Alone in a different way

"...When you travel, you find yourself
alone in a different way,
more attentive now
to the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
you abroad; and how what meets you
touches that part of the heart
that lies low at home..."
-- from 'For the Traveler' by John O'Donohue

In Costa Rica, the only camera and Internet-capable communication tool I had with me was my phone, and I had left my charger cord lying on the dining room table back home. After having a hearty breakfast with lots of fresh fruit and wonderful coffee chatting with a couple from France, I talked to the hotel clerk about getting a new cord. He pointed me to a nearby shopping area, where I walked with my phone, ability to say "Yo quiero"  ("I want/would like") and willingness to make gestures, draw pictures, or a make fool of myself. I found the small technology store where one of the employees spoke English and seemed to have the right cord. I bought it (about $15) and went back to the hotel. I thought I'd plug in, charge up and then set out to take photos, explore museums and the like. 

But sadly, the charger wasn't compatible. With my battery slowly waning, I shot a quick message to Judy, who would be arriving the next day, asking her to bring one along. Then I set out, thinking I might find another shop with the right cord as I explored the central city. 

Enjoying this tropical floral display, I sat here for breakfast and chatted with a couple from France

Enjoying this tropical floral display, I sat here for breakfast and chatted with a couple from France

I walked through plazas and markets, making my way toward the Museo de Jade (Jade Museum) to see artifacts and learn about the histories and cultures of the country. It is a very good museum, with five floors filled with pre-Columbian pottery and jade artifacts, as well as displays depicting aspects of ancient life. Birds, monkeys and lizards serve as common symbols. 

I wandered through the artisan market and made my way through more plazas to the downtown commercial district, where I found a phone accessory store and while no one here spoke English, we could understand one another when I pulled out my phone and pointed to the port for the charger cord. The clerk pulled out a cord, plugged it in, and it lit up screen! Great! Another $10 later and I thought i was set. I kept walking around, enjoying the architecture, the sun on my skin, the rhythms and tones of the city. 

One of the many pedestrian plazas, where there was a mixing of old and newer architecture.

One of the many pedestrian plazas, where there was a mixing of old and newer architecture.

A small man speaking perfect English approached me as I walked. His story changed -- he didn't understand the street numbering system, he couldn't find the Salvation Army, he was trying to get back to California. I gave him enough money to get lunch. I probably wouldn't have done it at home, and he likely was lying, but he was polite and I could afford to spare a few dollars. 

It was quite warm that day, and there was a frozen yogurt shop near my hotel. I got a cup of mango frozen yogurt topped with mango and pineapple chunks, strawberry slices and coconut flakes. It was delicious and refreshing. Then back to the hotel in hopes I could charge my phone. Sadly, it was another incompatible device. It was only about 4 p.m., so I thought I'd head back up to the shopping center and try one of the other stores. As I looked over various cords and appliances and didn't see what I needed, without sharing a spoken language in common, the clerk asked whether I'd tried the tiny phone counter inside the adjacent grocery store. I hadn't, so he he walked me right to it.

There was a young man who spoke perfect English, found exactly the right cord and insisted we plug it in and wait to see it charging my phone before I paid for it. I bought a bottle of wine and came back to the counter and gladly paid another $12 to have a cord that worked. 

Back at the hotel, I plugged in, sent quick messages to family, enjoyed a glass of wine and mapped out my dinner plans. 

I went to Cafe Mundo based in large part on the description in the Lonely Planet travel guide. It's a lovely place that one doesn't even notice during the day, because it is surrounded by a high wall. Once the gate is open you see lovely gardens and a large house with a wraparound porch. It has an extensive menu and the service was pretty good. My food however, was mediocre. I ordered patacones, fried plaintain patties served with black beans and guacamole, and stuffed mushrooms. The ambience was lovely, and I'd go back to sit with a drink, but not for the food. I regretted not trying to get into a tiny French restaurant in the same neighborhood, but chalked it up to experience. I walked another block to El Jardin for a drink, where I got to hear a couple of young English girls talk about their touring, including their surprise that Costa Rican men didn't leer as much as they expected, before calling it a night and heading back to my hotel.