I collapsed into the cab, wet, cold, and exhausted, prepared to pay anything asked of me just to get home. I had left school nearly two hours prior and hadn’t gotten more than a few miles down the road and couldn’t find my way back to my house on the buses, so just said to hell with it and grabbed a cab outside Alejuela’s City Mall. “Atenas, por favor,” I said to the cab driver. His eyes went wide. “Centro?” he asked. “No, Calle Brisas.” He shrugged. “Mucho dinero, si?” I shrugged. “Bueno.”
The old man smiled at me. “Musica?” I offered a half-hearted smile. “Si.” He turned on a mashed up version of “If you’re going to Saaaan Fraaaancisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair…” He looked up in the mirror and smiled. A few minutes later he shook his head. “No, no me gusta,” he muttered as he changed the station. For the next hour karaoke music blared over the speakers while people sang along to upbeat traditional Costa Rican songs. He happily tapped the steering wheel.
My landlord had offered to bring me to the local bus stop 11 hours earlier at 6 am. When I ran up to meet him in his car, he started muttering in his French-Spanish accent, “Well, I don’t think we’re going to make the 6 am bus now…” It was 6:08. “I thought I was taking the 6:30?” I asked. “Well, now you will probably be doing that. Especially since you have to go to the ATM.” He drove me up the windy road and pulled in front of the bank. I ran into the ATM booth and reached for my card and it wasn’t there. I pulled everything else out of my purse on the floor. Nothing. I looked through every pocket. No card. Tears welled up as I walked back to the car. “I can’t find my card,” I explained. A furious ride back to the cottage, a bout of diarrhea, and a fruitless search for my card landed me back in Franck’s car, sobbing. I reached into my purse and found my card sitting right there. Not knowing how much money I would need for the day, I took out 20,000 colones (approximately $34). The bus fare was 645 colones and the bus driver was pissed at me. I have no idea what he said, but it wasn’t nice.
On the bus, I set my head against the window and let myself cry for a few more minutes. I had no idea how long I would be on here. I had read it was a half hour trip, an hour trip, and a 94 minute trip. At each bus stop I looked out the window across the aisle. None of the stops had signs. The bus driver said nothing. As far as I could tell, there was no way of knowing where to get off. I studied my Spanish-English book nervously until I mustered up the courage to ask my seatmate, “Habla Ingles?” She didn’t. “Mi espanol es malo, para podria ayudarme? Quiero bajarme en Cariari.” (My Spanish is bad, but can you help me? I would like to get off at Cariari.) She shrugged. “No se.” She leaned over the aisle and asked a man. “No se.” He leaned forward and asked the man in front of him who said something I didn’t understand. My seatmate smiled apologetically at me.
After being on the bus for an hour, she nudged me. “Aqui, aqui!” I looked up at the other two men. “Si,” they nodded. Another man was getting up to leave. “Es Cariari?” I asked. “Si,” he replied. When I arrived at my school ten minutes later, it was uncovered that I was the only new teacher who had no roots in Costa Rica and certainly the only who had been in Costa Rica for less than 48 hours. My kind colleagues let me cry at different points as I told them how I had left my son alone in a brand new country with barely any food, how I didn’t have a paper clip so hadn’t been able to change my SIM card, and how I had no idea how to get back home after school. Two colleagues called the bus company and got directions to the bus station and one of them dropped me off there at the end of the day. The rain had begun to come down, so I yelled a quick, “thank you!” as I opened my umbrella and ran to catch what I thought was my bus. But it wasn’t.
None of them were.
And it was raining. The rainy season in Costa Rica is just beginning. It will get worse into October I am told. But as the rain overcame the sidewalk and I had to stand on the bus stop bench to avoid the ankle-deep rushing water, I can’t imagine how it could get worse.
After 45 minutes, I asked somebody, “El bus por Atenas aqui?” He nodded. “Si, si. Es correcto.” But a bus for Atenas, the town I live in, had already driven by without slowing down. As the second one drove by, he looked at me and made the motion of a tear coming out of his eye. “Lo siento.” “Alejuela?” I asked him. I wanted to know if I took a bus to Alejuela could I then catch one to Atenas. He said I could. He grabbed my hand and helped me jump over the new river to catch the Alejuela bus. Again, I had no way of knowing which stop to get off from, and again I had a non-English speaking seatmate who tried to help me. I did manage to get off in the right place, but once there, I had no idea where to go to catch the elusive Atenas bus.
This is when I found myself willing to pay “mucho dinero” to get back home, listening to bad Costa Rican karaoke. I had left school at 3:10 and it was now after 5 pm and I hadn’t gotten very far at all. But even as I relaxed into the vinyl seats, our cab soon came to a halt. A woman barked monotone instructions over the CB and suddenly the driver sat up straight. There was an accident ahead. He indicated to me that we were going to get off the highway and take a shortcut. The rain was a solid sheet coming down in thunder and lightning.
As soon as we got off, we discovered the road we had to take had turned into an actual river flowing downhill towards us. He looked at me and smiled. “Si?” I asked. Because I didn’t know how to say, “Are you seriously going to drive your freaking Toyota Corolla up this river????” He nodded and took us into a road that had transformed into Class IV rapids. I unbuckled my seatbelt so that I wouldn’t be trapped only to drown when the car got carried away. A hundred yards up hill, he pulled us onto some pavement and we were safe again until we came to another section where the water flowed through an intersection well over car bumpers. He stopped and waited for the cars on the other side of the intersection to move, indicating to me that if he drove there
and waited, we’d lose control of the car. “Tu nadas?” he asked. (Do you swim?) I hoped he was joking.
Three hours after leaving my first day of school, I arrived back home. Having forgotten my keys, I stood outside the gate and yelled my landlord’s name until he heard me. “Did your day get better?” he asked. “Here, let’s go inside and you can tell me about it Let’s not stand in the rain. Because it could start pouring any minute now, you know.”
I feebly smiled. Because I already knew: when it rains in Costa Rica, it always pours.