The Return

We are back from Costa Rica, or as I now think of it, ‘The San Jose Parking Lot and Fast Food Tour’.   An exaggeration, you say?   Possibly, but we ate at McDonald’s 5 times, Pizza Hut twice, Burger King once, Subway once, and a ‘local’ but still fast food place once.   This means out of 14 meals (not including breakfast, which we always ate at the hotel) 10 of them were fast food.   And not because we eschewed the local cuisine in favor of American grease, but because that is what was available where we were.   Yum!  I can almost feel my insides groaning under the weight of the liquid cholesterol.

And we drove.   Everywhere.   Except to the mall, which was within walking distance.   Walking distance through 4 parking lots and across a bridge.

Now, it’s not that we didn’t enjoy ourselves.  Overall, I would say we did.  And Joshua got to spend time with friends he hadn’t seen in six years, which was the main purpose of this trip.   But of all the places I’ve been (and I’ve been a few), this one felt the least like a different country.   We could have been staying in Anywhere USA, except that instead of  “Mornin’” you were greeted with “Buenos”.  (Most people leave of the ‘Dias’ or ‘Tardes’ or ‘Noches’ – kind of like a multiple choice greeting).    This, as I mentioned a few days ago, took a little getting used to on my part.   Having heard nothing but gushing raves from everyone I know who’s ever been to Costa Rica, I was more than a little surprised that San Jose is like El Paso South – except more dangerous, apparently.  The danger part was the opinion of our hosts, and was not confirmed by anything we witnessed, experienced, read about or heard from anyone else who had visited.  But our hosts talked about it A LOT.   I tried to make light of it by saying that when I was 25 I walked, by myself, across the border in El Paso to Ciudad Juarez.   A blond woman wearing a skirt who speaks no Spanish wandering around a town with a notorious murder rate is probably not the safest thing – and yet I went to the Mercado there, bought some silver, explored the area for a while and walked back over the border with nothing more eventful happening than little boys very persistently trying to sell me chewing gum.    Surely San Jose cannot be more dangerous that C.Juarez?   Nobody ever answered that question.

Halfway in to the trip the kids and I decided to stop resisting the fact that this wasn’t the trip we envisioned and to just enjoy the trip we were having.   And we did.  (Except for the food, but oh well.)   Despite that, I think we were all ready to get the heck out of Dodge yesterday.   And then there was the plane.   I keep forgetting you can check in on line the day before the flight, and I didn’t.   Also, Joshua’s sister and niece changed their tickets, meaning that instead of having a full row of seats, we now had 4 out of 6 seats, and I neglected to make sure those seats were all together.   So of course we get to the airport and we have two window and two middle seats.   Same row, but this presents a slight problem.  The kids like to sit next to each other but also want to be next to us.    No worries, said the flight attendant, when kids are involved, people are usually very generous.    Except for the woman from New Jersey who was next to me who loudly proclaimed that “I’m not giving up my aisle seat.  Not for a crappy middle or window seat.  Forget it.”   Charming.

So, in my “hey lady, you brought this on yourself’ mode, I took it upon myself to talk over her to Joshua and reach across her as many times as I possibly could during the 5 hour flight.

Oh, and did I mention that while we were still sitting at the gate they made the announcement that the plane was too heavy and they needed volunteers to go on a different flight?   Through Houston.   For a $300 coupon.   Yeah, good luck with that one!  Come on, Continental, no one’s getting out of their seat (especially an aisle seat) for a piddling $300!  Offer a free ticket  anywhere Continental flies and you’d have some takers.   But they didn’t, and nobody budged.   After a few minutes the flight attendants were saying,  “It’s ok, it’s been taken care of.”   What, are they taking the luggage on a separate plane?   No, as it turns out, we pulled away from the gate and the pilot came on and said, “I’m real sorry to do this folks,”  (why do pilots always sound like they’re from the south?)  “but because we’ve got a weight problem, we’re going to need to burn off a few hundred pounds of fuel before we can take off.  It shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes or so.”    What?   Um, don’t we need those 300 or so pounds of fuel to, you know, fly the plane all the way to the destination?    Let’s see, crash into the mountains upon take off because we’re too heavy or make an emergency landing in Baltimore because we burned off too much fuel.  Decisions, decisions.   Maya leaned over and said, “Mama, do they always do this?”   Sure they do!  Of course.  Completely routine!

Of course the flight went off without incident.   We annoyed the Jersey woman as much as possible and watched Direct TV for a few hours before a bumpy landing in Newark.    Never have I wanted a salad and a Starbucks coffee as much as I did upon arriving at home.   And so, even though it was almost 9pm, Ben and I went out and got Starbucks,  salads and a huge Diet Coke for Joshua.  Nectar of the Gods.

Why am I moaning to you about this?  What on earth does this have to do with unschooling?   Well everything, really.   Unschooling means learning through life, and in my experience, the best lessons always come when things don’t go as planned.  In this case the biggest lesson was learned by me.  (I told you it comes more naturally to the kids.)   My wise daughter, during an only partially controlled rant on my part one day as we walked to the food court for yet another McDonalds lunch, said, “But Mama, you shouldn’t think about the fact that this isn’t what we’d planned, or you’ll be miserable the whole trip.  Just think about the fact that some people don’t get to travel at all.”   Yes, Obi Wan, I understand.

So we learned a lot.  I learned a lot.   Maya learned that she wants to study Spanish, which in and of itself makes the trip worthwhile.   We decided we want to go back next year with my Mom, leave Joshua in San Jose to visit his friends, and travel north to the Arenal Volcano and then to Monteverde before heading to the beach.   That’s the Costa Rica you always hear about, and I’m sure it will live up to its’ reputation.   And even if it doesn’t, we’ll just enjoy it for what it is.

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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