I’m sure you have all seen the shirts that say,”I left my heart in (insert town here)”. They’re funny, but I never thought I would buy one – until this weekend that is. However, mine would need some alterations, to say, “I left my [bus] in [Quepos]”.
After staying in San Jose for an entire 11 days, I had officially gone stir crazy. I couldn’t be in the City any longer, and my pale skin was begging me to take it to the beach. To my dismay, everyone in my API group was busy for the weekend. Whether it was that parents were visiting, biology trips were scheduled, or that they had no money, all of my travel buddies were out of the question. I was faced with an option, as one usually is. Travel alone or spend another boring weekend in the City. I did what any independent twenty year old would do while studying abroad- I decided to travel alone.
I’m not much of a planner, so that Friday morning, I picked a random location on the coast and googled bus times out of San Jose. I ended up deciding on Manuel Antonio with a bus leaving at 1:15. I said goodbye to my host family and was on my way.
At the bus station, I blended into the mob of people boarding the bus. As travelers got situated and finished clumsily putting their bags in the over head compartment, I lowered my sun glasses over my eyes to play cool, to seem like I always travel alone.
The sun beat down on us through the windows of the bus, and thankfully, not being plastic, none of us melted. We did, however, sweat. As I stared blankly out the window, with the occasional, “why are you going on a trip alone?” question popping in my head, I realized I had not drank that much water through out the day. With every drop of sweat that collected on the side of my forehead, visions of me jumping into a large body of water filled my mind.
After three hours and a nap later, the bus whizzed by a sign that said, “Welcome to Paradise, Quepos & Manuel Antonio”.
“Hola, Paradiso”, I thought to my self as I smiled an, ” I did it” smile. My view from the window consisted of coconut trees and an endless strip of beach, assuring me I really was in paradise.
People on the bus stirred about as they got their belongings together. The bulky bus traveled through narrow city streets until it eventually made it into a bus station. People stood up and waited to make their way through the aisle. Not everyone got up though, but I decided that if the majority of the people were getting off, it must be the destination.
I got my stuff, threw my backpack over my shoulder and marched off the bus like a confident little tourist. As I said before, I’m not much of a planner and I decided I would find a hostel when I got into town. I knew the name of a hostel and figured I would check for vacancy there first. After walking with a seemingly, ” I’ve been here before”, look on my face, I realized I had no idea where I was. I asked a man with a shirt from the BAC bank of Costa Rica if he knew where “National Park Backpackers Hostel” was.
He laughed and told me, “This is Quepos, not Manuel Antonio”
A look of, “you’ve got to be kidding me”, spread over my face as I realized it was only a pit stop that the bus had taken.
I raced back to the bus station just in time to watch the bus drive off. As I waved it down, with a desperate, “but I’m a Gringo!!” look on my face, the bus driver did nothing more than shake his finger “no” at me.
It was ruined. I had not even gotten to where I needed to be, and my first trip alone was already ruined.
I couldn’t give up, but I only took enough cash for the bus there – I was down to credit card and public busses, no matter where you are in the world, just aren’t that savvy yet.
So, with 4:35 on my watch, and the sun slowly setting, I decided to trek. It’s one of the things I’ve learned over and over again while studying abroad – if you want something, you’ve got to go for it.
I asked two men on the road how to get to Manuel Antonio. They pointed me back to the bus station and began to tell me the times the bus came. I told them “no, I need to walk there”. They looked at me in amazement, as if saying, “silly gringo”, and told me it would take a long time. I told them to just tell me where it was. They raised their eyebrows and pointed to a giant hill, and I was on my way.
Now let me tell you, I was a cross country runner in high school and was used to running long distance. I was OK with hills but never really enjoyed them. They were like Frosted Flakes when I was a kid – I could eat them, but I didn’t really like them.
These hills though, that separated Quepos from Manuel Antonio, were the largest bowl of Frosted Flakes I ever had to eat. They were so steep and the sun so strong, I contemplated what the news article would say about the U.S boy found on the side of a Costa Rican hill.
The sun continued to lower and the hills continued to rise. Cars zoomed by and the ever teasing taxi drove by with a, “no credit card”, sign on its roof. My legs were sore and with each step, I thought it would be my last. I was just about to cave until I finally saw water over the horizon. It was beautiful. The setting sun painted the ocean a pastel orange and I knew that I needed to keep walking.
For the first time in 15 minutes, a smile passed over my face and I realized that I was truly being a backpacker. “Woohoo, I’m authentic!” I joked to myself.
As I took in the tropical views that made up Manuel Antionio and Quepos, I wondered what my mother would think if she knew her son was somewhere, kind of lost, climbing up the hills of Costa Rica, on the verge of night fall. I hope she isn’t reading this.
With the assurance of passing strangers, I kept hiking until I made it into Manuel Antonio. I was still 30 minutes away from the beaches and hostel. I was excited though, I was seeing so much of the town that I wouldn’t have got to see by bus (and I was burning off the McDonald’s I had for lunch). I passed restaurants, hotels, stores and the always beautiful, Pacific Ocean.
I was drenched in sweat, but was so happy. I wished my friends were with me to experience this hike,as if they were totally missing out on a two hour walk. I walked and walked until I eventually hit the bottom of the very last hill. The sun was practically down and I was finally on the base of the beach. People were everywhere, frolicking on the sand and capturing pictures of the sun as it went to hide behind the mountains. The glow of pink and orange covered people’s faces as I watched, nearly a prune, with the biggest smile on my face. I had made it to paradise.
The trip ended up to be my favorite trip yet. Manuel Antonio felt like Hawaii, but so much better. The food, the people, and the views made it such a comfortable place to be traveling on my own. At times, I forgot I had even gone alone. I enjoyed sun rises and sunsets but in the warmth of the people all around me. I felt like a true adult and realized that I was able to travel by myself.
If you ever get the chance – travel alone! It’s so rewarding and you get to do what you want, when you want, how you want. However, please bring more than a credit card and double check if the bus is making a pit stop or if its the final stop – actually triple check. Remember too, when you think something is completely ruined or you’ve got your self in a situation you can’t get out of, there is always an answer and usually something in your control. And finally, always have a pair of sneakers handy, because walking up those unforgiving hills in flip flops, still haunts my dreams.