San José

20. – 24. November
The last five days of my three weeks in Costa Rica became a mellow, sort of homely time. Celine booked all four of us into a hostel she had stayed in earlier, and it was the loveliest hostel (it was called Hostel Urbano los Yoses). The house was beautiful with white walls and open, light spaces. The beds were soft, and every morning we were given pancakes and a cup of mixed fruits. The staff was friendly and funny and helpful. Outside it rained, and inside people cuddled up under blankets in front of a TV with Netflix. We cooked dinners in the kitchen, which was clean and bright and encouraged enthusiasm for pasta with a simple, cheap tomato sauce. We immediately settled in, and Celine said it felt like home, didn’t it?

We ambled about for days. Celine and I went for lunches. We got our ears pierced. We went to the cinema and watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was so cheap I even bought popcorn, which I never ever do, but I felt like it. It was that, perhaps, more than anything that made the hostel feel like a retreat, having the time to go and watch a movie I had wanted to see since I heard it was coming out. It is such a mundane thing, I think, watching a movie at the theatre, even if I rarely do it. It is not something you find time for when you are travelling, but now we were in this big city with nothing but museums and at a loss at what to do with the time we had in the weather that didn’t seem to change.

One day we rented a car, and this day it actually stopped raining. Celine drove us through narrow streets where google maps told us to go, and it had us taking turn after turn through Costa Rican suburbs. As we climbed higher we got the view of San José and it seemed like the city never stopped. It merged into the other cities, and it was impossible to see where Alajuela began and the capital stopped. There was a haze that was either fog or city dust. We were going to Poás, a dormant volcano with a blue lake at the crater. On our way up the mountain we saw a sloth make its way along one of the electricity cables in that slow, unstressed way that sloths move in. It is a strange thing, to be so slow, to sleep so much, and I wonder if it was happy. I am always moving or thinking about moving, and I never let my shoulders down. Maybe the sloths are on to it.

We could drive almost to the edge of the crater. We only had to walk 400m, and then we could smell the sulphur. Around the edges we could see the clouds, and it felt like the only piece of luck we had had the past week: the unhindered view of the volcano. The water was soft blue, so soft that it was almost white – perhaps because of all the rain the past days. The dirt around the crater was orange in a sharp way, like you expect to see around a volcano, the orange colour that is only present when something is deadly. It was a small achievement to be there, to finally see a volcano. I had this idea before coming to Costa Rica about hiking volcanoes, but in Arenal it was foggy and the rest of them got lost in other places I hadn’t planned on going. But at least I saw this one, even if it didn’t exactly require a hike.

It became a successful excursion. We walked to a lagoon next to the crater, and then drove to a coffee plantation where we just walked around and tasted coffees and watched the beginning of the sunset. They had a butterfly sanctuary and a view of the plantation. We tried to race back to the city, but traffic was heavy. Celine was leaving the next day, so I had to take the car back in the morning. I lost the key to my locker with the key inside it; I woke up at 5AM and remembered that I didn’t have the key, and slept restlessly until the reception opened at 8. We had to dismantle the lock to get it open. I drove the car back to the rental place and walked back. It took me an hour, but I stopped on the way to pick up Harry Potter y la cámara secreta, a frozen yoghurt that made me shiver from cold, and an avocado and tomato to make dinner later.

I was leaving the next morning to Cuba, and I felt anxious. A storm was forecasted, and I desperately wanted to get out of San José and to Cuba where the sun would be warm and the rain would be far away. Costa Rica had started so wonderfully, but with the rain it became this thing I just wanted to escape; a place where I just sat around and waited for things that didn’t end up working. It felt like valuable time and money that I could have done something fun and exciting with, instead I was sitting at a hostel in a city that didn’t interest me at all doing things I could have done at home (blog, read, edit photographs etc.). Cuba promised me a lot of things, and it was what I had waited for for the last ten days. I only had to make it there, it only had to rain a little bit less, or the typhoon had to be a little bit late or a little bit weaker so that my plane could escape to Panama, and then bring me to the bustling, hot streets of Havana.

