The problem with travel stories is that they begin and end with airport stories. The raw inhumanity of a series of airports descends to cloak the traveler’s memory, blunting her wit and dulling the color and humor of recent events.

In my case, this is compounded by the inadequacy of my mere words to describe how gloriously lush and fertile Costa Rica is, how stunning is the variety of landscapes, and how friendly and tolerant most of the locals are with the hordes of clueless tourists.

Costa Rica lies on four tectonic plates, so mountain ranges (including several active volcanoes) separate the country into regions with vastly different terrain. Is astonishing to drive from one province to another and see the deep, florid foliage yield to hard-packed earth and fields of long, wind-blown grasses. In recent years, Costa Rica has developed a sustainable eco-tourism industry designed to allow visitors to experience the peace and beauty of the rain forests — wet and dry, primary and secondary growth — while keeping the infrastructure’s environmental footprint as small as possible.

The canopy tour through the rain forest is far less peaceful than the name might suggest: I was fitted with a clumsy harness around my hips, hitched to a finger-thick cable, and sent whizzing between the treetops 100 feet up from the rain forest floor, braking by pressing my heavily gloved hand to the cable to create friction that prevented me from crashing into the steel platform that was suddenly oh my God, right there After standing on the platform just long enough to realize just how far up we were and just how much the treetops swayed, I did it again. And again. And again.

I expected to be frightened, or at least a bit wobbly-kneed, especially as heights often make me a bit woozy, but I was surprisingly unfazed. The guides were exuberant but utterly professional and focused, and safety was clearly their first priority, so I simply released any residual fear and enjoyed the speed, the leaves, the air.

It was a pleasant diversion, and I was glad I tried it, but the zip-lines move you so fast that there is no time to appreciate the canopy, and I’m convinced that the constant movement and noise must drive away any animals from the route. It’s an activity for thrill-seekers, not nature lovers.

But now I understand why Tarzan gave that mighty bellow as he swung through the jungle — it is irresistible.

My favorite thing, though, was standing on the platform before each launch, my ear next to the cable, feeling it vibrate with the weight of the previous rider and hearing its high-pitched insistent singing, like a hive of furious wasps trapped in the cable.


At 4:25 a.m., I dragged myself out of an unyielding bed in an airport hotel in San José, and spent the next 14 hours muddling my way through airports, only to arrive in infamous Logan airport bereft of my checked luggage. Evidently the suitcase so enjoyed the worldly sensation of being waved through Customs that it decided to stay in Miami.

I am even more screwed than you might think: since airport security examined my keyring and advised me to stow it in my checked bag (lest I should yield to the temptation to overthrow the flight crew with an extra-large, blunt-tipped safety pin trinket), I can’t go home until my bag arrives. At 6:00 pm in Boston, they were hopeful that delivery might occur as soon as Tuesday morning.

Yes, that was when I momentarily burst into tears. The young baggage agent looked so distraught that I assured her that I knew she was doing everything she could, and that it must be difficult for her. She immediately brought my file back up on her terminal and pecked determinedly at the keyboard, her phone tucked under her chin.

By the time I arrived at my parents’ house in Maine, the baggage delivery agent, who is not supposed to be working tonight and who further doesn’t deliver to Maine, had left a message to expect him between 2 and 4 am. That young baggage agent is my new hero, followed closely by Curtis the delivery guy. By the time he arrives, I will have been up for nearly 24 hours, but I am determined to thank him (and tip him) in person, and to shower my filthy way-laid bag with kisses before wrapping my arms around it and snuggling down for a long winter’s nap.

Tomorrow, there will be less talk of airports, sleeplessness, and filthy baggage, and more talk about glorious Costa Rica.

Playing hookie

I’m on a working holiday and tried to create something for Illustration Friday but my brain wouldn’t cooperate. This week’s theme is “disaster relief” and I offer you the following images instead:
A mountain we ascended in a gondola…
The view from the snow plow which took us back down due to strong winds. Steep and fun!

Chocolate, er France, how I love thee

I seem to have forgotten something in France, my brain. The story of my trip will be the subject of my nanowrimo attempt this year. I stayed in the Burgundy region in a small village overlooking vineyards and took over a thousand photos. My French, which disappeared when I started learning German, started coming back while I was there. I can read French which surprises me but shouldn’t since I read The Stranger, Le Cid, and The Count of Monte Christo in my French literature class at uni some 18 years ago. Speak French, I cannot as witnessed by one delivery man who came up to my room in the manor searching for the reception. My door was the only one open so he asked me where the office was, which I understood, but couldn’t give him any directions. So I told him in French that I didn’t speak French, walked him back down stairs and said there in French as I pointed to the side door, to which he said, “thank you.” Damn accent. Alors, I will definitely be going back.

Going to Frenchy France

I’m going to France soon and I can’t stop singing about it. This will be my first real trip there in the five and a half years I’ve lived in Switzerland. Yes, I’ve been to the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and yes, after reminding him that I’ve never been to France, JM drove me through the corner on our way home from Germany once. Now I get to go for three whole days. Joy!
I must remember to warn my friend P to bring her own chocolate when she moves to Germany next year. German chocolate sucks and she’ll be eight hours away from the good Swiss stuff. Poor thing. “N-e-s-t-l-e-s, Nestle’s makes the very best. Chocolate.” Sing it with me.
By the way, it’s that time of year again. We had our first fall fondue this evening. And oh yeah, I’m going to France.

Mind the gap

I am in love with a train. I know, is too, too Freudian.

I just took my first trip on the the Downeaster. The trip was so pleasant, so convenient, so civilized, that I can hardly wait to ride it again. Wanna go? Wanna go right now? I adore the Downeaster. It is clean and quiet, so inexpensive that paying tickles a bit, and, lookie, there’s a plug for my laptop. I want to live there.

On each of my recent visits to my friend K., she has urged me to take the train, since it is so convenient to her office. I didn’t know that by “convenient” she meant “a distance so short that you could readily walk it blindfolded, except for that tricky bit along the tracks.” There is another station one town over from from the home of friends who have been urging me to visit more often so they can ply me with margaritas and grilled comestibles. This train could prove dangerously convenient.

I am charmed by the little pleasantries on this train. An example: as subway commuters are aware, there is necessarily a small space between the train and the passenger platform; otherwise each arrival and departure would be heralded by an infernal screech and a shower of sparks as the body of the train dragged along the edge. In Chicago and Boston, I have never heard any transit employee warn passengers or even remark on this little space. On the Downeaster, however, this minor hazard was clearly and patiently explained, and we were gently urged to please mind the gap.