Friday, July 24, 2015

Pura Vida - Costa Rica Honeymoon

One of our first proud savvy-traveler decisions was to rent a car our second day in Costa Rica. She waited for us patiently in the garage of the run down car rental in downtown San Jose as a tired agent recited the well-worn facts about the famous beaches or lush rain forests in his country that he had never been to. She was a gleaming white automatic, nicer than either of us were accustomed to driving, one that promised adventure and freedom. A terrible decision considering the rocky gravel paths awaiting us and the supposedly shady insurance charges that many online reviews warned about. But in the afterglow of our recent wedding, it seemed the only logical choice for our honeymoon, a beginning to all cliched and yet much anticipated beginnings, a gap in between wrapping up our stressful job/ school and packing up our lives to move across America to adulthood.

After navigating the crooked alleyways, chaotic highways and dim neighborhoods of San Jose for beef empanadas and fresh hot churros drizzled with dark chocolate and condensed milk, we set off for the famed Pacific coasts of Guanacaste. We whizzed along the highway, singing along the random fragments of latino radio songs I memorized in my brief college flirtation with Spanish, while google translating the road signs (Oh, that meant that the lane will merge and disappear - Yeah, I figured! Austin retorted as he slammed on the brakes to allow two cars into his diminishing lane). We munched on the endless supply of energy bars, gifts from winking bridesmaids meant to refuel us for more bedroom stints, and marveled at the lush greenery that surrounded us. Costa Rican highways seemed to be hacked from the jungle, tickling the underbelly of the all-encompasing rainforest. We couldn't help but imagine a pedestrian dinosaur crossing, casually tossing an unfortunate car out of its way. Incidentally, Costa Rica was actually the backdrop of the Jurassic Park series, but none of the scenes were filmed here because Steven Spielberg thought the roads were too unpredictable - a big pity since if he came, he would realize that unlike how it was portrayed in Jurassic Park, Costa Rica was not an island and San Jose was not a dusty beach town.

Anyhow, Hollywood facts aside, the drive revealed an ordinary slice of Costa Rica, served without any glamorization or top 10 must see!  exclamations. Villages sprang up all along the lip of the crooked highway but did not venture very deep into the jungle. Kids crossed the two lane highway toting their school bags in between the whizzing cars. Cows grazed nonchalantly in the noon day sun, always just a fragile fence away from the traffic. The sodas, rickety local diners, served hot fried chicken that would rival any Southern state in America.

One of the many fantastic sodas (local diners)

Standards of beauty

After five hours, we pulled into the beach town Tamarindo. Stoned surfers gave us the nod, welcoming us to the place that best embodied pura vida, literally translated as pure life, or the Costa Rican version of Hakuna Matata. We saw backpackers who were lulled into staying here for a whole month, just waiting to shred the next wave. We heard of Americans who quit their jobs and moved to Costa Rica after swimming in the turquoise waters of Playa Conchal, where ivory sea shells carpeted the ocean floor.

We were also drunk on the honeymoon high. We kayaked and snorkeled, holding hands under water as we chased rainbow fish around the corals. We took surfing lessons and kept congratulating each other even though I was pretty terrible on the board. We beach hopped after lazy afternoon naps, driving to whichever beach sounded fancier. And for a while, I was even tempted to persuade Austin that we should just abandon our plans and stay. Open a hostel. Learn Spanish. Surf every day.

But after a week or so, we started to tire. Sand spilled everywhere. We averaged three showers a day and still got our beds all sandy. Paradise was surprisingly claustrophobic too. We walked the entire town every times on some night and could probably write a restaurant review by the end. Everybody was frenetically trying to relax, booking endless tours by day and bouncing to different clubs by night. People were too loud and predictable at happy hour. Pura vida just seemed so . . . commercial.

On our last day, we rented stand up paddle boards and paddled out to sea. We floated aimlessly around and watched the seagulls land their catch. We talked about everything and nothing, our thoughts blending with the rhythm of the water. All of a sudden, Austin looked behind me and yelled for me to jump because of the big wave that was about to crash on us. I whelped and plopped into the water. But there was no wave, just a laughing husband. I climbed back on, swearing revenge.  Then he shushed me and gestured at the setting sun and its soft plumes of blush and purple. We sat in comfortable silence, watching the dimming light, soothed by the gentle tug of the waves while we got washed back to shore.

As we pulled our heavy board across the beach, I wondered if maybe this was what pura vida really was. Just a simple awe at the natural wonder around us. Just breathing that in and knowing you were in the presence of something divine.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

#Driving Fears

Two months ago, Austin joked about how it would be so great if I could get my driver's license before we got married. 

Yeah. I know. I was 25 and I didn't know how to drive. I had always been afraid of the road and there had always been a boy(friend) with a car. 

In the heat of over-optimism and an eagerness to be the perfect fiance, I signed up for a driving class. The online one. 

Sometimes when I was staring at the computer screen, trying to memorize how many feet of distance you're supposed to leave when parking away from the fire hydrant (15!), I felt my heart beating down on my ribs, demanding to be let out. 

What if I remembered all the facts and passed my online test? 

Then I would actually be on the road. 

The big day came. Austin randomly pulled into a church parking lot after errands one day and waved the keys in my face with a large grin. Your turn, babe. 

I swallowed and managed my sweetest smile. Why don't we do something else? Like catch a movie? Go grab drive through? Make out? No go. I dragged my feet over to the left side of the car. Austin explained the mechanics of the stick shift in way too logical terms while I anxiously scanned the parking lot for stray dogs. Ok go. 

Clutch. Gas. Clutch. Desperate brake. I cried the first four times I was behind the wheel. Story of our drives.

Anyhow, Austin kept asking me what I was so scared of. So I finally made him a list:

Random dead body in my trunk. 
It happens.

Proving the Asian female stereotype true.
I asked my driving instructor whether this was true or not -
his hilarious answer is for the next blog post. 

Oh dear. There's a deer so near.

The stick snaps.

Run out of gas in the middle of the desert.
And water.

Broken brakes.
During a classic car chase scene.

Jack falls on me when changing tires.
After all, Jack did fall down the hill. 
And he dragged Jill with him.

The text that got me in an accident was a lame one.
Sometime like "hey sorry. Can't text. Driving now"

My fiance would reconsider us when he sees me drive.
Others warned us not to risk our relationship on 
having Austin teach me how to drive.
We should have listened. 

Ultimately, I am just afraid that I will hit somebody and kill them. On a Christmas eve. When his wife is giving birth in the hospital .... yeah. Too complicated for a sticky note.

At the end of the day, I am learning. Not very well, but I'm making progress. And we're still getting married. Miraculously (#6 days!).