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Dublin

Flying to Dublin from Manchester can be as cheap as £8 one way, so naturally I had to go before leaving England. Initially the plan was to go with three of my friends, but when we sat down to book our tickets the return was £80+. In the end, I had to go on my own or not to go at all. After my year abroad I spent a month travelling alone (mostly) and I actually loved it for better parts of the trip, but that was now a year since and I found myself hesitating to go on my own, even for only two nights. It is so easy to make plans about doing a thing, but if you don’t find company it’s almost easier to let those plans fall through. I waited longer than I should have to book the flight, because I kept hoping I’d find someone to go with. I entertained the thought of just skipping Dublin and spend the time packing up my room instead. But I went, and it reminded me that travelling alone can be really great.

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People are so adventurous these days that wherever you go you will always find other people who travel alone, or you find pairs that love to meet people – isn’t that half the reason why we travel anyway? Couchsurfing and hostels are excellent ways to find friends, and I was lucky enough to hit it off with some girls in my shared dorm room as soon as I arrived. I came in late, and asked what one would do at 9pm in Dublin. Naturally the answer I got was: drink! So I went for a drink with a girl from Australia, and she booked herself into a walking tour I was doing the next day.

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The following day we did the sightseeing. The tour (click for link) was of the Southern part of Dublin, and our guide Peter had amazing stories and cool information. Our favourite Dublin trivia was that companies like Guinness and Jamerson’s actually paid for restoration of many of the churches – how great is that? The more the Irish drink, the nicer their churches are. We stopped for an Irish coffee the warm our chests as the air was cool. After the tour we went to the Leprechaun Museum, which was one of the funnest museums I’ve ever been to. I had expected a collection of leprechauns, instead we were taken on a tour through fairy hills, told stories around campfires, walked a rainbow to seek for the treasure at the end. Dubliners give the impression of being carefree; that in the end of the day they put struggles behind and just have a great time. Running around pretending to be leprechauns was a good reminder to always let the child in you out. And I had the best time in a place probably designed with children in mind. We ended the day at an Irish pub with the most massive portion of food I have ever been served. The traditional Irish stew was delicious, but the plate was so full that even after I had eaten twice the amount of my normal dinner you could barely tell that I had touched it. But oh was it good!

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The following day I was flying out around 6pm, so I only had the morning and afternoon. Two Canadian girls from my dorm had warmly suggested a peninsula only 30 minutes outside of Dublin on the train. The best thing about hostels, in my opinion, is to meet other travellers and to get their advice and opinion of the place. They had mentioned some beautiful walks, so I was not hard to ask. The Dart (train) was easy to find, and took me straight to Howth for a very nice price. I arrived at a gorgeous little sea side city, a port crowded with sailboats and a little market selling food from Hungary, Spain, Ireland and an assortment of different cakes, cupcakes, smoothies, popcorn or anything else that you may feel a craving for. I picked up a map and set out to find a lighthouse I had seen in my research. There was a cliff trail that took me around the outer edge of the peninsula. The ground was covered in ferns, giving it a really Irish glow, and somewhere it felt like walking through a little tunnel as they grew so close to the trail. Here and there where the ground grew too rocky and steep for ferns, little flowers grew. It was still, despite clearly being a popular spot for walks, and it was beautiful. The sky cleared up and the sun warmed enough to take my jacket off. I turned around a little bend and found that the trail went in a half circle where the cliff indented, and across the open space I saw hundreds of white birds flocking the cliffside. A group of five sailboats sailed past in perfect formation. It took about an hour to cross to the other side of the peninsula where the lighthouse lay on the edge of a out-stick. The city of Dublin lay in a haze across the bay, and it looked so small compared to other large cities. It suited Dublin, I think, because it felt a little small to me, nice and cozy and familiar already. It took no time at all, really, to fall in love with Dublin. From the lighthouse I cut across the peninsula back to Howth, where I got some food from the Hungarian stand at the market and a oreo cupcake, and I sat and ate it on a bench in a park with my audio book on my ear thinking that Ireland would be a really cool place to live.

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