Entertaining the locals

Monday 16 January

My feet are tickled awake by a new travel companion, who reminds me that we leave in an hour.  I have developed a strict efficiency when it comes to getting packed, showered and ready to leave.  Within minutes, I’m standing by the door demanding everyone else hurry up.

After saying goodbyes to Miguel, who has opted to stay close to his people, we pile out the door and head for the bus station.  Travel days are never much fun, but Lotte and Sophie keep my spirits high.  This is to continue in spite of the potentially soul destroying news that we’ve missed the first bus, and we need to wait two hours.  Regardless my protests, soon we’re singing to the whole station, a hooded top on the floor and a few coins tempting people to tip us.  Aided by the very harmonious and beautiful voices of the two girls, we actually manage to make a few colones.  Apart from this, the rounds of applause and the smiles on the faces of people otherwise bored at the bus stop make it a very worthwhile couple of hours.  Top top it all, we give all our winnings to a local man who needs health care support.  I feel morally and spiritually satisfied as I sink into the coaches seat.  This is what travel is all about.
And travel we do, for what seems like an age.  Normally I wouldn’t mind this, but as soon as the bus pulled away from the station, I needed the loo.  For three hours I try not to think of waterfalls.  Certainly not helped by the view of the Caribbean sea.

We eventually pull into Puerto Viejoand stumble around looking for a suitable hostel.  I’m not particularly happy with the situation, as I feel I’ve just moved to another San Juan Del Sur.  I’m not out late, there is nothing of note to write about, and I make the conscious decision to move on as quickly as possible.

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Feed me

Sunday 15 January

It is with a no shame that I tell you I wake up at seven pm.  This is after vaguely remembering Miguel laughing at me passed out fully clothed, various comments from a new intake of backpackers asking if I was alright, and throwing five bucks at a staff member to stay one more night.

Around ten I manage a Burger King.

I stay awake until four playing chess.

It was a truly wonderful day, filled with sights, sounds and memorable experiences.  I leave San Jose tomorrow.

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Saturday 14 January

There is a song by Damien Rice that goes something like this:

“We might kiss when we are alone
When nobody’s watching, I might take you home.

We might make out, when nobody’s there
It’s not that we’re scared, it’s just that it’s delicate.”

That’s pretty much how I feel about kissing a girl.  Or sex and relationships in general.  I’ve never really been one for Public Displays of Affection, or sucking someones face in the middle of a dance floor for all to see and comment on.  It’s not to say I’ve not done it, it’s just that…well…it’s delicate.  Not so much in a gay bar in San Jose.

He follows me everywhere.  Probably something to do with the church he belongs to…After arriving at the hostel last night I became aware of a skin headed presence lurking over my shoulder as I entered my passport details.  This could have gone a couple of ways, but in the end I suppose I was quite thankful that it was my friend Miguel, who just happened to have arrived at around the same time.  I just can’t get away from him.

After a few beers the night previous, a relaxed day was in order, but it feels strange to be in a big city.  I’ve tread slightly off the gringo trail here, as nobody stays very long in the capital.  It’s just used predominately as a stop off for transfers and catching flights.  We’re pretty much the only white people walking the streets, which actually feels pretty good.  I lose myself in the relative normality of shopping and try to find a nose trimmer and hair straighteners.

Yes you read that correctly.  I’ve got a little garden up both nostrils, and for those that don’t know, I iron my hair.  The cat is out of the bag.  I’m a big poof.  It’s a little too expensive here anyway so I’ll wait for Panama City.  I’d kill for some travel GHD’s.  Or Cloud 9’s.  I’ve heard they’re the new kid on the block, aiming to usurp the GHD crown.
I need to get out more.

