The intrepid band of explorers and I are in Liberia, Costa Rica.
Our assignment for the day was to explore the city and compare the actual layout with a previously developed city structure model. Basically this just means walk around and look at stuff. My walking buddy and I decided we were going to go south, away from the main part of the city. We walked only for a little while before we saw a pet store that we decided we HAD to check out. Wow. I’ve been to zoos and farms, but this pet shop takes the cake, easy. Something about the presence of many birds and small animals in a hot, unventilated room makes for a smell that hits you like a punch in the face.
We walked past old houses that had been converted into hotels or cafés, past nice gated houses with family names on them, until we came to an old rickety wooden bridge. We could see by looking across the bridge that the roads were not paved and the buildings looked a little rougher. I had that old fashion urge for exploration, so my partner and I walked across the bridge, going where no gringo has gone before. We started to see much different houses than we had seen in the city, small houses with tin roofs, rusty fences with broken gates. It was strange, but even in this lower socioeconomic area, I felt safe, I did not feel that people were going to hurt me.
We went into a little abestecedor, which is like a little convenience store, usually run by the family who lives in the house behind it. In this little shop I had my first real, successful albeit short conversation with the store owner, who I’m sure was surprised to see someone like me in there.
I don’t know why, but before that moment I hadn’t felt any different being in Costa Rica, like there was some mental block preventing me from feeling that sense of being in a foreign place. I don’t know why this was, maybe the presence of so many American things in La Fortuna and the Soltis Center. But at that moment, leaving that little abestecedor, my brain finally accepted that I was in a new place with a different culture, and I loved the feeling. Such a feeling of accomplishment – that I stepped off the beaten path and made an effort to see the way people really live.
We continued to walk around this little neighborhood, passing by even worse houses. Roofs, walls, fences – all built out of corrugated metal. Even so, a little girl who was playing outside her little shack looked up at me with the biggest smile I’ve seen since I’ve been in Costa Rica and waved. I tell you, I melted on the inside. It was one of those moments that make you look at your own life, at your own blessings and say “don’t you ever take those for granted”.
We continued back toward the middle of the city and crossed back over the river. Immediately after the river we found ourselves in an interesting situation. A man was sitting outside of his house on bench, and as we passed he waved at us and greeted us. His house was covered in signs of all different kinds – Spanish, English, Chinese, you name it. We decided we were going to go in there too. We crossed the street and he shook our hands and greeted us again and we walked in the door. Oh my goodness, I just straight up walked into this man’s house. That’s immediately what I thought. I could see straight into his living room. It turned out, we learned through a moment of sorting out his quick Spanish-English mix that it was his personal museum on the front of his house that we had walked in to. Phew. He had lots of strange pots and what not, things you’d find at a pioneer museum. We took pictures with him in his little sombrero and left, bewildered at what had just happened.
By time we had finished laughing, we were back at the hotel ready to tell everybody about our trip. Good day indeed.