Last Friday a great thing happened to me. I got lost.
After work Friday afternoon, I stayed true to my typical routine and took the bus home from work, changed out of my work clothes, and relaxed a little bit at my host family’s house.
About mid-afternoon, I decided to embark on a cultural experience, and see what the nearby shopping mall was like. I’d been told it was one of the biggest malls in Costa Rica, so I figured it would be worth a look to see how the commercial monstrosities of this country stack up against Southpoint or Crabtree Valley Mall, my Triangle favorites. I knew exactly how to get there by bus, but I figured it was a beautiful afternoon to get to know the city by foot, I needed to shed off a few extra servings of rice and beans from the night before, and most of all, I could save myself the $0.50 bus fare.
So I embarked on a seemingly easy trip, assuring my host mom I would be back by dinner. I took a shortcut through the campus of nearby Universidad de Costa Rica, which dumped me out onto the main drag of San Pedro. I felt pretty confident of how to get there at that point, but 15 minutes and a few near collisions later, I wasn’t so sure.
Any directionally prideful reader (likely male) will sympathize with me when I describe the feeling of thinking, “I’m sure I’ll know where I am if I just go around one more corner” or “Oh, maybe I can cut through here, and then I’ll find it.” Such positive thinking continued on to no avail for quite a bit longer. About an hour before sunset, as I overlooked a ravine with a great view of a typical wall-to-wall Costa Rican neighborhood (space between houses is much less typical here) I realized that I wasn’t making it to the mall that afternoon.
I held a little disappointment for missing out on a J Crew rendezvous, but I figured the afternoon wasn’t lost despite the fact I was. I headed back the way I came so as not to be trapped by dusk and to make it back for dinner. Yet I still didn’t rush past where I was walking. I took time to notice the lime trees I was past, and thought about how strange it was that the locals here call a lemon and a lime the same thing (limón). I saw streams filled with household trash, in stark contrast to Costa Rica’s reputation for being one ofthe world’s most environmentally conscious countries. I passed houses, apartments, restaurants, and each one taught me something new about life down here.
But undoubtedly my favorite part was the shortcut I took through the back of a ritzy neighborhood. I stumbled into an abandoned parking lot that seemed to accommodate a defunct and unrecognizable building, dilapidated by years of disuse. The hallmarks of any good abandoned lot were there: grass, roots, and weather breaking up the asphalt and graffiti of every color with messages you’d prefer not to show your grandma (don’t worry Mimi & Honey, I’ll tell you). As took in the scenery, one tree caught my eye.
I will say that I’ve claimed to be an orchardist fewer times than I’ve claimed to be a doctor, but a quick smell test told me it was an orange tree. I immediately grabbed a stick off the ground, and knocked down the highest and biggest orange off the tree. It wasn’t ripe but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. I grabbed a few more and took a seat to enjoy my snack. Clearly it had grown from when someone threw away a seed years before, possibly before the lot closed up. I thought about brainstorming philosophic analogies about an orange tree growing up in this abandoned lot from the trash of years before, but I put my energy into a worthier cause- enjoying the orange. Without a knife on me, I used a piece of glass off the ground to cut open the peel, and finished it off quickly. It was sour, sweet, and delicious, a good analogy to my trip so far in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I’ve had sweet moments, sour moments, and a delicious trip.
I got lost, and ended up finding what I was looking for.