By the summer of 2006, I had caught the disease, if one could call it that. I didn’t know there was a term for it… But wanderlust I suppose some say. I have my Delta employed brothers in part to thank for this: they gave me the ability to hop on a flight to virtually anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice on a standby seat. There’s something indescribably romantic and adventurous about putting your finger a spot on the globe on a Friday night and being there on Saturday afternoon – all the while not knowing how you’ll get there, what connections you may make, where you’ll leave from or even if you’ll get there (and all this basically for free). But for 4 years that’s how I was able to travel. If there ever was truth to the saying “the world is your oyster”, this is how I felt for this happy and carefree period of life. Not saying that this didn’t have its drawbacks: checking and rechecking seat availabilities online, anxiously pacing back and forth as a flight boarded and watching as my name slowly crept to the top of the standby list, making the call to leave a friend behind in a foreign city because only one seat remained, driving three hours to the second closet airport after finding your flight booked up…. Just a few of the joys of being a standby flier. But when it worked… boy did it work. Nothing’s quite like having your ticket printed at the loading gate for a long haul international flight and seeing it say “2A”… those are the seats that the airlines make you shuffle by on your way in just to wish you had a better life. That was my life if ever so shortly…maybe it has cost me in the long run, as now I feel all the more deprived returning to normal routine of coach flying with the other 98%… but better to have loved and lost right?
#4: Costa Rica
a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about
But I digress… in the summer of ’06, my bags were packed for Costa Rica. No tour group, no parents, no guidebooks, just a rough idea in our heads and a few tickets to San Jose. Costa Rica got into the tourist game before much of Latin America, and as a result, is now far ahead. Most hotels in San Jose can arrange to have you picked up in the morning and taken away to do rafting, climbing a volcano, ziplining, or any other outdoorsy thing you could imagine. Roads are pretty good, flights around the country are easy and cheap, and parks are well maintained. If you can risk a little rain, everything is dirt cheap in the rainy season too. My two brothers and I booked the honeymoon suite at a 4 star hotel overlooking the pacific in Quepos for what was probably around 100 bucks a night. Other than having a bathroom which was completely open to the rest of the room (which to me does not seem romantic under any scenario), it was fantastic. The rain never came and we enjoyed many sunny days drinking cafe milagro, fresh squeezed juices, and passing time in a bar that was in the fuselage of a crashed US cargo plane (maybe I should have objected to this one on nationalistic grounds… But how often do you get a chance to do that?).
I started with a quick story of how great standby flying could be, so I’ll end with a story of how horrible it can be. At this time, Delta had two flights out of Costa Rica: San Jose (the capital) and Liberia, a non-descript town in the northwest corner of the country that barely makes it into guidebooks it is so uninteresting. But flights are easier to catch here as no one seems to be using the airport. So off to Liberia it was: a nice an easy 3 PM flight, with the only catch being it was a 9 hour bus ride away. So we crammed into the back of a bus at 4 in the morning which stopped at every little town along the way, and with a driver who was not afraid to grab smoke breaks by the side of the road while the whole bus got to sit patiently and watch. We checked our watches over and over as the plan seemed to unravel. A transfer in Puntarenas and another few smoke breaks later, we finally pulled into Libera shortly after 2, grabbed a cab to the airport, and rushed to check in as we watched our plane (the only one at the airport) waiting on the Tarmac. After this entire day long rat race across half of Costa Rica, we were politely informed that the gates had closed and that we’d have to catch tomorrow’s flight. Exhausted and disappointed, we headed back into Liberia, a town with little charm and was memorable only insomuch as there was a national bike competition going on that weekend meaning every decent hotel was booked. We settled into a room with no window, no hot water, and no AC and watched the clock as the hours went by while we waited for the next day’s flight. I wish I could say that I enjoyed my stay in Liberia, but the events which brought me there and reasons I stayed overnight here amounted to me pretty much loathing the place. Costa Rica was definitely a trip of a lifetime… But Liberia… Well, they have a KFC.