The border crossing from Nicaragua had one perilous moment. Unlike any of its neighbors to the North, this country requires foreigners to show their onward bus or plane tickets at the entrance to prove they aren’t going to stick around too long. The visa guy gave me a long look up and down and ten seconds of scrutinizing eye contact when I told him my mode of travel. He flipped through the pages of my passport a second time, and the smudged ink of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras testified for me that I was as crazy as I claimed to be — but none of those stamps was so aglow with the sweetness of vindication as the one he finally added with a dull thud. I had gotten this chilly authority figure to believe I could cross his country.
From the moment I entered Costa Rica, I could see the extra money in everything. It’s hard to explain or offer concrete examples. The towns and cities, sure, are verifiably devoid of mud huts or clapboard shacks or unfinished cinderblock skeletons; the buildings tend to have more than one story, and finishing touches, and the shop windows are full of fancy things unknown to Nicaraguan commerce. But somehow you can feel the Rica in Costa Rica even when you’re alone on the road, far from any town or truck stop. Even the pure towering jungle looks somehow laden with money. Maybe I can’t see that jungle without the subliminal knowledge that in a poorer country it would long ago have been made into somebody’s trash-strewn front yard and meager subsistence. (My favorite philosopher, Baudrillard, would have much to say about this.)
Now I’m sitting out a while, waiting on a package, in a ten dollar surfer hostel in the otherwise tremendously expensive beach town of Jaco. I’ve spent plenty of time in tourist bubbles, but this is on another level. It feels like a place where Americans who are already on vacation in Costa Rica go to take vacations from their vacations. The sunset over the ocean looks like something that was airbrushed in the early 90s; the colors are too bright, the cloud wisps too soft and carefully placed. I sit on the beach and watch fat drops of sweat swell and fall perpetually from the undersides of my arms while I drink my melted ice cream and idly ponder the hard questions of my existence, and my searing hatred of shipping bureaucracy.