Living Life in Costa Rica Part 4: The Cockroach
November 22, 2019
After a small period of rest and acclimatisation in Cahuita, I was ready to take on my first longer stay (about 2 weeks) in Costa Rica. I’d read a lot of good things about Puerto Viejo and although this Caribbean village pleasantly surprised me (for the most part… in the end…), it was nothing like I’d expected or dreamed up in my head. For some reason I had this image of a cute, quaint surfer’s beach town in mind, which wasn’t at all the vibe I was getting when I first arrived.
Let me try and paint you a picture. It’s a lively place, that’s for sure. Lots of stores, both tourist shops and all kinds of supermarkets/food places. Too many cars in small streets. Also, rows of market stalls along the road, as well as tiny food stands (coconut, anyone?). Some smaller streets that lead to a disorderly square. The police station seems to be in an old, rusty bus (for real). A maze of electricity cables. Always some construction work going on.
All of this is located right at the shore too! There’s a small, slightly messy beach (lots of wood lying around), some palm trees here and there and a random shipwreck only a couple of meters into the sea. I don’t think this sight could get any more dramatic. The only thing missing is the Black Pearl on the horizon and Jack Sparrow looking for rum. Seriously, think pirate town. To sum up, my first impression wasn’t ‘oh, cute’, it was ‘okay, savage…’ and to be totally honest, I felt a bit uneasy and out of place.
Okay, and I haven’t even started talking about our Airbnb yet… It was one of the cheapest I’d been able to book and with good reason. A little outside of town, almost completely hidden by jungle vegetation. You first enter the garden, which harbours a small path that leads to a wooden ‘house’ that looks like it’s coming apart at the seams. A woman in her mid-30s named Alicia welcomed us and showed us to our room. There was a bed, a chair and that was it. You couldn’t walk around without bumping into the bed or each other. The kitchen was outside and the bathroom was semi-outside. In fact, everything was semi-outside. Within the first hour I discovered a gigantic centipede making its way into our room. The tone was set.
It was the kitchen, however, that freaked me out the most. Everything looked like it had been there for some time. We ended up cooking in one and the same pot our entire stay (I’ve never consumed so many variations of beans & pasta). Btw, were we supposed to eat outside while staring into a pitch-black jungle not knowing which animals were lurking there? I couldn’t do it. Hence, the first night I had dinner in my bed underneath our mosquito net, while tirelessly scanning every inch of our room for unwanted guests.
The next morning I met Alicia’s husband, Dan, and their little boy Arlo. They were friendly enough and Arlo was one of the cutest kids I’d ever seen (who doesn’t like to be greeted by a 2-year-old uttering ‘hi guys!’), but none of it sufficed to put me at ease.
Luckily, I felt less anxious during the day time. We did a lot of exploring and I immediately fell in love with the beaches and the Caribbean sea. The sand was soft, the water was clean and the waves were perfect. Somehow, under the brightness of the Costa Rican sun, everything seemed less intimidating and I slowly began to appreciate the primitive yet laidback atmosphere. Unfortunately, as soon as night fell (which, to me, felt like the middle of the day), I still got restless and even a bit scared.
It also didn’t help that I was nearly robbed by a guy with a machete when I was admiring the 5:30am sunrise. Too early to be outside by yourself, it seems. I feel like I’m starting to overtell this story, so let me just say that the whole situation was surreal. Also, it’s funny what your brain comes up with when it’s working at 100m/h looking for an escape route. My initial thought: run into the sea! Dive! Fortunately, I didn’t execute this fool proof plan, but stayed calm (well, given the circumstances) and let him search my backpack instead. He didn’t end up taking anything, as I didn’t have money on me, and by some miracle he wasn’t interested in my phone or iPad.
As if this wasn’t enough craziness for one week (the FIRST week of my trip), I woke up one night and, to my horror, felt something crawling. I grabbed the little flashlight under my pillow, turned it on, and yup, a monstrous looking cockroach was revealed, rapidly darting across the bed. Naturally, I screamed and jumped out of the bed as fast as I could (damn you, mosquito net!). After some yelling and general upheaval, my travel buddy smashed it (ew) while I was nervously pacing the hallway. Obviously, from then on, I slept with one eye open!
I think it’s safe to conclude that when switching countries and cultures, the adaptation stage lasts longer than just a few days (it may still be going on).
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