A Vacation of Fitness and Terror: Vol. 1


Well, I finally got a job. As someone who has been unemployed for almost this whole year, I’ve been having a little culture shock upon returning to office life. I mean, this whole health insurance and 401k thing is great, but do I really have to work every day?

Fortunately, prior to starting the position, I had booked a trip to Costa Rica for Thanksgiving. So, I worked for two weeks and then I took a 10-day vacation.

In hindsight, it’s probably not a wise idea to buy a $700 plane ticket when you’re unemployed. But I was having dinner with my friends Jenn and Brian one night in August and they said, “We’re going to Costa Rica with Chris and Joy over Thanksgiving.” And I was like, “Oh really? I am coming too.”

We now refer to this as “vacation-bombing.” It’s much like photo-bombing, except instead of jumping into their picture, I jumped into their vacation.

Chris and Joy planned the trip—they chose a tiny bohemian town on the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica called Montezuma. I didn’t do much research beyond that because  I knew that any trip planned by Chris and Joy would be worth vacation-bombing.

They live in San Diego. Joy is one of my oldest, dearest friends, and her husband, Chris, is a phenomenal individual. They are always doing something inspirational—running marathons, volunteering at wildlife sanctuaries, teaching English to refugees. They went on an African safari, and they have done a ton of traveling in Central America. They go down into Mexico a lot to visit friends who run a horse rescue on the Baja Peninsula.

And Jenn and Brian are probably the funniest couple ever. Brian is another one of my oldest and closest friends. He is the best storyteller I have ever known—just an incredibly quick mind and an innate sense of comedic timing. He has found his perfect partner in Jenn. She is one of those women who is always enriching herself—painting, reading interesting books, growing a beautiful vegetable garden that never seems to die. And she has a law degree. I mean, come on.

Brian and Jenn often have people over for dinners and gatherings. Brian is quite the cook. His specialties are meat, seafood, and candy. Just give the man a bunch of deer meat or 10 lbs. of crab legs and see what he can do. (Sidenote: Brian’s dream Halloween costume is to be the “We’ve Got Crab Legs” chefs from the Sea Galley commercials of the 1980s.) He is also quite the gummy aficionado. Brian enjoys any sort of gummy-based candy (worms, fruits, green army men). He once ate the full-sized gummy Coke bottle.

Unfortunately, because Joy and Chris had already booked the rental house, which only slept four, there was no way for me to stay with them. So I reserved a room at one of the Montezuma hostels. The town was less than a mile from the house, so we figured that, worst-case scenario, Chris and Brian could walk me back to the hostel at night.

I was able to get onto all of the same flights that Jenn and Brian were on except for the very first one. They left DIA for Houston at 6am, and I left at 7:15. Then we got on the same flight from Houston to Panama City, and from there to Costa Rica. Joy and Chris would fly from LAX to San Salvador before meeting up with us at the San Jose Airport. Our flight landed at 9:30pm; Joy and Chris’s flight was supposed to land at 10pm.

The plan was to take the shuttle from the airport to the Holiday Inn, where we had a room reserved under Chris and Joy’s name. The only concern was that Chris and Joy’s connection in San Salvador was tight. We were all worried they might miss it. And since none of us wanted to spend money on international calls, we weren’t going to have a way to communicate.

So, before we left, Joy and Chris suggested that we all get an app called Viber, which would allow us to call and text for free anywhere that we could get WiFi. Viber also is equipped with an array of emoticons and “stickers” with which to communicate your very important messages. Our first Viber group chat went something like this:

Chris Parkes: [sticker of poo] [sticker of happy face wearing sunglasses]

Me: “I was asking Jenn last night about this, wondering if we can use actual words or if    all of our communications will be in emoticons…”

Me again: “CP seems to be saying ‘poop happy’”

Chris Parkes: [sticker that says ‘I heart Viber’] [sticker of a beer with what looks like a bowl of jalapenos and a bunch of pretzels] [sticker of a guy eating a hamburger]

Chris Parkes: [emoticons of: a devil head, an ice cream sundae, a beer, a smoking cigarette, a pile of poo, a monkey, a creepy doll head, a ladybug, a beach chair, and a sheep]

Brian: [emoticons of a sun wearing sunglasses, some kind of lady, a high heel shoe, a bikini, a different monkey (?), a whale, a tropical fish, a different tropical fish, a crocodile, livestock of some kind, something else I don’t recognize, and a smoking cigarette]

Me: “I see this is going to be a valuable communications tool.”

The actual day of departure snuck up on me. In the two weeks prior, I had moved into a new apartment and started a new job. My trip to Costa Rica was the last thing on my mind. I stuffed a bunch of clothes into a backpack on Friday night and Brian and Jenn picked me up at 3:15am the next day to make our early morning flights.

We tried to use Viber when we got to Panama, but even when we connected with WiFi, we couldn’t get it to work. We went to the bar and had three light beers that ended up costing us $25. While sitting there, we noticed that the escalators were moving extremely slowly. They were barely inching along. But as soon as someone stepped on them, they accelerated to normal speed. We all agreed that this seems like a good way to save energy. Then we watched a music video where Kylie Minogue takes a bath in metallic paint.

The other thing about the Panama City Airport is that it’s basically a high-end mall. There are shops for all these expensive fashion designers and jewelers. How do these stores stay in business? Are travelers impulse-buying Roberto Cavalli outfits in between flights? It doesn’t make any sense.

