Definitely getting older: a kind of feminist-like something I hadn’t paid attention to before hit home in the last few days. It started with a strange encounter. Trying to find one of many bus stations in downtown San Jose, I walked past a derelict building with a man hiding behind a block of rubble. He was crouching down, trying to keep out of sight, and wearing nothing below the waist. I’d like to think he was the subject of a joke – maybe his friends or coworkers stole his pants in a bizarrely elaborate set-up – but some other half-explanations came to mind. Even though he appeared as freaked out as I was, the situation was still vaguely ominous. After that, however unrelated they may be, the occasional shouts of unknown men on the streets which usually don’t register since they are thrown at any moving object with breasts, seemed more unpleasant. I suppose it comes down to this: just because you look at a woman, or a girl, or a man, and think of sex, it doesn’t mean they’re thinking the same thing. Actually, in most cases it’s safe to assume they are not. You have no idea what could be going on in their head. All you can presume to know anything of is their appearance: their body could be home to the mind of a secret agent, the ghost of Albus Dumbledore, or a serial killer – as could yours.
Moving on. Literally, in fact – current location has changed to Panama. Something needs to be said here about the joy of long bus journeys; no sarcasm intended. Alarm set for four thirty, backpack ready the night before, pet the dogs and brush your teeth as you unlock the gate, return the key to its hook for the last time, eyes wide as you try to avoid potholes on the road to the bus terminal in the dark. The backpack weighs nothing for the first twenty minutes, then becomes exponentially heavier with the increasing slope. Of course, by the time you step off the first bus in San Jose you realize you have over two hours to reach the international bus station, which is only a forty minute walk away; although early is much better than late. The two hours seem like a good time to listen to a playlist you compiled in procrastination of packing the previous evening.
Bus stations are great places to meet people; at least if your aim is to engage in pointless conversation with a stranger you will laugh with over travel stories, whose side you will stay by at the border crossing, and whose face you will never see again. The journey is one of the only occasions when it is socially acceptable to keep headphones in your ears for a straight six hours, entirely ignoring anyone in extremely close proximity; and to listen to one album on repeat for that same period. It is also an opportune time for some shameless people-watching, and ‘why are you on this bus?’ moments. For instance, the middle-aged couple from the US who:-
- complained when the driver was having difficulty fitting the lady’s mobility scooter in the luggage compartment under the bus;
- were anxious that the luggage compartment may be too hot for the medications in the man’s baggage;
- complained about the lack of air conditioning;
- struggled with the approximately three minute walk at the border between the Costa Rica exit point and the entry to Panama;
- needed to purchase two (full fat) Cokes from a vending machine to replenish their energy after said walk;
- also had to sit down while waiting in line at the border.
Seems like a $20 bus ride from San Jose to David, lasting nine hours in total, may not have been the optimal choice of transportation.
That was a rant, and I promised to write about how enjoyable it can be. So, you open the window, angle yourself towards it and as far away from your fellow passengers as possible, plug in your headphones and watch. For hours and hours and hours. At first the view is of the San Jose streets, which have become familiar over the past couple of months but somehow look more picturesque from a raised and rapidly moving perspective. Past the market stalls that will be crowded in a few hours, the colourful stores and uneven pavements, and then the detached housing on the outskirts of town with barred gates guarding its doorways. The bus moves upward by degrees, out of the Central Valley and into the landscape that reminds you why you always think of Costa Rica as overwhelmingly green. Signposts start to direct you to Jaco and Quepos – and suddenly, although you have no idea how much time has passed, there is the ocean. It’s like being six again, and catching the first glimpse of the sea from the backseat on the car ride to north Wales. Now there is no sibling to share the excitement, so you lean back, smile inside, and revel in the deep, deep, shining blue. You can taste the salt through the open window, see the lilting sway of the leaves on bowed palm trees.
Sleep comes naturally and in short, hazy lengths. The ocean has disappeared once more, replaced by farms: this time, neat rows of pineapple plants which still seem to have a slightly counter-intuitive appearance. Soon there are other crops, too; all aligned and creating shaded pathways. The border arrives before you are ready. The bus stops and the passengers slowly retrieve their stamped passports, amble to the next building to confirm their eligibility for entry to Panama, and haul baggage off and back onto the vehicle for a brief inspection. The remainder of the journey is quick, but already there are marked differences between the countries. Panama’s highway from the border is smoother, and some of the fields are surrounded by low stone walls that make your heart happy. Several women are wearing more traditional-style dresses than are seen in Costa Rica, and, on entering David, the street signs are illegible. Time to begin again.
* * *
“So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky.” – Philip Pullman, Northern Lights.
“Mary wished to say something sensible, but knew not how.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.