We arrived in Costa Rica on March 11 and left the same day. This was for no reason other than that my sister was pregnant in New Jersey and we wanted to show up on her doorstep and surprise the baby out of her; everyone we had met so far in Costa Rica – the immigration officials who went to lunch while we tried to complete our paperwork to get into the country, the campground owner where we parked Wesley, the woman at the bus stop who told us what bus to board, and the taxi driver who charged us a small fee to take us from the bus station to the airport - was very nice.
After only a few days of watching my sister waddle around, we were rewarded with a healthy new niece/cousin and relieved and happy new parents who, I venture to say, will never set off with their child on a year-long overland trip to Central America as per information learned in the “Going Home with Baby” class offered by the hospital.
Coconut and J were excited to go home to see their friends and renew our financial support of the Trader Joe’s franchise. Whenever someone asked them if they were enjoying the trip they shrugged and said, “Sort of.” I’m sure they would have responded more enthusiastically if someone asked them if they liked mashed potatoes, which makes no sense because so far in seven plus months on the road we’ve seen monkeys and turtles, tried to surf, driven ATVs and mopeds through city streets, hacked tree limbs with a machete, exploded fireworks, jumped off waterfalls and bridges, logged countless hours in the ocean and on free WiFi, and met a dog with a rubber bone that is constantly present in its mouth except for when he places it between his front paws and stares at it intently until you take it and throw it. In my view, that’s better than mashed potatoes, even Hungry Jack's instant.
R was also excited about our Spring Break for reasons that remain unclear to me, but shared some of my trepidation and negative energy about the trip. The first reason I was not excited to be visiting home was that I was concerned that Coconut and J would remember too quickly the comfort of a fluffy bath towel and the sterility of ants living only outside and not be excited to get back to traveling with Wesley. This fear was soon realized when, on the first night of our return, J took his longest shower in seven months – two minutes – because the water was hot. However, as a counterpoint, the following day while at the mall shopping for certain items of clothing we have worn out through everyday use (i.e., if you think a pair of $36 sneakers from DSW could handle 210 days of continuous wear, you would be mistaken), Coconut picked up a set of deodorant balls that you put in stinky shoes and with a mischievous glint in her eye said, “Poppa, I just have to have this. Can we get it, please?”
I glean two things from this exchange; 1) Coconut has learned to use sarcasm as humor – which I am sure she picked up from me, and 2) although she may have rolled her eyes while listening (another thing she picked up from me) to R and me rant against rampant American consumerism, she has heard our credo.
The second reason I was not excited to come home was that I could not think of one thing that I missed about the U.S. Now, of course, this does not include my friends and family, who I was excited and happy to see, but in the 21st century even a technological brachiosaurus like me can’t miss my friends and family in the same way as I could in say, 1990, when I was studying abroad and the only way to stay in touch was to write a letter to my friend asking him to let me know if my girlfriend was cheating on me.
I mean, you really have to have spent some time out of the U.S. to understand what it is about the U.S. that there is to miss. Did I miss traffic lights? Please. In seven months of driving I’ve seen only three and according to the Acapulco police, I’ve run them all. Did I miss strip malls? No. In Central America we have no need of CVS. It’s possible to get everything one could possibly need – a bag of oranges, a plastic bag of cold coconut water, and a book of crossword puzzles – from a guy standing on the corner. Did I miss pizza? A little, but not really. Yeah, a New York style pizza is better in New Jersey than it is in Antigua, Guatemala, but after two days of eating the stuff I had more stomach trouble than at any other point during the trip. I will encourage my sister to splurge for the two-ply toilet paper when I visit next.
So, since I wasn’t needed to drive my family safely from here to there, my life had little meaning. Then, one afternoon as I was shuffling around my sister’s house in my bathrobe and slippers feeling (in the words of Richard Brautigan) like a turd stapled to a garbage can lid, my eyes lit upon her bar and two bottles in particular. Vodka + Kahlua = White Russian.