I could have planned the trip better, I admit that. Vivian and I were trying to get from Arenal, Costa Rica, to the small beach town of Samara, on the Pacific Coast. I hadn't arranged transportation beforehand and, not wanting to travel on a crowded bus, we found a ride from a friend of a friend of a hotel clerk. We had all underestimated the length of the trip, and we weren't exactly sure how to get there, so, after driving for most of the day and well into the pitch black jungle night, over untrustworthy roads in his low-slung red Mazda, the driver decided he had gone as far as our money would take him. We weren't getting to Samara (beautiful, shining Samara, a town of wood and tile threaded through the forest at the edge of a white beach). That day, we got only as far as Tamarindo.
The first thing I noticed about Tamarindo was the traffic. After hours of traveling deserted roads, I found it jarring to almost instantaneously be caught in traffic upon entering the city. It was dark; light from clubs and restraunts served in lieu of streetlights to illuminate the bumper-to-bumper stream of cars that clogged the muddy and unpaved roads.
We were overwhelmed with signs for bars, hotels, hostels. Hostels sounded good. Vivien and I were craning our necks in the back seat, reading the signs to each other. We didn't have anything to inform a decision, so we were just looking for something that seemed cheap, pleasant and away from the traffic. As the car wandered on, the crowds on the sidewalks grew thicker and noisier. We started hearing the tell-tale "Whooooooohs!" of drunk college kids.
Vi spotted a sign for a hostel. Something about gatos, with a smiling gato face on it. With nothing else to go on, that settled it. We both liked cats.
"Uh, there. We're going there."
We followed the sign from the main strip onto a a rutted and clogged side road. We soon found the place and to our relief it seemed cute. Quiet. Off the road. We have a winner. We got out, thanked the driver profusely, and found the concierge shack. After being let into our small and spartan room, we both flopped onto the bed and rested for about five minutes in silence.
"I'm hungry,” I said.
We were a good deal away from the main boulevard, and the hostel didn't have any food. It was time for a hike back up the muddy, lightless road. I offered to go it alone, but Vi wouldn't hear it. The worst part about walking through mud in the dark is that you can't tell the thick, smashed-in mud that can support your weight from the more freshly stirred-up mud that sucks your feet down. Every so often a car would pass and the headlights would illuminate the puddles of water ahead of us; we'd memorize the patterns and placement of the stagnant pools before the car would pass and plunge us back into mucky darkness. Stumbling along with Vi I found myself thinking ridiculous things, things I'd never thought I'd think, like "Why couldn't we just stay in one of those resorts you see on TV" and "Let's just call a cab, I don't care what it costs" but if she was kind enough to not vocalize what I'm sure she was thinking, then I too could keep my mouth shut.
Twenty minutes later we arrived, muck-splattered, wet and winded back at the main road. We looked at each other and knew we couldn't present ourselves at any decent place to eat. So, that's how we ended up going to a Burger King truck and carrying our bags of rapidly-cooling hamburgers and french fries back down the brown mud road.
We were both too tired and annoyed to talk much over the dinner we spread out on wrappers over the one of the twin beds.
We woke early the next day. We walked out of the room, blinking into the sunlight, eager to start finding transportation for the final leg of the trip. We were greeted by a small army of fat and pretty cats milling around the courtyard. Outside one of the other rooms a guest was playing guitar and singing. The forest that grew around the courtyard was green and alive with birdsong. Vi and I hugged and smiled. She danced to the music. That morning, Tamarindo was beautiful.