Before we knew it—okay, about 17 hours later—it was 10:30pm and we were on the other side of Customs in the San Jose Airport, wondering if Chris and Joy were going to make it. We bought some rum and tequila at the Duty-Free store, and we waited. We still weren’t able to get Viber to work. There were a ton of people still coming through Customs, but no Chris and Joy.

This is me looking for them. Yes, I am wearing a poncho. I have a problem with unintentionally wearing clothing that look ethnically stereotypical for the place that I am going. For example, when I worked at a sushi restaurant, I died my hair black and cut my bangs really short, without even thinking about how that might be perceived. Or the time in high school when we were going to the zoo, which was in a pretty rough neighborhood with a lot of gang activity. I showed up that day wearing a do-rag. My best friend, Hari, looked right at me and was like, “You know where the zoo is don’t you?”

This is me looking for them. Yes, I am wearing a poncho. I have a problem with unintentionally wearing clothing that look ethnically stereotypical for the place that I am going. For example, when I worked at a sushi restaurant, I died my hair black and cut my bangs really short, without even thinking about how that might be perceived. Or the time in high school when we were going to the zoo, which was in a pretty rough neighborhood with a lot of gang activity. I showed up that day wearing a do-rag. My best friend, Hari, looked right at me and was like, “You know where the zoo is don’t you?”

We realized that we really didn’t have a Plan B. We were starting to get worried, but then Jenn saw a Facebook post by Joy, saying that their flight was delayed an hour. We all relaxed, knowing they were on their way, and they arrived soon after.

When we opened the doors to the main terminal, we were bombarded with cab drivers and limo services, families waiting for their relatives, people holding signs with other people’s last names on them, all crowded up behind the gates. The cabbies all shouting at us: “You need a ride?” “Where you going?” “You need cab?”

One guy got right up in Chris’s face, “Hey, hey, you need a ride?” Chris said, “No, thanks, we’re getting the Holiday Inn shuttle.” The guy tried to intimidate him: “Oh, well, I hope you made a reservation.” Chris just shrugged it off, and we got on the shuttle a few minutes later, no problem.

We literally drove less than 5 minutes—just over the highway—and we were at the Holiday Inn, which shared a parking lot with the “Fiesta” Casino and the most expensive Denny’s Restaurant in the entire world. Down the road a stretch there was a fair called “Ciudad Magic.” It had old-fashioned bumper cars and other questionably safe carnival rides. Joy really wanted to go, but we never made it.

The next day, we had about an hour’s drive to Puntarenas, where we would take a 70-minute ferry ride to the town of Paquera. From there, we had about another hour’s drive across the Nicoya Peninsula to the town of Montezuma where we were staying.

The plan was for Brian, Joy, and Chris to pick up the rental car as early as possible the next day, while Jenn and I slept in a bit.

We had to leave the hotel as early as possible to catch the 11am ferry. We absolutely had to make the 11 o’clock if we wanted to avoid driving at night to get to Montezuma. Which, believe me, we all did.

Brian had done a ton of research before the trip so he was always spouting off facts, like: Costa Rica has the third most accidents of any country in the world … and … the roads are so bad that cars get swallowed up in the potholes …

He had read that some of the roads would be paved, but most would not. And a majority of them would have portions wide enough for only one vehicle at a time, putting us at the mercy of the fates and whoever was speeding around the other side of every curve. None of us relished the idea of trying to navigate this in the absolute darkness of an island jungle town.

We conked out pretty early, with Chris volunteering to sleep on the floor so I got to sleep in a bed. I didn’t hear them leave in the morning. When I finally woke up, it was already 7:45, but they weren’t back yet. I figured I should get up, even though I felt like I could have slept for another couple days.

Literally 10 seconds after I got into the bathroom, I heard Joy, Chris, and Brian come charging into the room, yelling that we have to get up immediately, that there was a problem with the rental car and we were running way behind and we have to go now! AAAAAGGGGHHHH!

They swept in and grabbed all their bags and ran out the door, leaving Jenn and I to scramble to get dressed and gather all of our stuff. We hurried downstairs to the lobby, where we found Chris, Joy, and Brian leisurely partaking of the continental breakfast. Jenn and I were like, um, what the f, people?? 

It turned out that they had spent an hour just trying to find the right rental car place, and once they got there, they were told that the ridiculously cheap deal that Joy had been given online ($200 for an entire week) was a mistake, and the rental car company now insisted that we pay $1,000 for the week instead. After arguing with the clerk for another hour, they finally signed the contract with the higher price (and a note that it was in dispute), figuring we could deal with it when we dropped the car off at the end of the trip. Given what we had read about the roads on the Nicoya Peninsula, we weren’t entirely sure we would be bringing the car back in one piece anyway.

We were told we needed to arrive at the ferry an hour early to ensure that we could get the car on, which left us with only two hours to  find our way to Puntarenas. This involved following a hand-drawn map of poorly-labeled highways with a steady stream of traffic and hardly any exits or places to backtrack if we made a wrong turn.

We were in a time crunch, which is why Chris, Brian, and Joy had fire-drilled Jenn and I out of bed, but it wasn’t quite as urgent as they had made it seem. They joked that this was how they were going to wake us up every morning of our trip.

And thus began our Vacation of Fitness and Terror.


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