30 December 2017
I stepped off the plane and it was humid.
I turned a corner and snapped a picture of the mountains surrounding the airport.
“Is this real life?”
I lingered by that window, wide-eyed and in awe of how far I’d come in the past year, shocked at how different my life is from the day I booked this trip, trying to imagine how the cynical, cold, unhappy October 2016 version of myself would have felt staring out the doubled-paned airport glass in the country of her dreams.
Eventually I made my way down to immigration and waited. At first I was patient and reveling in the Spanish signs and the touristy ads, but after over an hour I was quite sure I was either going to piss myself or faint.
Neither happened and I made it to a booth, got my first ever passport stamp (that wasn’t related to military orders), a tired welcome from the guy with the ink pad, and was ushered towards baggage claim and customs with a huge smile on my face.
I wandered around baggage claim for more than ten minutes with no luck until I had rehearsed the Spanish phrase for “I can’t find my bag” in my head enough times to feel comfortable asking for help. With a mere glance at my boarding pass, the agent simply pointed at my bag- less than 2 feet behind me. I laughed at myself, determined not to panic.
A few deep breaths later I walked out of the airport. Before I could even see the sky there were hoards of people holding signs for groups or individuals and just as many people asking if I needed a taxi. I found out later that these extremely zealous taxi drivers are kind of infamous, but my experience wasn’t bad. While they were quite abrupt when asking, they were very polite when I muttered, “No, thanks” and sometimes “No, gracias” when I was aware enough. One driver even asked if I was looking for a particular shuttle or group and pointed me in the right direction.
I got a little panicky when I realized I was disconnected from the airport WiFi and was still unable to find any sign, shuttle, or person with a logo for my tour group. But I reminded myself that worse case scenario I walked back into the airport, got back on the WiFi, and called my guide to find a way to the hotel. Though I knew this wasn’t the actual worst case scenario, I refused to allow myself to think about anything remotely inspired by Taken. But then my phone’s low battery warning came on and a small lump formed in my throat, realizing my dad could never pull off a Liam Neeson style rescue.
But a magic deli appeared tucked in the side of the airport and it had WiFi. It didn’t take long after that to track down my guide and the other group members that had already found him. Moments later our bus appeared and we were on our way to our first hotel.
Rhyan, our guide, spoke the entire drive. He went over our itinerary, told some jokes, was so welcoming and funny. The drive was beautiful and insane. I couldn’t stop smiling, nothing felt real yet! We filled out room assignments, but I hadn’t really met anyone yet so I just wrote my name down next to the first empty slot and hoped for the best.
I got really lucky. The girl I roomed with had arrived a day early and was already at the hotel. I got up to our room (#16), knocked and met Nicole who goes by Nicki. This was her 7th tour with EF and she’s a 27-year old pharmacy tech in northern California. She was so fricken nice!
The day caught up with me and I fell asleep for like half an hour before abruptly waking up and needing food. Nicki told me there was a restaurant in the lobby and offered to come with me if I wanted her to, but she wasn’t hungry so I decided I was brave and independent and went alone. I met two more group members at the bar, Eric and Jacob. They were also from California and on their first EF tour, like me. More tour people joined us, but I couldn’t hear their names.
We chatted a bit, but the conversation died because I was the only one eating and a row of a people at a bar wasn’t exactly the easiest format for mingling. I didn’t mind. I was sleepy and hungry and feeling gross after a day of airports. I had an incredible vegetarian spaghetti with a coke, paid in U.S. dollars, got colones back, and wished everyone a goodnight.
The hotel was smallish, but beautiful. The restaurant opened to the pool area and the lobby into the courtyard. Things were still decorated for Christmas and were adorable. Our room keys were actual keys! The rooms had three single beds with bright orange quilts, very few outlets, and a tiny bathroom. Surprisingly, the water pressure in the shower was amazing, but it didn’t drain very well.
Rhyan had mentioned that the plumbing in Costa Rica wouldn’t be what we were used to and that we shouldn’t flush our toilet paper, but throw it away. So I was terrified to shit.
The view from my room overlooked the pool and you could just see the mountains on the other side of the wall. At night the mountain side was covered in lights, it was beautiful. Everything was beautiful, even while it sprinkled rain.
I spent the rest of the night chilling with Nicki, messing around on my phone, reveling in things as simple as SnapChat filters and texting my family and Boyfriend about how happy I was and how great things were going. Nothing felt real yet.