Readers, I’m still here.

And why wouldn’t I be? My COVID was relatively mild, all things considered. I’m over a week out of isolation and little the worse for it. (I still cough a bit. But that’s more psychosomatic.)

Yet: I’m still here. Well, it’s true, I’m still in Costa Rica, and I did write a whole post (a short essay, really) about what it might mean to be here, in this particular country.

But… I’m still here, and what I really want to talk about is not place, but time.

Time, time once again: gone, long gone are the wide-eyed moments of my recent arrival. The surreal consciousness of the newness of Costa Rica. The beginning, I mean. Readers, there was a certain feeling at the beginning of this trip, one I either felt then, or am constructing in my memory and projecting backwards. (What is the past?) I suppose this was a feeling of not knowing what was next, of not believing that I was really here, finally (after planning this since before 2020). Mostly, I suppose, it was the feeling of the start. The beginning. 

I’m not so far from that beginning: I’m in the middle, not the end. The middle can be a time of disenchantment. It’s a time structured – or deconstructed – by the familiarity of places that have become familiar, and times – routines – that have become familiar. Days that have become predictable and perhaps, if we’re lucky, comfortable. The familiarity of our days dulls the sense of wonder – or whatever that feeling is – that is so strong at the beginning. The days’ little cycles, these little familiar structures, wash away our awareness of the broader temporal structure we’re swimming in: journeying through the great middle, we forget the magic fact that our time here has had a beginning, and will have an end. So we might forget the meaning of our time here. We might wake up, go to work, come home, sleep, and so on, without recalling that our days are part of a bigger structure – a bigger story. And that this story – this journey here – has meaning, and a beginning, and an end. (Not to be redundant.)

Well, I’ll talk about the ending at the end. (And call me morbid, readers, but endings are the most important things.) Here, in the middle, there is actually still a lot of surreality, and wondering about time. I say it again: I’m still here. I find myself “looking up” from my thoughts or my routines, as it were, and remembering suddenly that I’m still in Costa Rica, that this trip is still happening. It sort of feels like it would be over by now. But this is a blessing. So often our journeys, trips, and stories are over before they feel like they should be. (Call it premature death. The ugliest kind.) We aren’t ready to go when it’s time to go – it feels like we haven’t had enough time. But that’s not how I feel, readers. I have adored my time here, but as my middle approaches the end, I am ready.

But let’s re-refocus on the middle. The middle, distant as it can feel from the superstructure of beginnings and endings, can be a great unorganized heap of experiences. It can seem episodic, I guess. So allow me to share some of these episodes, some of the potpourri of my time since I last wrote you.

At the moment of writing this sentence, I am sitting on the sidelines of a soccer court next to a basketball court, after visiting San José’s Feria Verde with friends. The Feria, as I have observed it, is a Saturday morning congregation of vendors of all sorts (cheeses, avocados, coffee, arepas, soaps) beneath a canopy of trees in a park. (Or is it just a very pretty street? I can’t tell.) There’s live music, and it has been exactly the sort of San José I sort of wish I had been seeing more of. Perhaps a bit hipstery, maybe gentrified, if that’s the right adjective, possibly more suited to Whole Foods-shopping gringos than to locals – but that’s a prejudiced guess too. I went to a bar in Barrio Escalante last night, and it was a similar vibe. It was pretty, anyhow.

I’ve been sketching, of course. People are the most fun thing to sketch, and there have been many people to sketch at the Feria and on these courts.

Last weekend, though, I sketched  quite a bit of non-human fauna and flora, as we were on an excursion to Monteverde, famous for its cloud forest. We hiked in the cloud forest; I had good hiking conversations with a new friend here. (What are the odds you’ll read this, Serena?) 

The day before, we ziplined. It was quite neat to see the rainforest from above, especially in the “Superman” position, that is, face down, with my glasses not, for what it’s worth, falling off and plummeting into the jungle. (Not quite like that time with Lynn and the meteor crater…) It wasn’t quite exhilarating; I felt safe in my harness. But the ziplining activity concluded with a “Tarzan swing,” where, instead of zipping horizontally along a cable, I was simply pushed off a tower and allowed to swing, like Tarzan I guess, screaming “oh dear” as I felt myself plummet.

(Obviously, readers, I did not say “oh dear.” Guess what I actually said.)

What else is there to tell? Probably I should tell you about my service-learning job, for, after all, that is what I am officially doing now, instead of classes. I’m working at the Centro Infantil y Juvenil at Paraue La Libertad – that is, the youth center at a park. The park is beautiful, though it’s far enough away that I have to take the bus to get there. It’s not been as difficult as I was warned, though a couple times I missed my stop and got to the end of the line before it turned around. “Chino, where are you going?” the bus drivers would ask.

(There’s another piece of potpourri: I am 98% Korean, as I’ve maybe mentioned before, but here in Latin America, I am a chino. Race is a bit different here than in the States, I think, so I don’t let it rub me the wrong way. But if a stranger wants my attention here, the sentences invariably start with “Chino!”)

At the park I have been working on planning, and then hosting, little workshops for kids. I’ve gotten to lead two: a two-day one themed around sharing American culture (“Un viaje cultural y artístico”), and a one-off about learning English through games (“Play and Learning”). We themed the first one around American holidays, so I got to do little activities about Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, Christmas, and so on. (This was my coworkers’ idea. Actually, most all of my “plans” are just elaborations of my coworkers’ ideas.) Mardi Gras, or Carnaval, which I insisted on sharing, was the most fun. I had the kids dress up in costumes and do a mock parade, tossing beads to their classmates. Some of the beads were the usual plastic beads; others I made out of pipe cleaners. 

…Readers, is there more to tell you? I visited a garden the other day. I saw the latest Thor movie (subtitled in English). I went roller skating for the first time, and fell many, many times on my posterior. As they say, it’s not about not falling, but getting up every time you do. Shortly out of isolation I went to Cartago, a nearby province, where in a park near some old colonial ruins they projected the Costa Rican soccer championship game, which Cartago hadn’t won in over eighty years. They won, readers, and the jubilation was even more intense than when Costa Rica qualified for the World Cup. 

Cartago… Costa Rica has seven provinces, and I have visited five of them. Soon I hope to hit Heredia and Guanacaste, the latter perhaps next weekend, when there will be a festival there celebrating the province’s annexation almost two hundred years ago. And less than one week after that, readers, I will likely spend the night in an airport again, readying myself for a long trip home. (Twelve hours in Houston: the price I pay for a cheaper ticket. Any Texans want to entertain me on July 30?) 

That, then, will be the end.

But we’re not there yet.