I don’t think of being homeless.
I had planned to do a Thanksgiving meal for the awesome people I was couchsurfing with in San Jose, but nature intervened. A death in the family necessitated an early departure and I suddenly found myself homeless on Thanksgiving. Ok, I’m never actually homeless. There are always hostels available, but I avoid them in favor of the wonderful experience of staying with real people, learning from them, sharing ideas, and understanding the local place through their perceptions/insights.
So, I left in the rain with my gigantic bag on Thanksgiving morning and spent most of the day in a university library. From there I tried to figure out what to do. I had a few open possibilities:
Volunteering (free housing would be included)
- A coffee cooperative outside of San Jose. I met up with the Peace Corps volunteer my first time in San Jose and we had ongoing discussions about me coming there to volunteer, but I hadn’t heard back from her in a while and I figured this opportunity had fallen through
- An indigenous house in Cartago, Costa Rica. One of the roommates in the house here in San Jose had a project for school about this house. Basically, it houses Costa Rica’s indigenous population for trips to the city for things like medical care, or even for students on a long-term basis so they can attend the university, etc. But it’s funded by a local Costa Rican carpenter and it’s more than just a house. It’s a community full of cultural exchange, music, art, events, etc. I was told maybe I could stay there and see/understand what they’re doing there, but nothing was guaranteed. I would visit them in the afternoon in Cartago to see if it’s a possibility.
- Thanksgiving morning the guy at El Jardin Tortuga (The Turtle Garden) contacted me. He would allow me to stay in his piece of paradise in Ojochal, Costa Rica in exchange for helping him modernize his website and helping with internet marketing.
- By chance, a guy who responded to my post in a Costa Rica couchsurfing forum asking about volunteering opportunities in Costa Rica contacted me to see if we could have a coffee and chat. I met up with him the night before Thanksgiving. He told me about his friend, Cesar, who lives in nearby Grecia, Costa Rica but also has an apartment in San Jose. I wrote to Cesar and he contacted me in the morning. If all else failed I could stay with him in the apartment he rents in San Jose. Thus, I had a good backup.
- Hostels. There are lots of them here and I figured out where some affordable ones are nearby.
In general, I try to stay one month ahead in my planning, but “crap happens” and you quickly realize you can’t plan everything. In some ways, leaving Nicaragua early meant I lost a couple weeks of planning.
But the death in the family meant I had to leave and suddenly I found myself in a big pickle. As with the struggle in getting to my speech at INCAE Business School, the intervening circumstances were beyond my control and I didn’t feel upset, nor worried.
In a big change from how I used to be, somehow I knew everything would be ok even though there was no evidence to support this feeling. Call it confidence, call it faith, call it what you will. But I had it :).
While I waited and figured out what to do, I had my big Thanksgiving meal in the university’s cafeteria. I didn’t get a good picture, but it was a plate of rice and miscellaneous vegetables with an accompanying soup. I ate way too much, but I guess it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without feeling like your stomach is going to explode.
I left the university library around 2:30pm and headed to Cartago to find out about the Indigenous house. I didn’t know if they’d offer me housing or a chance to volunteer, but it was my best option at the moment. Plus, it was the most interesting one!
Cartago, Costa Rica
I arrived in Cartago not knowing where to go. I was going to meet my friend Chema at his university, but there are several here! I went to two wrong ones before I finally found the right university. I enjoyed exploring the city, but it’s just a pain to do so in the rain with my heavy backpack and all the pressure the hip straps were putting on my very full stomach!
Chema met me and I spent about half an hour in the dental lab while he finished making a mold of a mouth. Pretty interesting and I talked a lot with his teacher. She was interested in what I’m doing. In a show of how the rest of the day would go and the kindness of the Costa Rican people, she told me that if I can’t stay at the indigenous house I can stay with her and her family in Cartago.
I put my hand on my heart and did my best to express in my crappy Spanish how wonderful her gesture was. I mean, it was like raw, genuine appreciation on my side given my “homeless” status at the moment. She was serious and I was serious about potentially taking her up on the offer!
I contacted Cesar, the backup housing option in San Jose, and let him know that I was good to go here in Cartago and I sincerely appreciated him offering to go out of his way to help me out. I may still return to San Jose, so hopefully I’ll get to meet him before I head to Panama.
Casa del Indio
We walked to Casa del Indio (House of the Indian). Outside the house is a large image of an Indian, the symbol of the house. There was also this sign saying Casa del Indio. We arrived at night so I didn’t see either of them. Instead, the first thing I saw was Gandhi’s face on the door along with other inspirational figures.
I will put up a separate post about Casa del Indio, but suffice it to say that I was welcomed with open arms. Bernal, the inspirational founder of the house, welcomed me immediately and said I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. Amazing. Truly amazing.
I told them how wonderful it felt to be so welcomed on Thanksgiving – especially when you consider the story of Thanksgiving and what happened afterwards to the Indians. But as the story goes for that day, the European colonists shared a meal with the American Indians to celebrate a good harvest and give thanks. Now it was Costa Rican Indians welcoming me with open arms.
Similarly, it was ironic given my origins. Though my origins are half-Pakistani, in the end it’s the Indian subcontinent. So I jokingly said this is also a good fit since my genes are half-Indian, but the other kind of Indian. Regardless, I felt like I belonged there at Casa del Indio immediately and it was a wonderful feeling.
I met some of the residents of the house and Chema and I joined them at a local bar to celebrate the end of their final exams. The students we were with study “ingeniero forestal”, or forestry engineering. What a cool combination – engineering with forestry/nature/agriculture!
As soon as I walked into the local bar, I saw something very surprising on the TV – College Football! Though I didn’t care about the teams (University of Texas vs. Texas A&M), it was the first and probably only time this season I’ve seen any college football. Normally, unless it’s a gringo bar, American Football would be shown if and only if there were no soccer games on anywhere in the world!
I had some great conversation with new friends there and even got something I love to eat – yuca! It’s a starchy vegetable here kind of like a potato. I am happy eating it boiled, but it usually comes fried. I got fried yuca with refried beans. After my huge lunch, it was more than enough.
This day, full of uncertainty in the morning not knowing at all where I’d end up being/sleeping in the evening, ended truly wonderfully. It was kind of a reminder why I am on this trip in the first place – it’s all about the people. I put my faith in humanity when I started this trip and besides a small incident in Guatemala, I haven’t been let down.
One thing Elena said repeatedly was that the universe provides. I can’t help but agree. And I GIVE THANKS to the universe for providing for me 🙂