So, I am going to stop griping and just really get in there and roll around in that beauty. Did you know, incidentally, they've done clinical studies at Harvard that prove that your brain cannot tell the difference between real and "fake" happiness? In other words, even if you do not have an external, concrete impetus for happiness, you can still realign your brains thought patterns with feelings of actual happiness? Cool stuff. And so, here I go...

I awoke at 4:30 AM and to hitch a ride to Logan Airport with my friend Dianne. My first stop on the trip? San Jose, known affectionately as Chepe to the Costa Ricans, or Ticos, as they're called. Dianne took me to the airport. I stopped over in Dallas. The whole flight was uneventful. I do not think I slept much. Anyway. 

The hostel I was staying at was called Costa Rica Backpackers. I was scheduled to arrive there at 9:30 PM, New Year's Eve. I had read something on their website that surprised and pleased me: apparently in addition to being a fun youth hostel, voted number one by Lonely Planet, it also contained a bar, a dance floor, and a huge, a happy hour with an outdoor, more mellow bar, and a huge, aquamarine swimming pool in the middle of the patio--all of it studded with palm trees and brightly-daggered tropical plants. I was pleased by the pictures online, and even more pleased by the announcement of a New Year's Eve Party, complete with a DJ. See, I never assume other countries much give a shit about the New Year. So, when I saw that they did? I was freakin' thrilled. Freakin' thrilled. 


When I got off the plane, there was already a shuttle waiting for me and a few other people. The air was balmy. There were palm trees lining the airport arrival lane. The shuttle was graffitied with the hostel name, and alight with funky colors. The other people who were being picked up turned out to be from Minneapolis. They were three college-age kids who were going to meet up with more friends at the hostel. Friends who were seniors at none other than the Berkeley of the Midwest known as The University of Wisconsin Madison. Now, I have ties there, because both of my younger sisters attended. Beyond that, however, I've spent a Halloween up there, and it is insane. The Mardi Gras of the Midwest is what it's called. I wound up drunk to the point of speaking in tongues, dressed as an Austin Powers femme bot, dancing on a table with the Beastie Boys wearing toupees a la the "Sabotage" music video. From what I could assess from this evening alone, was that Madisonians are the epitome of all that is amazing about Midwestern college kids: they are brilliant, irreverent, wild, and creative. 

Naturally, in talking to these kids in the shuttle on the way to the hostel, I was excited to meet this group of cool Madisonian-meets-Minneapolis-fusion. I've lived in many different places, but I must admit, the last time I really felt connected to myself and to a real group of real friends, was at the University of Iowa, where I completed my undergrad. That and now. Despite (or because of) these recent sufferings, I have managed to come to know and like myself, and to gain of sense of who I am, now more than ever.   


In the shuttle, as we rode through San Jose, the streets were dark and quiet, save for some New Year's lights strung garishly at the intersections. When we got to the hostel, I felt an initial sense of fear. It hit me. I was a young woman, traveling alone. I liked these people I was with, but certainly did not want them to feel I had latched onto them. Ah, but bless the Midwestern heart; it is so friendly. They told me they were going to get dressed up and ready to party in the hostel. They invited me to come. I got to the hostel room, which I'd be sharing with three female roomies. Nobody was in there, naturally, if only because they has party plans as well. The room was a slaughter of purses, bags, and cosmetics. There were four bunks. I climbed onto mine, fished out a dressy shirt, and went out to meet my new peeps. 

The Minneapolis people were already at the bar with the huge group of kids from Madison. They were playing a drinking game with cards, and invited me to join in. It occurred to me, shit, that I was the old broad. At almost thirty, I wondered if the seriousness I've acquired since being 20 could show on my face, if they'd know. That was when it hit me. Whereas I've always joked that I could laugh, play, and love like I was twenty, I realized that a lot has happened to make me different, a little sadder, a little more cautious, a little more hardened. To see these kids, all of them kind, bright, dynamic, with glowing ideals? Amazing. the funny part was, I realized when integrated with people on vacation, they could care less if you're 20 or 60. They just want you to throw down. I loved being around their energy. The card game did not last long; pretty soon we were all congregating around the bar, and the night was balmy, and the next thing I knew, my new friends were buying me shots of tequila. 

One of the guys and I hopped up on a trashcan and managed to scale up a thin strip of balcony that peered onto the streets of San Jose. I began whooping and hollering until other people began climbing up and following along. The guy and I (Minneapolis-based crew), began talking about, well, everything. He intimated some personal, very traumatic and recent tumult that had gone down in his life. Then he asked me, what was my story? And so, what happened there, what took place in that conversation, as far as what I revealed about myself was not important. What was important was that we talked about everything that was going on in our lives. I don't feel good about revealing what he told me, but it was basically regarding a rough home-life. So, I told him everything. More than I've told most people. That is the ease and the beauty of traveling; you can open up so fluidly and honestly, and so can everyone else, like a midnight orchid. I told him about growing up in Greece. I told him about moving to the Midwest, to Joliet at the age of thirteen and how hard it was. How ostracizing. I told him about my family, our problems, about my writing. 

"You're part of our crew," one of them said. It made me feel invigorated, just to belong. Someone else, one of the guys, said, "I wanted to cheers you," when he missed out clinking his shot glass to mine. Again, I just felt like I belonged. Because I am a functional extrovert, but very much a loner by nature, susceptible to fits of depression, and find it hard to open up, I felt healed, taken in.

Next we knew, we all went to the Mochilla Bar and Club, basically the hostels own private dance floor and boozery. The DJ was spinning some great rap. There was a stage and a bunch of gorgeous Argentinian gals were all dressed in scant white outfits, dancing. Pretty soon all of us were dancing, grinding, and caught up in the onslaught of bodies. I cannot recall how long we danced for; just that we danced. I kept up with the college guys, and one of them complimented me on my grinding techniques. Finally, we all went outside, to the patio area. The night was still balmy. The palm trees were nodding. The pool gleamed, set in the patio like an unblinking gem. One of the Argentinian gals dressed in white, slipped out of her mesh skirt, revealing white undies and jumped into the pool. Her two friends followed. Then, the Madison guys followed (like an guy in his right mind would do).

"I can't jump in!" I said, "It's wet and cold." By now, even more kids had jumped into the pool. One of the guys gave a big huge splash and soaked all of us. Wordlessly, myself and the rest of the laggers jumped in. The entire pool was erupting with people, laugher, screaming, and wrestling and splashing. It got so wild that finally the front desk worker and some security guards came out and instructed us to knock it off and get it. We all climbed out, drunk and shivering and laughing. 

New Year's for me has always been a big deal and a fun time. In the past 13 years, ever since I began drinking at 17 years old, even in Joliet, Illinois, my godforsaken hometown, I've spent nearly every New Year's with my Joliet women, dear friends of mine since childhood. We've had some great times, in fact, this recent year being the first in a long time where I've not been back. I must say, however, sorry, ladies, I've had some wild and fabulous New Years with you, in Joliet and Chicago, but this one was unequivocally the best one I've ever had. 

Afterwards, the Minneapolis guy and I lay down in one of the hammocks. Everyone else went to bed. I was shivering so hard, finally, he gave me an extra blanket and told me to go to bed. I went back to my room and got settled in. What a night. 

So, that was Day One. It gets better, I promise. I won't tell you about the whole trip--only the good parts. I am only just getting started. It began good and ascended into amazing, and beautiful. Here's to beautiful. Here's to the purity of life, in all its light, even when the darkness has enveloped it. Pura Vida.