Livin’ the Pura Vida with Friendly Local People
I travel to meet people like Roberto and Adina.
There I was, in downtown San Jose, ruffling through my pack, organizing the mountains of crap I thought I needed, mostly so I could soak up every ounce of that air conditioned room at TOYOTA Rent-A-Car. I had missed the 12:00 bus to Puerto Viejo, a surf town on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The next wasn’t until 14:00 (2:00 p.m.).
My new game plan was to find a good spot to have a leisurely lunch in the meanwhile. As I fingered through my long and random list of Costa Rica tips in my iPhone notes, I came across two restaurants in San Jose. I asked the pudgy man in black, thick-rimmed glasses,
“Perdon, usted sabe si estes restaurantes son cerca?”
“Mmm…sí…yo sé ambos, pero no están cerca. Pero Café Mundo es muy rico. Que costaría ocho dolores, más o menos, a tomar un taxi allí. ¿Quieres almorzar??”
“Sí, yo quiero comer algo rico. Que me recommienda?”
“Iré por mi almuerzo en cinco minutos. Mi y mi jefe siempre vamos a un soda por almuerzo. Es muy cerca a aca. Usted puede unirse nosotros si quieres.””
I switched back to English, “Really?! That’s so nice of you! I would love to! I just have a bus to Puerto Viejo at two o’clock, is that enough time?”
“Yes, yes. It’s very close. Let me ask her, maybe we can go now.” He rolled his chair back and rattled off something to his boss, who looked at me shrugged, grabbed her purse, and rolled herself out of her cubicle only after offering me to leave my pack in her locked office while we were gone.
“Listo! Me llamo Roberto. Como te llamas?”
“Me llamo Heather.”
“Mucho gusto, Heather. Mi jefe se llama Adina. Estas lista?” We stepped out of the cool office into the midday heat, a mild 33° C (92° F). Imagining wearing their uniform of long pants and starched white dress shirts made me wonder why I was sweatier than they were. As we walked the few blocks to their everyday lunch ‘soda‘ spot, we chatted in both English and Spanish about Costa Rica’s beauty, about learning a new language, about New York City and about my solo-female travels (still a novel idea to many). We joked and dodged the occasional speeding car of oncoming traffic on the way. The lime green paint and room of fully seated tables gave the the feeling that I was in the right place.
I felt myself tense up a bit as we got closer to ordering. It seems silly, but everything is a little more nerve-wracking in a new culture, no matter how often I travel. But Roberto helped me through the whole thing, making sure I liked the tomatoes the lady was already topping my ensalada with, ensuring I got the pollo I wanted, not the pescado.
“Ah, let me help you.” he insisted on holding my plate as I paid the ₡2,500 ($5) for my heaping plate and complementary maracuya juice (passion fruit juice).
The chicken was perfect and the maracuya juice was to die for. The national news played on TVs sprinkled around the room.
There was a story on about a young guy who was intentionally run over by a car. Adina explained,
“Costa Rica is a small country. So when something like this happens in our city, it’s usually a friend of a friend.” I couldn’t help but imagining the same thing happening in the States. Maybe it would be a gun rather than car-related incident, but people would react in the same way. In that moment, I felt a closeness between Ticos and Americans.
On the walk back we discussed Paulo Coehlo and how good life really is in your late twenties. They reminisced about their younger years while I took pleasure in this chance meeting that had totally brightened my day. “Enjoy it!” they urged. And at that, I was off again.