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Travels in Panama and Costa Rica
July 2007

Panama
Costa Rica

Zac and I have had more than our fair share of travels in foreign countries, but this trip seemed different.  It was the first time that it really felt like a vacation in the traditional sense—an escape from the humdrum routine of life as working adults (if Zac’s grad school activities and my perpetual existence in high school can even qualify).  Our past trips were kind of like vacations from vacations—like taking a break from our easy life in China and going to Hong Kong or South Korea for a week.  The thrills of traveling abroad were muted because we were living abroad, and so many of the experiences of traveling to foreign countries, such as relying solely on public transportation and tasting weird food, we were already experiencing on a daily basis.

But this trip was different.  We had resided solely in the United States for a year before once again heading Out There.  The impetus for the trip was that Shanu, my best friend, had been working in a Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer and was in need of a vacation from her vacation, so we decided to meet in Panama City and travel up to Costa Rica together.  The added benefit was that she was now fluent in Spanish and would be our translator.  Zac and I were also excited because it was going to be the first time in all our travels that we even stood a chance with the local language, having studied Spanish in school. 

Once we’re Out There, it is so easy to forget about normal life.  All the other Americans we meet are also traveling, and so it is convenient to forget that it is a life of privilege that allows us to traipse about the world as if it was our backyard.  It seems normal.  And due to its close proximity to the U.S. and the ease of the language, Central America is indeed America’s backyard.  It’s crawling with expatriates, college students, mission groups, Peace Corps Volunteers, and of course busloads of tourists. 

We met our first group at the San Jose airport, where two older couples, accompanied by numerous large boxes, were waiting for the same hotel shuttle as us.  We asked if they were a film crew of some sort, because no normal traveler would come with so many boxes.  No, they said, the boxes were filled with sailboat parts.  They hailed from Texas and now seemed to live on a sailboat in the Caribbean.  Such encounters can warp your mind.  Why take only a two-week vacation?  Why not take a permanent one, with only occasional forays back to the motherland for sailboat parts?  Their life of luxury was quickly taxed though, as an entrepreneuring local charged them $5 to transport their boxes twenty feet from inside the door to outside on the sidewalk.  The older gentleman muttered about that $5 rip-off while we waited for the hotel shuttle (“I didn’t even ask him to carry the boxes! And then he asked for five dollars!”).  I had no sympathy.  I mean, come on, you’re living on a sailboat in the Caribbean!   

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