Tico Days

Four years ago this past weekend, I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica's capital city. It was my first big international trip. I've been to seventeen countries since then, bringing my total up to eighteen. Eighteen! I can barely believe it. I know there are plenty of intrepid travelers who might see that much (or more!) in just one year. But, as someone who daydreamed her way through high school imagining "sun-drenched elsewheres," visiting eighteen countries outside of the States is some serious goal achievement.

In order to commemorate my trip to Costa Rica on it's four-year anniversary, I thought it might be time to do a follow-up post to one of my favorite things I've written: Tico Nights.


Morning three of my nearly month-long trip. I awaken when the sun has been shining in my windows for about an hour; the room has become unbearably hot. Opening the creaky wooden doors at the back of the casona, I find Anna using the office's wifi. She and I discuss literature for a while before I traipse off to lunch.

When I returnPito leads me to the beach and points out a leatherback nest that's just beginning the hatching process. Or at least, that's what he says is happening. From what I can tell, there's just a small, quivering depression in the grey sand. Nonetheless, I'm so thrilled that I squat down next to the nest and don't move for a few hours. Soon, one tiny flipper begins slowly emerging from the sand. Then, an entire precious tortugita is visible. I was speechless and rapt with interest at these slow creatures beginning their lives.

 tiny struggles

tiny struggles

As I watched, Anna and Katherine joined me. We each whispered to each other in excitement. "Wow, look!" "Here they come!" "Hola tortugitas!" After about an hour or more of watching the same few sleepy turtles slowly stretching their limbs, the top ones began to lift themselves out of the sand. Ever so hesitantly, the little leatherbacks began piling up in a lazy, weak pile just outside of the nest. As they gained strength, the older ones fumbled their way to the sea. We slowly followed behind them, shooing off the few stray village dogs who'd come to check things out. Unlike other turtles which are much faster on land, leatherbacks are clumsy. They scoot and drag themselves forward with their blue-grey flippers. Over the next few hours, I closely followed these babies as they made their way into the all-too-aggressive-seeming waves of the Caribbean. Put yourself in my shoes with this very amateur, low quality video that I took on the cheap digital camera I had with me at the time:


Another sweltering day. Sandy, Laura, & I are at Doña Tereza's casa. For the length of my stay, Tereza will be my lunch cook extraordinaire and patient Spanish teacher. She doesn't speak much English but is very quick to understand my faltering Spanish verbs. Her sweet and timid chihuahua Camila is clattering on the tile underfoot, seeking scraps. On the table in front of us are platanos maduros (aka fried plantains), along with the ever-present beans 'n rice, and a bottle of hot sauce. Doña Tereza soons sets down a fresh jug of tamarindo, already sweating in the mid-day heat. 

 beggar Camila

beggar Camila

Laura, who took Spanish A-Levels in her native England, is doing an excellent job conversing with Tereza. I catch things about Tereza's past as a restaurant cook, about Laura & Sandy's upcoming plans to travel around the country. Sandy, whose Spanish is practically non-existent, smiles and nods politely as he scratches Camila's head. Eventually, the topic of conversation changes to our host's crafts and she soon brings out her wares, smiling with a dignified pride. As she should - her bracelets, bags, and hand-painted coconuts are lovely.  She asks me if I'd like her to make me anything and I request an anklet. By the time I leave in June, I'll have bought quite a few things from her because I can't think of a better kind of souvenir to have. They're perfect: the aforementioned anklet, two bracelets, and a bag made from recycled grocery bags.

Absolutely stuffed, I muster up the courage to try coconut candy (similar to this recipe). It's moist, sweet, and tastes like sunshine and Tereza's smoky outdoor stovetop. I have another, and another. Laughingly, Tereza gives me a plastic container with a few more to take home. Laura, Sandy, and I trek back through the sandy paths to our beachfront casa. They set up camp chairs in the shade and I lay down on the hard concrete porch for a fitful, hot sleep.


 puddly paths through the village

puddly paths through the village

Nikki, her boyfriend Cleve, and I set out across dusty, mud puddle-studded paths to the town's short cement runway towards the first lagoon. The three of us crunch through the leaf-littered path beyond the airfield, careful to avoid stepping on leaf-cutter ants as they diligently complete their day's work. Their tar-black dwellings are visible just off the path underneath dense brush. Howler monkeys announce their presence and we don't dawdle for fear of having poop flung on our heads. The path opens onto the laguna's serene water immediately in front of us. To our left, a short stretch of grey beach separates the laguna from the sea. We splash into the cool water, our toes just barely touching the soft muck at the bottom of the natural pool. I tread water as Nikki and Cleve play fight, keeping a watch for more pairs of eyes - at night, the patrol guides have used their flashlights to show me reflections of the ojos of silent, creeping caimans. I'm not quite afraid of them, but I'm not exactly thrilled by the idea of one popping up nearby. I really have no need to worry; camains are skittish by nature.

As the sun dips closer to the choppy waves of the ocean, Cleve does what it seems like all guys love to do: he starts a fire. With driftwood. We do a poor job half-roasting some carrots and onions over Cleve's fire and use stumps as seats. While Nikki and Cleve roast some cheap, rubbery salchichon, I collect miniature petal-pink shells and a few sanddollars. The sun begins to set and the whine of mosquitoes and bufo frog bellows surround our temporary camp. Laughing, we walk back to Cleve's mother's bar and make pancake sundaes: pancakes, vanilla ice cream, and sweetened condensed milk for a sauce. We three feast on our treacly treat as we watch The Avengers before it's time for me to head off on another nightly turtle patrol.