The Tamarindo I met was quiet and gentle of pace. I was able to relax into solitude and flatten my romance-ruffled feathers. I began to explore what being electively alone felt like. I booked solo excursions and classes and walked the beach alone. In the way of my head and heart cooperating or not cooperating, I was completely over my lost love but completely devoted to it. I thought of myself as still being in a couple, even though I had known the German man for such a short time. This still-attached-to-him thinking freed me up to not think about anything around boyfriends and being in a partnership. I was voluntarily locked into something abstract and unavailable, a trick of the mind which made me feel free.
My routine pieced together quickly. I signed up to do a Spanish class with another young woman called Susannah. A dutch girl in her early twenties who responded with defensive fierceness to most things. She enrolled in the class and then relentlessly cut it, often meeting me later and writhing with confused anguish about missing the class again that day. Susannah had chosen to stay in an unabashed booze fuelled party hostel and spent many a morning and evening snapping at dorm mates about the noise and mess. I admired her tenacity in defending her needs every single day, but found her accommodation choice a curious one as she seemed to need peace more than parties.
I ambled quietly from Spanish School to Surfing lessons each day and struck up a strange friendship of limited vocabulary with ‘Coconut man’. Coconut man sold ice cold coconuts and drinking straws. He skimmed the top off each coconut he sold with an agricultural hack of his machete. The coconuts travelled on ice in a crumbling polystyrene cool box, strapped to a broken sack truck. I admired the resourcefulness and grit covered lack of glamour about this set up, the rustic honesty of spirit. Coconut man didn't care whether I could speak Spanish or not, he just was: either you want a coconut or you don't. Either you accept a straw from his torn dressing gown pocket, or you don't. I quietly wondered why Susannah couldn't let herself just be, like this guy. Catching myself being a little bit smug and feeling all learn-ed about her problems: I asked myself why I could n't just let myself be? for that matter: My little tricks were not so very different to hers.
For example, I was certain that I was a surfer - you know, deep in my soul. I tried repeatedly to be a surfer. I had been on surfing courses and surfed with friends back home. I was just about able to push myself up on my board and catch a wave suitable for a nervous 6 year old - I had the slightly humiliating experience of attending surf school with a bunch of children who nailed standing on their boards (in the water) in Bude, so I speak from experience about the suitability of particular waves for 6 year olds. The thing about this surfing thing was that I was coming to realise that the sea is GIANT. The sea is rough and not in the least bit bothered about whether you live or die.
The sea in Costa Rica is also a place where big, sleek and toothy, malevolent eyed sharks live. To get to the surfing bit of the sea in Tamarindo, I had to paddle on my board over a famously river crocodile-filled bit of river, so was already wide eyed and adrenal by the time I got to the indifferently rough sea to attempt to surf. Throw in a cocky surf instructor, who was too cool not to have a crush on (damn him!) for my one to one tutoring and you have all the ingredients needed to accelerate a revelation:
I wanted to be a surfer because of the endless cool value I thought it would earn me. When it came to actually doing the work, I just couldn't find any way to enjoy the almost-surfing I was engaging in. I found it frightening, frustrating and exhausting with no reward. The prospect of improving and thus having to go further out to sea to surf, filled me with horror. Against all internalised 'I am NOT a quitter' messages. I quit and instantly felt the liberation of a Spanish language school absconder, without the desolating consequences.
A week or so later, in Monteverde, Susannah and I had put ourselves at the top of some very tall trees in the rainforest and Susannah was hopping mad because she didn't like the sweaty rainforest, she hated heights, she didn't like zip wires and she hated wearing harnesses and the helmet.
Susannah was firing all of her fear, anger and frustration at me, because feeling completely safe in the trees, I felt no need to scream. Susannah perceived my not screaming as a direct criticism of her for finding it impossible not to scream at this time. I hadn't known going into this activity that I was not a screamer - but it made perfect sense to me not to scream. I wasn't afraid.
Feeling the fear and doing something anyway is to strive. To leap towards the thing that terrifies you and forces you to grow and then to emerge alive and well on the other side is character building. Stretching beyond our comfort zones to get to our higher selves is the real calling of every human. In our supervised activities and holiday adventures there in costa Rica, the opportunity to grow was present in a much more unexpected way.
There, two women held up versions of themselves that they thought they should be as travellers and repeatedly tried to make the different costumes fit. When the realisation came that these outfits weren't really true reflections of themselves, they had a choice to make.
My heart wanted to be in those trees, to deeply breathe in the rainforest. I wanted to be friends with the sea but not part of it, to be able to speak enough Spanish to get by in South and Central America, but not really make the effort of fluency. Susannah really wanted to simply explore and sit on the beach and figure herself out, she didn't want to learn Spanish or party all night or mess about in tree tops any more than I wanted to take my chances in the shark filled sea:
We had a chance to see ourselves for the people that we really were. A chance to stop fighting so hard to be someone else and to accept ourselves. Although we were less capable in some things than we wanted to be, if we could be brave enough to really look in the mirror, we had a chance to acknowledge that we were so much braver, calmer and stronger than we thought too.