As is my custom when Leaving Home For An Extended Period Of Time, I began packing for Costa Rica a week before our flight’s scheduled departure. Bright flowery summer dresses draped off the ironing board, with corresponding undergarments and shoes nearby; tank tops made precise, cotton multicolored tiers on the rug, and piles of t-shirts, skirts, denim shorts, linen capri pants, sunglasses, and swimsuits overwhelmed the bed in a collage of potential perfection.
I love this ritual, and it stresses the hell out of me. It’s exactly the kind of thing I try to keep from a significant other for at least two years.
“Don’t . . . come in,” I told Jurvis. “I have . . . delved into summer storage.”
There were chargers, extra batteries, extra lenses, extra books, necklaces and earrings in appropriately-sized Ziplock bags. Two notebooks, an iPod, three purses, my favorite pen, eyeliner, travel-sized shampoo and conditioner — freshly labeled with pungent permanent marker. And when I had finally gathered and prepared everything in my possession I could possibly desire in Flamingo, I set about putting back ninety percent of it.
I like thinking of the suitcase as the harborer of a new life, where I am beautiful all of the time, in love with everything, and I never think to myself is this just weighing me down? Do I really want to carry it up five flights of stairs?
Leaving home for a time is — I hope — becoming a new person. The kind you see in catalogs.
Welcome to Miami. I went to the bathroom after deplaning in Miami, and when I came out the door, Jurvis informed me that our connecting flight had been canceled.
“Canceled?” I said. “But we have boarding passes.”
“Canceled,” he said
Since the next flight — on any airline at all, let alone ours — wasn’t until the next day at the same time, an airline agent gave us six airport meal vouchers and a night at the nearby hotel. But this was not entirely convenient: besides missing a full day in Costa Rica and spending a full freaking day in hideous airportville, Miami, we had no way of contacting my cellphone network-less parents, who we were scheduled to meet in Liberia in two hours. I envisioned their panicked faces, the checking and rechecking of watches as they stood in the midday heat in the middle of the world, uncertain, unmoving, purgatorial.
What if they mispronounced the Spanish word for “money” with the word for “testicles”? What if I mispronounced the Spanish word for “money” with the word for “testicles”?
When in doubt, find another agent.
“How about San José? Can you get us there?” I asked her.
“San José? Sure. But that’s six hours away from Liberia. You know that . . . right?”
Careless, impulsive, quick-moving. One hour later we were on a new plane.
How Not To Panic. By habit, I am a terrified traveler. By experience, I am an overly-prepared traveler. Waves of nausea hit me weeks before I leave home, with elaborate fantasies of things that could go wrong, uncomfortable and embarrassing diseases, situations in which I am socially obligated to act as if I felt completely fine. This is, perhaps, my worst nightmare. (“There is nothing to feel sick about but the fear of sickness itself,” I quipped to myself on a recent voyage.) The night before a flight, I toss and turn, my stomach weaving complex braided rugs with my ribcage.
A sentence, recurring in my later journals: I have not always been this way. But I can’t really pinpoint when it began, either.
And yet, this situation — this flying into a third world country six hours away from the rest of my party with no way of contacting them or notion of how we’d even transport ourselves towards their vicinity (do they even have public transportation in Costa Rica?) — this, somehow, my consciousness immediately labeled simply as “adventurous”. I was jazzed. I was giddy. Most things were striking me as a little hilarious. After all, when everything has already gone wrong, what is left to worry about?
“Oh man!” I said to Jurvis repeatedly throughout our journeys to Central America. “I have no idea how this is going to work! Adventuuuuuure!” And I’d sing the last part, drawn out, as if I hadn’t been this carefree in a very long time — because, indeed, I hadn’t.
Ride the Carousel. You know the suitcase I spent a week obsessively packing? Yeah, no, that didn’t make it to San José .
Hubris And Lost Baggage. By this point baggage claim had cleared out almost entirely, with the exception of maybe five people in line to file reports for missing luggage.
“Pfft, no problem,” I pshawed. “Look, I’ll wait in line and take care of this tomfoolery: you find a calling card and a telephone and call people who my parents might later call in the attempt to locate us.”
