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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