Sabbatical: Strange places, familiar faces

It turns out that it is a small world after all.

I don’t believe in coincidence and so when I run into someone multiple times, I take note and make certain to exchange information, because I believe there is some significance in the meeting. I expect that I will encounter people that I know in my home town, the last thing that I would have expected was for this to be a common occurrence while vacationing. Here are a collection of stories that illustrate just how comforting it is to reconnect with familiar faces, in unfamiliar places.

The first night I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, I met Patrick, a jokester from Germany who liked to tease me incessantly about the Walmart loving, burger eating, gun-loving, truck driving Americans. We were both beginning our journeys. On our last night in San Jose before striking out for other areas of the country, Costa Rica won entrance into the World Cup. To say that they were excited, would be the understatement of the century. The entire Country celebrated, and we just so happened to be positioned a few short blocks from the mayhem. It started with an eruption of cheers and before we knew it, the street in front of the hostel had been transformed into an impromptu parade, complete with drummers, vendors selling paraphernalia and vuvuzelas. Together, Patrick and I decided to join in the revelry. Traffic had come to a standstill, and no one seemed to care. The street was filled with people high fiving, hugging and jogging around the traffic circle chanting “Ole ole ole ole…Tico, Tico!” This continued for hours. I have never seen anything like it.

Patrick and I at the traffic circle in San Jose after the World Cup berth

That same night when I returned, a few new people had come to the hostel. Ana, also from Germany, had arrived and was chatting with a few other travelers on the couch in the common room. Each of her sentences was punctuated with an animated gesture and a bubbly smile, I liked her immediately. We ended up chatting until 2:00AM about where we intended to go and what we would like to do while in the country. I gave Ana my email address and told her to send me a message so I could let her know what activities or experiences I encountered that I liked, since she had arrived without a plan. When I left the next morning to travel to Arenal, I said a brief goodbye to Annette, a hostel employee from Boston whose parents were originally from Portugal.

Upon arriving in Arenal, I met a couple from Texas who twice provided a much appreciated ride in their rental. We bid each  other a fond farewell after a couple of days and I proceeded to the next leg of my trip, Cartago, where I would spend the weekend with my good friend, Irene. She introduced me to her bestie; a Biologist with a penchant for humor, spectacular spectacles and a rapier wit, Maca. Together we explored the Irazu Volcano and Tapanti National Park

Exploradores: Myself, Irene and Maca at Tapanti

From Cartago, I headed to Manuel Antonio and a new hostel, Vista Serena, I met my roommate a German by the name of Anja. I smiled and told my new acquaintance the story of the first German Ana. I wondered what she was up to, since I had never received an email. Here, I also met a pair of friends, one of whom was Dave, an Englander who had survived cancer and was on a two year round the world trip, blogging to inspire other survivors to live their dreams. The next day, Anja and I visited the National Park and enjoyed a lunch by an ocean side cafe. As I sat gazing contentedly out at the sea, devouring my coconut ice cream, I saw them, the couple from Arenal! I called out and we laughed at the likelihood of having run into one another. They decided to have lunch at the same cafe.

The 2nd Anja and I in Manuel Antonio

Anja and I returned to the hostel so she could catch her shuttle to Monteverde and I sat down to enjoy the afternoon showers with a spectacular panoramic view from the hostel balcony. September in Costa Rica is part of what is marketed as “The Green Season,” a gimmicky name for rainy. True to form, each afternoon around 3:00PM, the showers would begin and last well into the evening. It was during the rainstorm that a few new guests arrived. There was an Indian man by the name of Dhaval (who went by Dave for us Westerners) who was living in New York and decided to take a last minute trip to Costa Rica…on whim. As “Dave” and I discussed our experiences and plans, a second newbie arrived. I turned to say hello and immediately both of us let out peals of laughter, it was Ana, from Hostel Urbano! After she and I greeted one another she turned to Dave and laughed again, “You!!!” she exclaimed. Apparently, they had crossed paths earlier in their journey as well. “Your email bounced back, I must have typed it incorrectly” Ana explained, I smiled and replied “I guess we were meant to reconnect,” and we once again shared an evening of laughter as the rain continued to pour.

Both Ana and Irene had told me of a river, Rio Celeste, that had the most unearthly blue water and was just outside of La Fortuna. My first time visiting, La Fortuna, it rained heavily and I assumed that the water would be muddy and thus, not worth visiting, so I skipped it. I had also bypassed the hot springs and was chastised by every person I spoke for not having soaked in the naturally heated waters. With my time in Costa Rica winding down, I was determined to see that river and since I would be in La Fortuna anyway, I supposed I would soak in the springs. I left from Monteverde determined to make it to Rio Celeste, and on the ride over, the rains started. I arrived in La Fortuna and checked into a new hostel, Arenal Hostel Resort, which really, was quite like a little oasis and a steal at $12 per night. Upon check in, I inquired about visiting Rio Celeste, I was told (what I already knew) that it was not recommended given the rains. As I exited the front office I heard someone call out “Hey! Were you at Hostel Urbano?” and there was Annette walking toward me, we decided to go on the Volcano Hike the next morning.

Annette and I at my farewell lunch
For my final evening in Costa Rica, I decided to go full circle and end where I began, at Hostel Urbano. Upon checkin, I turned to see the travel companion of Dave the Survivor and she told me he had set out for Nicaragua, she would be returning to England in the morning. I set out for the ballet and returned that evening, tired and ready for a good night’s sleep. On my final day in Costa Rica, Irene and I went to breakfast and she told me that Maca would have joined us, but he had company in town. We enjoyed our food and I recounted the many tales of reconnecting with people throughout my trip. She told me that Maca would be in San Jose later that day if we were able to meet up. After breakfast, walked over to the University and through the library before returning to the hostel. When I did, I was told someone had called for me, darn! I had missed connecting with Maca. I decided to walk into San Jose to photograph the graffiti murals, and 20 minutes into my walk, as I neared the city center, I heard someone call out my name. I turned to see Maca and his friend walking toward me smiling broadly, we spent the afternoon together at the museums. 
Maca and I in San Jose

When I returned to the hostel for my final evening, Annette had returned from La Fortuna and the hostel was abuzz with new activity. I could only shake my head and laugh when Patrick, the German from my first night in Costa Rica, appeared and began to tease me about Americans and our Football. It would only seem right to end my trip where it began, and to find that it is always a comfort to encounter a familiar face in a strange  place and that a place, once unfamiliar, can become like a lighthouse –welcoming you back like an old friend.

Patrick and I leaving to our next destinations at San Jose Airport