My first meal in Costa Rica was at a Cuban restaurant.
But hey, it was my host’s recommendation, and who am I to argue with a local? So when she told me to eat lunch at La Bodeguita del Medio (aka La B del M), I listened.
The minute I sat down the waiter asked me if I wanted a mojito. I must have looked taken aback because he immediately elaborated.
“We have da world’s best mojitos.”
“Well in that case, of course I will take one.”
The mojito arrived at it was indeed the best mojito I have ever had. The freshness of the drink made me excited for the plantain chips with tomatillo salsa and two fried shrimp tacos with tamarind sauce and purple cole slaw that were on their way.
I wish I knew how to properly put into words how incredible this food was. Each time I took a bite I had to try not to make inappropriate noises.
I drooled over my delicious meal and the waiter hovered around my table asking questions like, “where are you from?” and, “how long are you visiting Costa Rica?”
This was the second person I met in Costa Rica (the first being my host). Both times the stranger treated me like we were long time pals. Maybe it is just chance. Maybe the people I have met thus far are the exceptions. Either way, everyone I met today was extraordinarily friendly and easy to talk to.
I taught my how to say, “enjoy your meal,” and explained that he could call himself a server or a waiter. He taught me how to navigate the city and recommended a few sights to see. By the time I paid the bill we were laughing and joking like we'd known each other our whole lives. I shook his hand, said goodbye, and thought to myself, “This is why I love traveling.”
For the rest of the day I toured a free museum and explored the downtown area. I was amazed by how little attention I got. I am used to traveling in countries where I am an anomaly. But Costa Ricans are used to seeing Americans and couldn’t care less that I was amongst them. The most attention I got was from a little boy who decided to attack me with his balloon sword.
I took full advantage of my inconspicuousness to wander up and down the streets of the Mercado Central. I admired the styles reminiscent of 2001 and danced alongside a crowd listening to a street performer.
Throughout the day I kept finding myself surprised at how familiar it all felt. Of course Costa Rica is a foreign country to me and things like the man I saw walking his hedgehog will continue to remind me of that. But there is something about this foreign country that feels oddly un-foreign to me. I have yet to pinpoint what that thing is, but then again, it’s only day one...