Sweet Dreams in the Tropical Moonlight

Tropical TwilightSoon after departing from San Jose I sat looking out the window across the mountainous Costa Rican jungle on the way to Manuel Antonio beach to meet Kevin and Willie.  It felt like an eternity since I had seen my friends from back home and just thinking about them brought on a wave of old memories from New York.  Days spent rolling in the grass and paddling around the lake in Central Park with Kevin, the uproarious Halloween that we had spent together that past year, sitting on the Christopher Street Pier and watching the boats go by, my farewell barbecue in Hell’s Kitchen, and decorating gooey, ridiculous cookies for Valentines day.  After what felt like an eternity, we were going to be back together again, and I just knew that we were in for a week of beautiful and unforgettable memories in the tropical moonlight.

The night before, I had found myself in a taxi speeding silently through the darkened streets of San Jose with two strange Irish blokes that had been on the bus with me from Guatemala.  It had been a rather monotonous journey, a two leg ride from Guatemala City to San Jose, with one overnight stop in San Salvador, el Salvador.  We had arrived in San Salvador in the early evening, just having enough light to somewhat get my bearings as we arrived at the cheap hotel above the bus station.  I had considered just trying to sleep that night, but after having snoozed away almost the entirety of the trip earlier that day, and with the knowledge that our bus would be leaving at four in the morning, I decided that prudence was the wiser path under the circumstances, and got dressed to head out and hit the bars.  

Now, it was never my intention to get sloshed, I mean honestly, I hardly ever enjoy doing that anyway, but somehow as I had wandered around the seedy city center earlier that evening searching for a satisfying dinner, I had found myself in a small supermarket marveling at the miraculous liquor prices.  No wonder this place was in such a sorry state of affairs, if our cities sold almost all their bottles of liquor for around five dollars, we’d all be in a permanent state of hangover as well.  Well, I had considered getting a few bottles of Coca Cola, but to be honest with ya, the rum was just far more economical, and being the thrifty young man that I am, I knew that I had to think about my finances first.  Needless to say, an hour later I was back in my rustic hotel room, drinking rum and some kind of wretched fruit soda which I had made the mistake of trying (but hey, it was better than the Mexican Russians that I had found myself drinking several months prior).

It’s a funny thing, but I realized that I hardly ever sat around by myself pouring drinks out of a half liter bottle of rum, and somehow, regardless of how many cocktails I fixed myself, I saw still sitting in a hotel room alone and still bored.  Hunh? Go figure…  Anyway, so in my some impaired logic, as I noticed the bottle was getting low, I rationalized that surely it wouldn’t be logical to carry an entire half liter bottle with me all the way to Costa Rica the following day – so naturally, I decided to finish it.  Of course, at this point it was most certainly out of the question to go straight to bed, I mean its just a recipe for a nasty hangover.  So I decided to do the smart thing and head out and explore the nightlife that Friday night in that notoriously safe little city of San Salvador – sloshed.

Ok, s to be honest with you, the rest of the night is a bit of a blur, and I wish that I could tell you about some wild or dramatic events, but the truth of the matter is that from what I recall, it was just a big flop.  I ended up heading out to some random bar which I believe that I had seen in my guidebook, the place had been completely dead, and I stood at the bar for about an hour and a half before I realized that my state of health was already taking a downward spiral and the force of gravity had almost doubled.  Bored, disappointed, and only capable of thinking of returning to my oh so cozy hotel room and doing a nose dive into the luxuriantly soft, welcoming bed (although I think that I really did have that sentiment at the time), I stumbled out to the sidewalk and hailed a cab.  After what seemed like an endless cab ride, we finally, I headed up to the room and that was all she wrote.

How exactly I could possibly have forgotten that my bus left at four AM the next morning is still a mystery to me… But thanks to a belligerent and excessively loud bus driver pounding on my door and informing me that it was time to go, I rolled out of my coma and onto the floor, reality hazily kicked back in, and I scrambled to focus my vision long enough to lug my bags and my bike down the stairs to the first floor and out to the bus.  It wasn’t long before we were underway, and I’d like to say that I just dozed off to sleep and when I woke up it was all over, but it didn’t quite go that way.  The rest of our three hour tour turned into a nine hour nightmare, as I lay there in my agonizing state, flopping from one side to the other every fifteen minutes in my seat, wiping the sticky perspiration from my brow, and dragging my haggard self out of the bus into the oppressive tropical humidity for hour long border-checks along the way.  Yes, it was a lovely ride, and somehow it really made me miss those nice long days in the saddle, peddling along in the open air – sober.

