Going Home: The Long Road Leaving Mastatal
The journey starts with a 5am wake up; just as the sunlight is starting to spread through the jungle. I take a couple deep breaths as I admire the beautiful place that I am in.I take a last look around, heave my heavy backpack on, and head down to make a cup of coffee before embarking on what will be a 36+ hour adventure back "home." I have done this journey multiple times now, from California to Costa Rica and back and forth, and each time presents new challenges and exhausting travel times.
Every time I go from one place to the other I am overwhelmed with culture shock, but the shock is always greater in my trips back to the States. While leaving the small, tranquil, jungle town of Mastatal and landing in the big, bustling, concrete jungle of Los Angeles I am caught off guard by what is happening in the “real world.”
Fortunately, I do not and have never had to live in a city, especially not one as large as Los Angeles. I grew up in the small mountain town of Bishop, CA; population 4,000. For college I moved to what I considered the city of Durango, CO; population 20,000. Then I moved to Mastatal; population 100. You could say I don’t have much city or masses-of-people experience, and this probably factors into my feelings of shock when I leave the Ranch and get dropped into one of the biggest cities in the world.
After I chug down a delicious cup of local coffee, something I know I won’t enjoy again till I return, I head out to wait for the only bus out of town. The bus arrives and I awkwardly manage to load my bag on, which always seems to be a feat when traveling. So it begins; the first of many hours sitting, waiting, and fidgeting. If any of you have traveled to the Ranch you may feel the same way, but I think the bus ride is much easier on the way out then the way in. Better as the first leg of your journey than the last,.still with a fresh traveling bum.
I enjoy the ride through the jungle, on windy, bumpy, dirt roads, admiring the unique beauty of this place. We arrive in Puriscal and I head straight to get some chicharones. These yummy hunks of meat, an avocado, and bread have become my go to traveling food to fuel me through. I take my time because my flight doesn’t leave for hours and I would rather wander around the streets then wait in the airport.Still there aren’t many exciting activities to keep me in Puriscal so I load onto the next bus to San Jose.
The whole trip gradually eases me into civilization, each stop with an increasing population. The bus stops in the middle of San Jose, I get off onto the busy streets. I have done this journey many times but I have never had to find the next bus station to the airport by myself, so this will be the interesting part. As anxiety starts to come up with the increase of people and hustle, and every other person in a car is yelling “taxi, taxi!” I inhale, exhale, tighten my backpack straps, and start walking in the direction I think is to the next bus station.
After multiple blocks I start to think I may have missed a turn.I spot a group of police officers chatting on the corner and shyly approach to ask for directions. They all jump eagerly on the opportunity to practice their English on this lost, white girl.
I make it to the airport. The Costa Rican airport is so small that everything moves smoothly.This is where I will wait for eight hours before my plane leaves. I find a nice private corner, lay out my yoga mat and start stretching. I’m the wandering, hippy, dirty, traveler that doesn’t mind making herself comfortable and if that means doing some odd yoga moves in the airport then so be it.
On my flight to LAX I sit next to a Costa Rican man that is moving to Alaska to be with his family. I wish him good luck and warn that he better buy a coat! I arrive in LAX, wait in the two hour immigration line, get on the airport shuttle to the opposite side of the airport, find my next gate, find another private corner, and lay out my yoga mat in hopes to get some sleep. By this time it is at least midnight and there is hardly anyone in the airport.
It turns out not many people sleep in the airport; except for those too cheap to get a room. With the lack of body heat the airport feels like a walk in freezer, and this is not just because I am use to the heat of the tropics. I thought I brought enough warm clothes to bare the cold airports, but I can barely feel my toes so I try wrapping myself in my yoga mat. At this point I do look like a homeless person camping in the airport. The late hours of the night are also the time that all the construction and cleaning gets done in the airport, so between the jackhammers, vacuums, and freezing temperatures I don’t get much rest.
The early morning hours come, people slowly start trickling back into the airport. I continue to wait for my flight to Mammoth, the town an hour away from my home where I will get picked up by my parents. I have had this flight canceled on me multiple times due to not enough passengers, so I worry until I'm on the flight, if it will take off or not. If this flight doesn’t run that means one of my parents will need to drive the five hours to LAX to pick me up. That for lack of a better word, sucks. Finally, the time has arrived for the last leg of my trip; I board the Mammoth flight, an hour long beautiful trip over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I land. My dad is there to pick me up and we drive home. It has been at least 35 hours now since I left Mastatal; I am exhausted.
I am in a totally different place now. It always amazes me how one day you can be living in the tropics and the next you are in the high desert mountains. I went from a landscape of complete green, to one of different shades of browns and speckles of green. On the drive home my dad comments “it’s been raining a lot, things are looking really green here.” Ha! I think, a lot of rain, really green, you should see the jungle.
Usually my transition back into life in the States is cushioned by the comfort of being in Bishop, a town so small you almost know everyone. But unknowingly, I arrive back home during memorial day weekend. Which in Bishop is when the town holds its annual Mule Days event, a well known event that attracts 20,000+ people and their 20,000+ mules. All flooding into Bishop for a week of mule fun! It is as ridiculous as it sounds. Not having been to Mule Days in many years, a long time friend and I decide why not? So we put on the good ol’ blue jeans, cowboy boots, and plaid shirts and go down to watch the rodeo! I feel like I have walked into a costume party, what happened to the raggedy t-shirts, sweaty shorts, and old crocs of the jungle? I ain’t in Mastatal no more!
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