I was ready to go.
I had hoped to publish this blog post before I left, but as it stands, I’m writing this on my phone (as per usual) at 2:16 am in the San José airport, at the gate for my flight to Houston. Who knows when I’ll have this finished, proofread, published… (After I got back, it turns out.)
But that’s OK. I haven’t experienced Costa Rica in order to write about it; it’s rather the other way around. And since I last wrote to you, readers, I’ve certainly experienced much more. I went to Heredia, and then, for my last weekend, to Guanacaste, fulfilling my commitment to visit every province. Heredia, the city, (the capital of Heredia, the province) was tranquil; I wandered around shops, restaurants, a park. I got ice cream, and I got the cheapest meal I’ve bought this summer. (Fried chicken, fries, a soda; less than $3.) I rambled around the campus of the Universidad Nacional.
In Guanacaste we spent a couple days in Tamarindo, a touristy destination on the Pacific coast with beautiful beaches. We then headed toward Nicoya, where all weekend, culminating on Monday, the province was celebrating the 198th anniversary of its voluntary annexation by Costa Rica. Getting to Nicoya was its own adventure, planned out the night before. We took public buses, with Santa Cruz as a waypoint, where we waited for a couple hours after slightly missing our stop, and missing the next bus a couple times. Guanacaste was hot; not to bring up my sweat again, but I sweated terribly in Santa Cruz – where I pressed my wrists against a Coca-Cola just to get some relief – and in Nicoya – where, crouched in the midst of the festivities in a park, sweating buckets, and eating fried chicken (once again) on a little paper plate, I felt like quite the messy spectacle. Those festivities were worth the travel, though; there were gigantic signs, live music, and great throngs of Ticos ambling about the countless vendors of food, souvenirs, shoes, children’s clothes… It all reminded me a lot of Festival International and Festival Acadiens back home.
Well, there’s more to say, isn’t there? There always is. I could tell you about our two-hour Uber ride to Bajos Del Toro, a mountain town where we hiked down a steep path to see the most impressive waterfall I’ve witnessed here. Sadly, we couldn’t swim in it; nevertheless the rain, the mist, and my perennial sweat made me to the wettest I’d ever been in Costa Rica. And, readers, you that that’s saying a lot.
I could tell you about some of my adventures in downtown San José, for example, scouring the Avenida Central in search of a greeting card (a long story); or buying souvenirs in the Mercado Central and sampling its famous sorbet, which my abuelo Tico had eaten as a kid; or sketching in the Parque Nacional, where I met a Canary Islander interning at the UN who reappeared that evening exactly as I was mentioning him to my friends at dinner (here’s to you, Carlos).
I could also tell you about my goodbyes. About the last adventures I had with my new friends. About the last, deeply meaningful anecdotes my abuelo Tico told us at our last supper. (They were about “things that one can’t explain to oneself,” and I’ll leave it at that.) About how I packed that last night, bid farewell to everyone, took one last Uber ride to the airport…
But readers, haven’t I said enough? Aren’t you… tired?
As I said, I was ready to go. In part that’s because I had a lot to look forward to. A week to spend at home with family and, for the first time in two months, to sleep in. (I’m skipping every morning I can.) Then, another plane trip to Utah, where I’ll see one of my favorite bands live for the first time alongside two of my dearest, closest friends. (A shoutout to Story and Abby, recent Stanford and Yale graduates, respectively, two of the most authentic people I know. I’ve made new friends in Costa Rica – but the newness of this all has made the company of old friends seem even sweeter.) Then, my last year at Bama begins, and I truly feel it’s set to be awesome.
Thus, I had a future to look forward to. (And in what other direction can we look to the future?) But more profoundly, I was ready to go because I was tired. My trip has deeply tired me. I am so tired. Readers, I’ve loved my time in Costa Rica, and I have loved Costa Rica, and I was, when I left, tired of it. I was tired of sweating every day without the refuge of AC. I was tired of San José, so often dirty and dangerous, as locals will tell you. I was tired of commitments which, while I’m glad I’ve engaged with them, had not always been rewarding. I was tired of fun – tired of nonstop excursions, the jungles and beaches and soccer games and nights out which all, as they say in Spanish, me costaban. Literally, they cost me: money, and energy.
(I wouldn’t say I’ve learned a mountain of new Spanish these past two months; mainly what I’ve gotten is the invaluable confirmation that I could survive in a Spanish-speaking country if need be. However, I have picked up a few fun phrases. Costarle a uno is one. Con gusto, Ponerse bravo/a, ¿Cómo le fue? and ¡Qué barbaridad! are others.)