Jurvis called the villa, our travel agent, my parents’ cell phone, my voice mail, the villa, the villa, and the villa again. No answering machines. No dice. It was official: no one would know where we were until we got there.
He returned to me, still in line, and we wound up doing shifts, staring aimlessly into space and waiting, waiting, waiting, for two hours in that godforsaken tiny little unmoving line. By the time we were actually filing our missing luggage report, it was four hours after we would have landed safely, unproblematically, luggagefully, in Liberia on our originally-scheduled flight to meet up with my parents, and traipse worry-free into the jungle to lay in the sun and frolic with the ocelots — but of course we weren’t thinking about that, because there had never been a moment, in the history of American Airlines, or Liberia, or San José, or my life or Jurvis’ life or my parents’ life, when that plane might have left Miami.
In this fashion there is comfort to be had in a sense of fate, of doom.
In Which Costa Rica Is Actually Located In The Bermuda Triangle. The attendant assured us that our luggage would be delivered to our villa at some point, although he couldn’t say when.
“But,” I said hesitantly, “we don’t know . . . the address, of the villa . . . isn’t that a problem?”
He smiled at me as though I’d just said something very charming. “We don’t have addresses here,” he said.
“You don’t have addresses?”
Surely, I thought to myself, we have just hit some kind of hilarious language barrier. I tried to clarify in simpler words. “No numbers on your buildings? Street names? How do you find houses? Deliver mail?”
“I just need the name of the villa, and the city.”
“But it could be anywhere!” I cried. “You guys can just find this place, seriously? You are blowing my mind.”
The attendant battled some impending, violent laughter, and then tapped on his keyboard professionally, harumphing a bit. “Now, how are you planning on getting to Liberia from here?”
“Ah, we haven’t figured that out yet. Bus. Rent a car. Something.” I nearly pounded my head on the counter. This whole “we’re fucked” thing was getting kind of old.
He stacked our records and receipts, stapling things together, and then made a brief note on a sticky pad.
“Bring this to the cabs outside. This is a voucher for a ride from here directly to your villa, courtesy of the airline.”
“Wait, what?” we both said.
Six Hours With Victor. There is a certain amount of traveling you can do. After that, it becomes infinity: you have always been in this van with Victor. You will always be in this van with Victor.
Mountains and green valleys spun by the windows, and it began to get dark. Jurvis grabbed a flashlight and book out of his backpack, and I stretched across the front seat and began to nod off, the increasingly-large rocks in the dirt roads occasionally jarring me into reality, my legs dangling into infinity — and the knotted, silent spindling arms of millions of trees — whipwhipwhipwhipwhip overhead, the entire way.
How To Arrive At Your Destination. It was nine-thirty at night when we finally arrived at the villas, dazed and sweaty and stomach-rumbled from hours of travel on dirt roads. Jurvis tipped our cab driver, who with a simple “gracias” wiped his massive gleaming forehead, put the van back in drive and disappeared forever back into the night.
We stood there for a moment, uncertain how to proceed, until a dog began barking near inanimate pool waters, which glowed empyrean and glass-like in the darkness.
“Hello?” I called, voice cracking.
“Hello?” Jurvis stuck his head around the corner of the building.
Suddenly one of the villa owners burst from the doors. “Oh my goodness, you’re here!” he laughed. “Your parents have been so worried about you! We’ve been worried about you!”
Our dirty jeans sticking to our legs with heat, we clambered into the open back of this stranger’s truck alongside tires and thick cuts of wood, our sweaty palms clinging to whatever they could find as he shifted into neutral and rolled quietly back down the dirt road. The air smelled like dust and green. Unseen, brightly feathered foreign animals chirped and moaned toward an empty black sky, and every breath, every movement felt pure and good. I closed my eyes, attempting to hold the moment hostage.
“Is that them?” My stepmother’s voice, a little distant, hovering above. “It is them!”
“Oh my God!” I opened my eyes to see my dad (seemingly, involuntarily) leaping five feet in the air from his seat, then darting down the stairs from the upper patio and toward the truck — all to a chorus of clapping and hollering which bounced off the empty black sky and infinite trees and inanimate empyrean pool until there was nothing but quiet again, all of us standing in one place, the feeling of standing on your own two legs after a long, restless sleep.