Happy Costa Rica Birthday

Sometimes the mysterious workings of the universe are perfectly aligned in your favor. Like that time I got to spend my birthday in Costa Rica. Sure, I was attending a workshop rather than on vacation, and I missed being with my family, but I suppose if had been able to choose anywhere to go on a birthday getaway, San Jose would have been high on the list.

We stayed at a hotel tucked away in the suburbs of the city, with large gardens and a great view of the mountains from my window. In a fit of birthday wellness (which has since passed, don’t worry), I spent most mornings at the gym or playing tennis with colleagues in the gorgeous morning sun.

During the week, we took a field trip to an agropastoralism pilot site. I brought along a film crew, hoping to capture some great footage of how farmers are helping regrow forests on their fields.

Ah, naïveté. As it turns out, agropastoralism, at least according to that site’s manager, really just involves a lot of cow poop. So we got a lot of great footage of excrement treatment pools, bio-gas collectors, and plain old manure. Many a #ShitPile #OscarSelfie was taken that day!

We also enjoyed a few nights out on the town. One began in a hard metal bar named ‘Steppenwolf’, or rather, whatever ‘Steppenwolf’ is in Spanish, which I can’t remember anymore, and ended in a beer hall where the servers kept trying to give the 1L beers I was ordering to the men at the table instead of me. I was offended. Also, I drank all those dudes under the table.

Another evening involved a team dinner at a poor, unsuspecting local establishment. They might have had an inkling when we booked a table for 25, but I don’t think they were expecting us to discover these crazy ‘Beergaritas’ on the menu and proceed to order about 20 of them. What’s a beergarita? Well, it’s a fluorescent blue alcohol slushie with an open Corona bottle somehow added to the liquid upside down and then garnished with a stick or two of fruity decorations. It sounds better than it is. Actually, it doesn’t even sound very good. But we ordered a bunch of them.

The chartered bus on the way home turned into a drunken karaoke singalong to such classics as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’, and we spent the rest of the evening drinking a few clandestine bottles of rum out in the parking lot. I don’t think we can ever go back to that hotel.

When the hard week of work was over, I had a single day to try and pack in some sightseeing outside the city. There are a number of beautiful places around San Jose, and if you have enough time, you could visit national parks, beaches, volcanoes, wildlife reserves, and more. Some lovely work friends agreed to take me on a trip to one of the nearest volcano parks, to see some craters and lagoons up on the summit.

The drive was about an hour, passing through coffee plantations and fields of berries and bananas as we spiraled toward the top of the volcano. We looked down and saw the city stretching out below, ringed by distant mountains, imagining the way down to the ocean over the other side.

The crater park was extraordinary. As we walked toward the peak, the ground opened up into a huge pool that was changing color from blue to opaque white with the passing clouds overhead. The rocks told a story of violent geology, streaked with red and brown, covered with dark, ashy soil climbing up the sides. The forest around the crater’s edge was dark and moist, swallowing us from above like a knitted roof.

And it was windy. And cold. We could barely hold onto our coats and bags as the wind and fog whipped past us. But we watched the morning mist roll through at an accelerated speed, like the world was on fast forward.

There was no way to cap off such an amazing place. So we drove away, and I hopped onto a plane and flew off into the night. Happy birthday to me! I’m now accepting suggestions for next year.