Right, so I’d learned my lesson, and now here we were in San Jose.  Tricky thing was that regardless of how troubled my sleep had been, I’d still managed to sleep on the way from San Salvador – and that left me in the safe predicament as the previous night.  Now, this time I wasn’t going to make the same mistake the with liquor, but I think all of those long nights of camping, traveling through indigenous villages, and riding a bicycle had caused some kind of social stir-craziness to build up in my system.  And so, as it were, I found myself strolling past the midnight trannies of San Jose, flagging down a cab, and heading out to Bochinche, a little bar that I had caught wind of along the way.  Fortunately this time the place was packed, and as I waited in line to get in I managed to make a few friends that then kept me laughing for the next few hours.

Since I knew that I had to make my way to Manuel Antonio the following morning I made it an early night, and the next day found myself cycling down to the Coca Cola bus terminal on the West side of the city center.  I got lucky and happened to arrive only a short while before the next express bus to Manuel Antonio was about to depart (I didn’t realize just how lucky until one of my following wretched experiences while returning to Manuel Antonio) and within moments my bike was securely stowed down below and we were on our way.  And, indeed, it was a deliciously picturesque journey (aside from all the luxury home and building site billboards – nothing better than a piece of pristine jungle or coastline to haze for a big ol’ subdivision), our path meandering gracefully through the cool jungled mountains, over rushing rivers in shaded valleys, out along the endless azure sea, and finally through fertile green fields and coconut groves.  And as the delicately soothing breeze flowed in through the open windows and caressed my sunlit face, I couldn’t help but to smile and feel my heart flutter with the excitement of being reunited with my dear friends.

The journey passed quickly and as we arrived in Quepos I decided I would hop off and cycle along the road that led to Manuel Antonio, as the bungalow where Kevin and Willie were staying was situated somewhere in between.  Although Kevin had sent me an e-mail with descriptive directions, when I had read the word “hill” I don’t think that I had quite envisioned just exactly what greeted me as I passed the outskirts of Quepos and entered the jungle.  It was brutally steep and reminded me of a street in the town of Comitan, in Chiapas Mexico, where my bicycle had begun tipping backwards and almost flipped as I tried to take the climb head-on.  Fortunately, on the main roads where the majority of my trip prior to that point had taken place, inclines didn’t generally come in this almost forty-five degree angle variety, for if they had I would surely have been taken out by oncoming traffic as I weaved painfully slowly from one side of the street to the other, tacking against the uphill current.  And it was after ten minutes of this torture when something wildly coincidental occurred, some might even call it destiny.

Drenched in humid jungle sweat, legs searing from exertion, and questioning my determination, I lifted my head to judge the path before me and whether it was time for a little siesta.  And of all the people along the Quepos-Manuel Antonio road who could have been standing there in the middle of the fiery Pacific dusk, half bathed in canopy shadow, there was Kevin (and thank goodness, because I couldn’t make out any of the signs and would surely have passed the inconspicuous earthen side-road otherwise).  However, it made for an absolutely charming reunion, as I slowly rolled towards his side of the street while his back was still turned, and, in an out of breath sort of way, said “Hey Kev,” as if I had just happened to run into him walking down the sidewalk in the East Village.  He turned to look at me and for a second tried to make out who it was, then exclaimed “Oh, hi … Paul!”  I tried to apologize for being a bit “moist” as I dismounted my cycle and turned to embrace him, but as he threw his arms around me, we both knew that it didn’t really matter, and all I could feel was a rush of felicity pulse through my veins.  We smiled and laughed and fell right back in where we had left off almost a half a year ago, and as we strolled up the road in the fading glow of the tropical twilight I felt a peaceful contentedness that I hadn’t felt in months, and I felt sure that this next week together would be an unforgettable one.


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