I’m tired of fun, readers – and here you see that I don’t uniformly hate these things I’m tired of. I actually like fun, believe it or not. I’ve loved the beaches, and so on; I’ve loved San José. I have, again, loved Costa Rica. But even good days leave one tired in the evening, and in the twilight of my study abroad, I had become tired.
But I had been pretty consistently tired throughout the trip. In general, I can be a tired guy. No surprise: consider what this trip has meant for me, what I’ve tried to make it mean. Dedicated readers will remember how important I made this all seem two months ago: “I’m going to be discussing my experiences as if they were very important,” said Jacob, in the beginning. What is this but an exaggeration and an explicit endorsement of a long-standing tendency of mine? In this supposedly special chapter of my life, in the midst of this magic or the expectation of magic (which is itself the magic), I have wanted to do what I’ve wanted to do very badly, for so long: to make things meaningful. To treat things like they’re important. To situate my experiences – every single one of them, in every single little moment – within a larger narrative of my life, and, setting these moments in their place and scrambling across them, to use them to bend the arc of that narrative in the right direction, and thereby push myself, with my life’s story, in the right direction. To use my “[n]ew experiences” to become a “new,” “different… person.”
What person do I want to be?
What narrative am I telling myself?
Ah, readers, do you know me? Have you heard me tell the story of myself? Do you know what I’ve been trying to change about myself since before I can remember?
And, readers, can you see past the one word I have often used to encapsulate all of this, a word I give to you here in German, for the sake of making it fresh, and for the sake of how it suggests philosophy—Angst—?
Since you know me, readers, you’ve heard me talk on this. Do you see past it, or see the mountain of effort it represents? It is this restless quest to make meaning, to take things seriously, to construct my life’s narrative moment by scrutinized moment. Ängstlich and tiring, this quest is. Yet it is also the core of what I want to do with my existence, on study abroad or otherwise. I still affirm it: now and always, I’m going to be discussing my experiences as if they were very important. That’s who I am.
But there are better and worse ways to do it. There are ways that wouldn’t leave me as tired as I often am. (But again, a good day’s work’s tiredness is no bad thing.) There are ways to rest, for once, from the feverish work of making meaning, if only in order to savor the meanings we have, in fact, achieved. My study abroad, readers, was a success. (I don’t want to risk my humility, but can I be accused of bragging if I know only three people, in truth, will probably read this?) I excelled in my classes, and engaged well with my service work. I spoke Spanish, bastante español, and my host family was unanimous: I was the best Spanish speaker they’d hosted in their eleven years. I had fun, I repeat, in ways I’ve told you about, and ways I haven’t. (Where’s the time in the day, or the proper forum, to say it all? And it is tiring!) To quote a dear aforementioned friend, I let my hair down a bit. That might have been my biggest achievement.
Readers, I am confident in saying that I’ve experienced Costa Rica. And, of course, in exploring this part of the world, I’ve been exploring myself. (I gesture you again toward the principles laid out in my first blog post.) The many moments of these sixty-odd days, scrutinized and savored, have been good, and meaningful, and I am happy with where they point me in the course of my big, meaningful, narrative—my life, that is.
But let me, at last, take a rest from this project of meaning-making. Let me stop interpreting all my adventures to you, and to myself—at least, let me stop interpreting them for any future’s sake. Let us let them be what they were, and only that, so many of them still unsaid, not commented upon, as is also right. It is also right that some things go without comment. For the storytelling stops somewhere.
Let me only say this: for two months, I was there in Costa Rica. I was.
It was me who swam in beaches and waterfalls and sometimes, it felt like, in a puddle of my own sweat. It was me who celebrated soccer victories and an annexation anniversary with the Ticos, and who studied and endorsed both praise and critique of their unique culture. (Or lack thereof, if Oreamuno is to be believed. But I’m not sure she is.)
It was me who laughed with fellow adventurers, and me, also, who hated myself one day for choosing to eat lunch alone. It was me who, every day, went through the motions of my own familiar Angst, and me who, during my bout with COVID, wrote in my familiar, meaning-soaked daily journal, “And this is keeping my head high high up… Thanks God. :)”
It was me who knew and came to be known by new friends, and a new Costa Rican family, whom I love. It was me who flew to that new country, and me who once again has flown back home. No matter, for once, where I’m going, what is next, who I’m trying to be. I was there. I was that person, for that time, in that place.
I saw it all.