Which coincidentally enough I do this evening.  We take a taxi to Club OH, San Jose.  Which, also coincidentally enough happens to be a gay bar.  Miguel was quite sick of wing-maning me at The Black Whale in San Juan Del Sur, so now I have to partner him to the rainbow scene in Costa Rica.  By all accounts, and judging by the amount of openly gay men in the club, this country is certainly the most liberal and tolerant in all of Central America.  I guess it fits well with their “Pura Vida” slogan; Pure Life.  It’s interesting the way countries force people across borders.  Costa Rica is the most expensive country in Central America, yet, by contrast, neighbouring Nicaragua is pretty much anti-gay.  It’s a shame for the gay community at large, and all those dollars they could be spending in more tolerant, cheaper nations.

Now I’ve had some top nights at gay bars back home.  I attend such establishments for a number of (mostly selfish) reasons.  Not only do I have a lot of gay friends, a welcome fall out from training as an actor, I also enjoy having my ego boosted on nights out.  Straight women simply don’t chat me up, or rarely give me a compliment.  I can’t be in a gay club for more than a few minutes before someone has pinched my arse, or told me they think I’m beautiful.  Most guys wouldn’t like this at all; but I love it.  I politely tell them I’m straight, and even their disappointed face makes me walk on air.  It’s flattery.  And it will get you everywhe…well…maybe not everywhere in this case.  I’ll just leave it at flattery.
The other reason I enjoy such nights out, is for the women.  There are always plenty of attractive women tagging along for the ride, tired of the creepy advances from men in straight bars.  They join their gay friends because there is no animosity, no idiots breathing in their face demanding their clothes off, and no filthy ass grinding.  Well maybe still the last one, but it’s just being gay friendly, and because they know the guy isn’t after sex.

Finally, at the end of the night, these women want a straight man who is comfortable in his sexuality enough to be there in the first place.  Let’s do the maths.  In San Juan Del Sur for example, I was one of maybe…lets say…forty straight guys in the bar, compared to perhaps fifteen girls.  Clearly not good odds.  In the gay bar, there are easily well over one hundred gay men, and probably about the same amount of women as the straight bar.  Lets say there’s twenty here for arguments sake.  Yet suddenly I’m one of only a handful of eligible straight men.  A significant improvement.  Lord help me if the rest of the heterosexual population ever figured this out.
Here however, I’m in new territory.  It takes me a while to loosen up, and realise that these bars are the same all over the world.  Nobody is going to force themselves on you if you decline their advances.  You don’t need ‘bums against the wall’.  It’s the same as it is back home; and it’s wonderful.  The club is huge, with a free bar until one am.  For some reason, emblazoned across the far wall in large, shiny, silver, solid letters; is the name; ‘Charlie’.  I’ve no idea why, or what this means.

We’re treated to a really bad drag show half way through the night.  I almost fell for the girl that was second up, before I realised she was a man.  I’m going to have to be really careful in Bangkok.

Long story short it was one of the best nights out I’ve had…probably this year.  Probably in the past couple of years.  Not only did I enjoy sharing that with my friend, it just did exactly everything it said on the tin.  If only every bar was a gay bar.  If only I was the last straight guy on earth.  If only I went to bed earlier than ten am.  I keep saying it, but I’ll never learn.  Yet so long as nights out are as good as this one, I hope I never do
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An attraction to strings

Friday 13 January

A wonderful breakfast of fruit and pancakes cannot settle that feeling of dread in the depths of my stomach.  I’ve booked a zip lining session in the rain forest canopies, but at this point in time I am still unsure if I will go through with it.  I guess I’ll find out when I’m standing at the top of a platform, crying to be taken down.

I start slowly, walking the two hour trail over the sky bridges.  I wish my pictures could do justice to the grandeur of the spectacle.  Plants and trees I have never seen in my life tower up and around me as I walk in the air.  It’s a remarkable sight, and a wonderful way to start my day.  Yet gnawing at the back of my mind and perhaps keeping me from really enjoying the sights, is whether or not I will chuck myself off a ridiculously high platform, with only a harness between me and a 3,500ft fall.  On Friday the 13th.  I’m making excuses already  I really want to spot a monkey.  Perhaps that will take the stress away.
What isn’t taking the stress away is the rustling sounds coming from the undergrowth.  I’m walking alone, my pace taking me beyond dawdling, snap happy tourists.  Suddenly I’m in a rain forest.  A rain forest alive with sounds, unfamiliar noises and dangerous looking plants.  My mind outruns itself.  I envisage being attacked by a swarm of killer insects, or turning to see a bushmaster sssslithering on my shoulder.  With a lump in my throat, I realise I have no idea what to do if I see anything doesn’t look like a cow.  I wish I had my worst case scenario survival guide.  All I can remember from that little stocking filler is you need to clench your arse closed if you jump from a great height into a river.  Not very useful if I’m to be gored by a leopard.

