It’s 3:30am and my hands are gripping the steering wheel of a white Bronco-type jeep and I’m dodging the potholes along the streets of San Pablo, Costa Rica. How did I get here? That’s exactly what I’ve been asking myself.
We’re briefly lost, but it’s nothing that flipping a quick “u”ie, which sounds far easier than it is, can’t fix. The Spanish version of ABBA’s “Chiquitita” blares harshly from the radio and Emily and I are harmonizing.
“Hey Pedro, so… do la policia usually pull people over a lot at this time of night?”
“No, es casi 4 en la manana, they stop working at around 2am, I think?”
I’ve never felt anything like the simultaneous sensation of relief and disconcertion. Cool, driving in San Jose at night, a place where we regard stop-lights as stop-signs so we don’t idle dangerously long in the middle of a deserted street, when the cops stopped working two hours ago.
I glance over at Pedro, who is the friend of the host-brother of one of my friends and whom I’ve met once before, whose name might actually be Filip, and who is looking much more awake than he was a half hour ago when he gave me his keys as we were all walking out of the McDonalds. It might be because the food and soda was re-energizing, or it might be because some crazy gringa who he’s only met once is now driving his piece of crap car, of which he is apparently very protective. I’m still not sure if he let me drive his car because he was dangerously tired or because in earlier polite conversation I’d mentioned how much I love and miss driving my car.
3:48 am and I know I plan to get up at 7:30am. 3 hours of sleep? Eh. Done it before. How do I get myself into the situations??? Three weeks ago we went out dancing at Castro’s the night before we had to meet our study abroad group at 6am. That night will live on in infamy partly because we haven’t had the nerve to return to Castro’s since then and partly because I was awoken by the sound of my 5:30am taxi honking its horn and only then did I realize I hadn’t packed. Running out in my pjs to tell Emily and the taxi to give me five minutes, literally throwing clothes and such into my bag, forgetting my camera and brushing my teeth outside the bus. And the best part is I wasn’t even the worst of it. I mean, at least I made it to the bus…
But in all honesty, I know how I got myself into this particular situation. It ended up being a mixture of my being too cheap to buy drinks at the dance club, my inability to actually dance salsa which meant that I did very little athletic dancing and was as relatively fresh as I could have been by the end of the night, and my pig-headed competitive side. The night at La Rumba had been fantastic. It’s a larger club than Castros, and it’s in Escazu, the Beverly Hills of San Jose, or so I’m told. The trek up had been long enough to build excitement, and apparently the trip back wasn’t lacking in it either. It’s always nice when your Designated Driver looks like he hasn’t slept in days, and I literally thanked the lucky starts stretching over head as we caravanned to McDonalds after a typical night of dancing and drama-filled gossip that I played Sober Sally. On our way out of the classic post-midnight meal, after Pablo had handed me the keys, I’d gotten into an argument with one of the other Ticos about my driving ability, and of course, that was that.
In the movie version of my life, I’m sure this scene will unfold to either Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” or to Will Smith’s “Wild, Wild West,” but the latter is only included because it came on the radio at one point. In reality, all I’m thinking about is how sad I am that I can’t shower off this layer of sweat and caked make-up because I don’t want my host-family to wake-up.
I’d rather not set my alarm clock either, but that same pig-headedness won’t let me let a something as inconsequential as lack of sleep cause me to miss any possible experience in this amazing country