Sunrise stretch at Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo
If you’ve ever embarked on long-term and/or multi-destination travel you know that as exciting and adventurous and freeing as it is, it can also be trying and tiring at times. Regardless of the itinerary, each time you decide to move the fundamentals generally break down to 1) Where am I going next, 2) How am I going to get there, and 3) Where am I going to sleep. Once you’ve figured those out, there’s the execution: pack up, move, arrive, search, check in, unpack, explore, eat, sleep, repeat. I readily admit these are pretty delicious topics to tackle, but when you’re out there doing it for weeks or months on end it’s easy to grow weary of it on occasion.
With so much to see and sometimes limited time within which to see it, tragic as it may seem it can be challenging to remember to step back from all the logistics and just be where we are. Figuratively and often literally speaking, we’re so busy analyzing which train station we’re getting off at next that we forget to take the time to admire all the beautiful things that surround us at the one we’re stopped at right now.
So with all of this in mind, I’m embarking on an experiment this month: traveling without moving.
For as long as I can remember I’ve referred to February as “the longest short month.” Winter feels endless and depression sets in. Cozy socks and a hot bath morph from comforting into mocking (where they keep close company with Valentine’s Day). There’s not much to look forward to until spring thaw sometime in March, or maybe April.
So this February I decided to practice some healthy avoidance. I essentially threw a dart at the section of the map I had enough travel points to fly to and ended up hitting the Caribbean coastal town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Costa Rica. I hunted down a little studio apartment near the beach, booked it for a month and got the hell out of Dodge.
One full month in one apartment in one little town I’ve never heard of, in a country I’ve never visited. No highlighting of potential itineraries on the maps in my Lonely Planet guidebook. No spending hours on TripAdvisor searching for a decent hostel at my next destination. No deciphering of bewildering bus, train and/or ferry schedules. Instead of hauling around exploring every corner of the country, I’m taking time to just be (plus do a little work, to keep myself in rice and beans for the month).
Except for time spent on a tiny island in Indonesia, I’ve never done anything like this before. I don’t know what it feels like to travel to one place and not move. To truly settle into it and treat it like a version of home. To tame the pervasive wanderlust and for 30 days concentrate it on a single spot on a map: its food and culture, its people, its pace and way of life.
It might not sound the least bit challenging (and I don’t mean “challenging” in the fighting-cancer or surviving-a-nasty-divorce kind of way—we’re just talking travel here), and maybe it won’t be. Maybe I’ll love it and it will be how I always want to travel from now on, or perhaps I’ll never do it again. I don’t know yet. That’s what experiments are for.
But eleven days into it (and after an ordeal that saw my backpack decide to stay an extra night on its own at the Panama airport on the way down), I’m getting the hang of it. My gear is unpacked and will stay that way until early March. I’m doing things way outside my normal travel comfort zone, like grocery shopping and looking up websites with names like “50 Delicious Meals you Can Make on a Hot Plate” and investigating who in town can sharpen my kitchen knives (I’m placing my bets on the old guy down at the beachfront near Pan Pay restaurant, with the huge machete and extremely adept coconut-shelling skills).
I’ve committed to a one-month yoga membership and a one-month bike rental. I’ve figured out which fruit seller at the Saturday organic farmer’s market has the best papayas, and I’ve learned that the exorbitant price of cheese is a big issue for many local restaurateurs. I wave at people I know in town and they wave back.
For a few short weeks I’m living a (privileged) version of Caribbean Costa Rican regular life, savouring the simple elegance of its everyday goings-on. I wilt in sultry heat, soak in exotic humidity, and wear clothes that never quite dry. I jump salty waves and sink my feet into sand and marvel at the slow pace of sloths. I traverse washed-out roads on my rickety bike and watch the jungle spread its emerald wings ever farther as it rains, rains, rains.
I am moved by the beauty of stillness.