Costa Rican adventures – or “Why 41-year olds don’t go backpacking”

So I got really inspired lately, to travel the way I used to in my 20’s: without much planning and by ‘figuring it out as I go along’. Not so much out of nostalgia to be honest but more so, as a reaction against what my life has become over the last few years, which is a never-ending string of plans and appointments, with no time for me, or for being spontaneous. And with rarely five minutes in a day that isn’t on, or most often in fact behind, schedule.

Well, spontaneity is highly overrated! Or at least that’s how it felt for a bit, when I realized I missed my bus connection with about 2 minutes, because I was “being smart” and winged it a bit too much. In a new country where I didn’t know that bus schedules and departure times are more of an approximation than an actual schedule. Most often leaving 10-15 minutes early… *LOL*

And as I sat down in the bus terminal waiting area I started thinking about those “unplanned” backpacking trips I did all over Southeast Asia and realised that they were probably not as “unplanned” as I remembered them at first, through that thick lens of nostalgia. Because I always had my Lonely Planet ‘on a shoestring’ and had I bothered to flick through it over the weekend, I probably would have remembered much sooner, the hours and hours of the meticulous planning (or at least hours and hours of reading!) that actually went into each of those “oh, so spontaneous” backpacking tours of mine.

When I decided a couple of weeks ago, to trade in a stressful two weeks of schlepping halfway across the country of Sweden to visit ‘everyone’ and go to Costa Rica for a week of chilling out at a dive spot instead, I made a few arrangements but I didn’t really do that much research…. So I ended up getting a flight to San Jose, without first thinking through where I’d actually be diving because I made the assumption that “it’s a small country so I’ll figure it out once I have my flights sorted”…. Well, that was the first mistake. I did do a fair bit of research as to where would be a good dive spot, or rather invested my time in finding a good dive shop, because I am anally retentive about who I dive with. An occupational hazard of sorts, as diving with a professional and safe team is a non-negotiable for me. And that was smart and time well spent, as was finding a nice but cheap hotel, to get ‘off the beaten track’ and get away from the types of places and people I have mostly spent my time around, over the last 10 years of ‘business’ travel and 5-star resorts. I needed to find a smaller, friendlier and more relaxed place, not filled with American families and screaming children and I did. That was also smart and the right thing for me at this point. But I should probably have done that before I booked those flights…

So, now I ended up flying in to San Jose which is in central Costa Rica, with my hotel and diving booked in Guanacaste, which is the north-westernmost peninsula on the Pacific side, close to the Nicaraguan border. That was not so smart – especially since I could instead have flown in to Liberia (on United) and been just 1.5 hrs from Playas del Coco where I’m staying, instead of a 5.5 hrs bus ride away which is what I ended up doing.

I did check a few more transfer options but I quickly decided to go for the $9 local bus, over the $250-350 shuttle or car service. Also smart and not a big deal really, as time wise I would not have saved much more than 1 hr or so on the very expensive option. But it would have been a good idea to maybe invest a little time in figuring out the bus schedules and more importantly, the bus terminals and stops instead of asking my way once I got there?

And it would have been an even better idea spending 5 or 10 minutes haggling with a cab driver and have him take me straight to the right bus terminal, instead of insisting on taking another bus for the 10-min drive from the airport, ending up at the wrong bus terminal and hopping in a taxi in the end anyway , only to miss my connection by appr. 2 min! Or  knows…? So nothing to do but sit down and wait for the next one, right?

But at least now I remember what drove all those hours of meticulous planning and reading that LP back and forth for hrs and I won’t make the same mistake again anytime soon! But I am definitely doing another trip like this one. Soon! Because the travel bug has caught me again… 🙂

In the end I ended up getting to where I was planning to go, only 2 hrs later than I was hoping and it was a good mental exercise for me, not being in control all the time and just sitting here in Alajuela with nothing to do (no internet, no cell phone) for two hours. Without losing it. And it got me my first taste of Costa Rican food: A Curry Puff! Very similar to the yummy ones we used to snack on in Singapore, so my tummy was happy and so was I! 😊


I am on the bus now and there’s only an hour or two of daylight left, so I will put this device away and just look out the window for a while, to try to get a feel for the first country I ever visited in Central America.

Just being here and being present, in the moment, for a change. If all goes according to plan from here on, I will have been traveling for 25 hours by the time I get to my hotel, on 2 hrs of sleep on the red eye from SEA to IAD. And I will most likely miss one day of diving tomorrow but that doesn’t really matter right now, as I’m so relaxed, just loving being on the road again.

A day of doing nothing but relax and spend the day in a hammock, reading a book, might just end up being all I do tomorrow and you know what? I am OK with that.


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