’t be confident in that identification; there are many look-alikes. 3) Groove-billed ani, Crotophaga sucirostris. 4) Turquise-browed motmot, Eumomota superciliosa.]
Trees. Ceibas? Huh, they must be related to locust trees. Legumbraceae, then. Nitrogen-fixers. Good. But didn’t Dan say phosphorous tends to be the limiting nutrient in tropical areas? Then why the energy investment in nitrogen fixation? Maybe there’s not enough rainfall in this area for phosphorous to be the limiting nutrient.
Brahmin cattle, dewlaps and humpfat and all. We must be in the tropics!
I tried to balance my fascination with the wonders of the roadside with a healthy awareness of the possibility of basking snakes, poisonous plants, the arrival of the thunderstorm that I could see on the horizon, heat stroke, and the worsening of the strain that had already started in my right hip.
A guy pulled over:
“Where are you going?”
“Do you want a ride?”
I thought about it.
I added as I climbed in his truck: “Pero sólo si puedo practicar mi español.”
We had a great chat.
My room in the hostel (Hotel Guanacaste) was luxuriously tiny. A little longer than the bed in each direction, yet still equipped with a desk, a toilet, a sink, and a shower with soap. The Spanish hostels never had soap.
I crashed, but eventually revived myself and set to exploring. I found the hotel where I was to meet the group (a few blocks away as the native walks, a mile or two as I did). I looked in. Total pansy-fest. Tablecloths and everything. Thank goodness I put myself up somewhere proper.
* * *
I spent the next few days exploring Liberia. I explored the streets on my half-hour, half-assed morning runs, going in a different direction each day. I explored the outskirts on daytime walks to the trash-strewn but bird-rich Río Liberia, where I saw an 18-inch crocodile. A man catching tiny fish told me I shouldn’t hang out there alone because there were drug addicts that would slit my throat to steal my watch. I explored the food at tiny restaurants (each was just a bar looking into an open kitchen) in the central market and the bus station. And I explored the language over two multi-hour conversations with a nice old man, Don Bruno. I met him when he laughed at me for doubling back after I realized I was going in the wrong direction. He invited me into the house he was preparing to rent, where we sat on the two plastic chairs that were the only furnishing and drank small plastic cups of unnervingly good coffee. He did most of the talking, which was fine by me. It helped that he was an atheist and a friend of the gays. We differed on our reasoning for the latter, but my attempt to explain the social construction of gender in Spanish was unsuccessful. (I stowed the subject away to use as a benchmark on my way to fluency.)
It was late in the afternoon on Sunday when the fisherman told me the river wasn’t safe, so I went back to Don Bruno’s house, picked up the luggage I had stowed there, and thanked him again. It was time at last to surrender my liberty. I was turning myself in.