Part 3 of 3 in a series less about coffee and more about travel, culture, and living abroad.
In order to interview coffeepeople and research “When Coffee Speaks,” I spent nine months traveling through Latin America with naught but a big and a little backpack. I didn’t have a ton of stuff, therefore, everything I had was important, and I made sure to take very good care of everything. In nine months of travel, my debit card fell out of my wallet at a grocery store in Panama and I had to wait a few days for a replacement one to be sent, and I left a pair of flip flops at a jungle lodge. That was it. In nine months I didn’t leave chargers plugged into outlets, I didn’t forget jackets hanging on hooks or leave a wallet or phone on a bus. No one robbed my passport or wrestled my laptop from my purse. I did pretty well.
Precisely because I did so well, as I prepared for this next month-long trip, I was worried that my travel luck might be running thin. I had this unshakable feeling that this time I would loose things. It was one of those feelings where you recognize that you have a feeling that something will happen, and because you recognize it you should be able to prevent that something from happening-and you do try to!, you somehow still know that it is going to happen anyway. I knew that no matter how much I would try to pay attention to the tangible items I had with me, I would be too distracted by the intangible emotional aspects of retracing my trip and distributing books and packing what was seven months of travel the first time around into one month to guarantee that I’d keep all my stuff in my backpack. I was right to have the feeling that I would loose things, and I was right that even though I saw it coming, there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I’ve accidentally left behind a lot of stuff this trip, and if I think about it enough, it really frustrates me. But one of the Spanish Rules that I try to observe is to embrace the thing that is most pissing you off. Instead of being frustrated at loosing so many items, albeit minorly important stuff, I’ve decided to think of those left-behind items as a trail of offerings, little tokens of self left to remind the places I’ve been that I’ve been there. Maybe the first time through Latin America I was just a passing traveler, but this time I have more vested personal and professional connections to places, and those places can’t escape without receiving little breadcrumbs of evidence that I’ve passed through.
In the Potenciana I left a black sweater. Well, not quite in the Potenciana, but in the rental car my sweater got stuffed somewhere in someone’s luggage on our way down the mountain and I never saw it again.
Black button up cardigan, I give you to the reddirt coffee hills and the healing waters of Guadalupe. Potenciana, may you remember my footsteps. I’ll be back again.
In Jaco I left a black and gold Bracelet. It was a funky discount bin vintage piece from one of my favorite NYC shops. The first and only time I wore it was in Jaco, and, reminding me why I never wear bracelets, especially when it’s hot out, I got sweaty, it bothered me, and who knows where I set it down, swearing to come back and get it and never doing so.
Gilded bracelet, I give you to the potted plants and plush couches of the Marriott Los Suenos. Jaco, may you remember my footsteps. I might be back again.
In Puriscal I left the only sports bra I packed. As happened many times when I lived with the Jimenez’s last year, my laundry got mixed with everyone else’s (we were always sorting out socks and tank tops), but this time I was on the road too soon to realize anything was missing. The day after I left Puris I woke up bright and early to go for a run in San Jose (and work of all the chicharrones and queque I’d eaten in at birthday celebrations…), only to realize I was missing an essential article of clothing. I was then the gringo running around the park with the knot of her bikini top making an awkward lump in the back of her tshirt. Sports bra, may you be waiting for me in a package at the encomiendas (bus delivery service) in San Jose. If not, Puris, I give you tried and true athletic wear. May you remember my footsteps. I’ll certainly be back again.
At Aldea my almost-leopard print shirt disappeared. (This, oxymoronically, is the only offering in which I suspect foul play…) Aldea is my home base in San Jose, and even though I feel as comfortable there as one should feel at home, I lock up my valuables and still act like I’m traveling, because one never knows the sticky fingers of the travelers in the bunks around hers. But I don’t consider a blouse a valuable worth locking up, so as I was showering and getting dressed, I left my blouse and jacket out on the empty bunk under mine. When I came out of the bathroom, the jacket was there but the shirt was gone. I checked every corner under and around the bunk and asked the sleepy eyed girl seated in the middle of the room fishing though her backpack if she’d seen it, but the almost-leopard top was nowhere to be found. Maybe someone thought it was theirs and grabbed it? Maybe I’m blind and it was on the floor the whole time?
My Banana Republic factory store top, I give you to Aldea, because sometimes you loose things even within your own home. Aldea, may you remember my footsteps. You know I’ll be back.
I managed to not leave anything at either of the places I stayed in Los Santos.
But to make up for not leaving anything in Los Santos, I left my umbrella and my flash drive at Refugio in Boquete. Even though when I set down my sopping umbrella in the corner I thought to myself, “Don’t forget this! This is a good umbrella!” I forgot it. And I left my flash drive plugged into the one desktop computer with a printer when I printed the recipes for vegetarian stuffing and gravy in frenzied preparation for Panamanian Vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. (I actually can’t believe I haven’t lost that flash drive sooner; I bought it almost three years ago in India and it’s successfully seen several continents.) It’s not as traumatic as the loss of a flash drive can be; everything there is also on my computer. But if one of the Refugio employees feels like reading the PDF manuscript of “When Coffee Speaks” or some old Tea & Coffee articles, he or she can have a field day.
Raingear and tech gear, I give you to Boquete. Refugio, may you remember my footsteps. You know I’ll be back.
In Santa Clara I left my toiletry case at the Hartmann’s. This was perhaps the biggest blow. Facewash and contact solution are not cheap. And when you add that to the price of toothpaste, toothbrush, floss, soap, shampoo, a razor, and a really good pair of eyebrow tweezers, that’s at least $35 worth of stuff to replace. Not to mention the case itself.
My eggplant LL Bean hanging travel toiletries case monogrammed with RMN that I’ve had for probably 15 years, I’m letting you go. I give you to the tiny guesthouse next to the beneficio. Hartmann Family Estate, may you remember my footsteps. I’ll quite likely be back soon.
In Cedral one of my hipster Urban Outfitters lightning bolt Harry Potter rock n roll stud earrings fell out. But that doesn’t really count. it might still turn up in the bottom of my sleeping bag or something when I do a full air out-unpack.
In Biolley I left my sunglasses. This was kind of a bummer. I realized they weren’t in the pocket of my camera bag, but I assumed they were in my purse. I assumed wrong.
H&M sunglasses, I give you to the lush cafetales and the verdant shade of the varietal gardens. Coffea Diversa, may you remember my footsteps. I’m sure one day I’ll be back.
Routes through Costa Rica and Panama, houses and homes and hotels and hostels, I offer to you respect and trust and joy and lots of abstract nouns. I also offer you things that occupy space, physical items with texture and mass
Routes through Costa Rica and Panama, may you remember my footsteps. You never know when I’ll be back.