Day 1: The beach. This Sunday I was able to travel to Limon, about a three hour drive, and go to a beach that looked like a computer’s desktop background mixed with one of those calendars that makes you jealous of Hawaii. We got up at 4:30 in the morning to leave by 5, and it was different to be awake so early. The sky was some shade of gray with a couple stars still sprinkled among it. There was only growing light.

I squished into the back of a car with my host sister and dad, and his cousin and wife occupied the front seats. We drove through a quiet Turrialba, passing by graffiti that said, We finish by believing in our own smile, and homeless people curled up in blankets in bus stations. Costa Rica flew by us, all winding roads and green mountains, until we got to a thruway and it was a straight shot from there to the casual little beach town of Puerto Viejo in Limon.

It was full of rasta hippies and a lot of foreigners there to do yoga retreats and go to the dusty bars and go on wildlife walks to see monkeys, sloths, snakes, frogs, etc. We saw someone scuba diving, a man fishing, American girls tanning, women braiding hair and making bracelets by the beach. There were a lot of weed smokers and Bob Marley shirts, and the whole place was so chill and casual and beachy that I could’ve stayed there forever.

The water was ridiculously clear and warmer than the water we use to shower. The sand was made of big pieces and we amused ourselves finding shells at the area of beach where people didn’t swim because it’s dangerous to swim near the reef. We found a million shells of all different colors and saw a hermit crab scuttling across the sand. There were pelicans flying overhead and the slow, quiet sound of waves licking the beach. We moved down the beach and swam in the perfect water that was bluer than the sky, salt water on our lips, until we left with sunburned cheeks and sandy toes, to drive back home. We’d gone about ten minutes when we stopped the car at the side of the road and got out to watch the monkeys that were lazing in the treetops above us, making sounds like barking dogs.

After that, we passed through banana plantations where blue bags protected the developing fruit, and the shipping port with huge boats loaded with trailers on trailers labeled Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole. It was too much food to think about, loaded in those climate-controlled trailers that were neatly stacked on top of each other, all on a boat that was too heavy to possibly move across the giant ocean until all that fruit arrives carefully arranged on shelves at Wegmans. It was a wakeup call, to see that image after all the happy people and the jolly monkeys and the beach waves. It makes you remember what’s actually happening in the world.

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Day 2: Volcán Poás. Waking up the day after the beach was extremely difficult, especially because it was once again at four a.m. This time the whole family except for host mom Seidy loaded into the car while it was still dark outside so we could see the second largest volcano in Costa Rica.

The drive was longer this time, through San Jose, and then mountain pastures where there stood cows, sheep, and a pair of deer. We stopped to eat sandwiches for lunch at an overlook where we could see across valleys with clustered cities, to more mountains on the other side, with the same pure rolling hills of miles of green pasture. Men cut hay with machetes and loaded into trailers pulled by small tractors. I breathed the different air that was there and my host family gave me a leaf to chew on that had a delicious flavor but also felt like it was burning my tongue.

We got to the volcano in the late morning and filed through the visitors’ center first, learning about ecosystems of Costa Rica and the parts of a volcano. When we got to the actual volcano, it was clouded over and we saw nothing but a white wall in front of us, behind which was the crater itself. We continued up to another crater, the principal crater, where there is a lagoon of rainwater that is a dark teal color. It was flat and smooth but for the tiny brushstrokes of wind. There were tourists speaking seven different languages around us and taking pictures with the endemic squirrels that crawl on people’s bags looking for food. Back at the first crater, some of the fog had passed, and we could see straight down into the ashen gray surface of the volcano. It smelled like sulfur and the cool clouds passing over our faces.

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On the way home, we made a stop at Sarchí, where Robert’s uncle lives. It was a big furniture-making place, and there was shop after shop lining the streets advertising wooden tables, chairs, shelves. At the uncle’s house, we could see other colored houses lining up along the vast side of the mountain, and the rainclouds that were coming for us. We went to a souvenir store and saw beautiful furniture and amazing paintings that they were making there in the shop. It was a short stop, so I thought we’d make it back relatively quickly, but actually we got stuck in traffic for over an hour in San Jose. Homeless people came to ask for money at our windows and salesmen walked up and down the row of cars with flowers or plátanos. It was rather overwhelming, and the quiet, dark country roads were a relief after that. We made it home safe and sound after many hours, and sleeping has never felt so sweet.

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