After being a little disappointed in failing to spot any creatures of note, save something that looked like a squirrel, I head into the hummingbird garden.  I cannot tell you how exhilarating it feels to have these beautiful little birds whipping around your head, beating the air with seemingly invisible wings.  I discover I don’t need to pay $40 to confirm I already know I’m terrified of heights, and happily spend over two hours trying to get the perfect photograph; which I never actually achieve because the little bastards won’t stay still.

The one o’clock shuttle whisks me back into town, in time to catch my bus to San Jose.  As I’m standing strumming a few chords on my guitar to pass the time, a very pretty young lady asks if I’m traveling alone.  We fall into conversation as if we were old friends, and the next four hours of travel go by pleasantly.  We talk openly about relationships, past, present and possibly future.  She drives the conversation, and I can’t help but smile in having her company to take the edge off the journey.  I play my guitar to sooth a crying child.  We tell jokes and find common ground.  As I doze and toy with the option of sleep, she flicks on her ipod;

“If you need anything just pull my earphones out…”

In a flash, the next moment has been and gone.  My imagination films the next interaction, as I remove her earphones, whisper that I do need something, and give her a passionate kiss.  At least that’s what I wanted to happen; if I didn’t have two day bum fluff, cashew nut breath and a cold sore.  Still, it played out nice in my head.

“Perhaps you’re not going to find the one at the end of a bar” she comments, shortly before we part, with a warm hug and a smile.  I know she’s right.  Perhaps I’ll find her playing my guitar while waiting at a bus stop.

Somewhere around the world.

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Endless possibilities

Thursday 12 January

This is more like it.  On the move with pace and gusto.  Sweating in the mid morning sun, striding for the bus station.  I’m going to be meeting two friends from Norway, and along with my Swedish companion Jacob, we shall be heading down to Monteverde and into the cloud forest.  As is typical with me however, it doesn’t go all to plan, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Jacob and the two girls decide to head straight to Bocas, which is a pretty mammoth journey in itself.  Suddenly I’m torn between staying with friends, or striking out properly on my own.  Over the course of the next hour I find myself alone at the terminal, and just managing to board a bus in time with all my gear, I feel exonerated that I stuck to my guns and decided to travel by myself.  The partying can wait a few more days; I’ve heard Monteverde is beautiful.

So I settle into a seat when one finally becomes available, and I watch the trees play with the sunlight on my face.  The windows are wide open, curtains flapping and hair flying in the needed breeze, and for the first time in as long as I can remember; everything is alright with the world.  Leaving people behind and traveling on my own is something I should have tried a long time ago.  I have stepped away from the handrail, and it feels pretty damn good.

The journey to Monteverde is punctuated with beauty.  The scenery is breathtakingly green.  When I say green, I mean GREEN.  The hills are carpeted with lush foliage, which is highlighted by a brilliant blue sky.  The bus winds up through mountain roads, snaking its way to our destination.  As much as I should behold the view from my window, sleep overtakes me, ably assisted by the rumble of the diesel engine.

I awake twisting down into Monteverde and eventually pulling in to the curbside.  The town is small, barely a triangle of buildings, but the area spans for many acres, dense with rain forest, thriving with adventure.  Tomorrow I will attempt to face my fear of heights by zip lining through the jungle canopies, but today and for now, I am content to feel totally free.

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Thursday 12 January

It’s another day of learning Spanish, new songs on the guitar and practicing chess.  I’m getting progressively worse at all three.

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