Back in San Jose, I took a cab right to Pepe’s house. With my stomach just now recovering, I wasn’t sure jumping into another local bus would be the smartest move. The cab ride was fairly easy, but of course it was $25, which made me cringe. Regardless, all my stress melted away back at Pepe’s, where three more backpackers were crashing for various lengths of time.

The clan

Birthday trek along the river.

There was one couple from Spain and another solo fellow from Norway. The couple from Spain, Angel and Fanny, had been in Central America for three months. They started in Mexico, and were working their way down to Panama before flying back home. Despite the moderate language barrier—my shitty Spanish meeting their broken English, I really liked these two. They were always smiling and never seemed to have any tension between them.

From what I’ve experienced of traveling couples, which includes sitting next to them on airplanes or eavesdropping on their conversations, aka arguments, at hostels and such. Couples don’t normally travel well. Typically one wants 5thAvenue and the other wants a trek through the Amazon. This couple was totally cool, and if they did have disagreements, they had them in private.

Picnic Area

This is the picturesque little park where we celebrated my birthday picnic.

I only planned to stay a couple days before heading to my next destination, and it just so happened that my birthday was one of them. Before leaving, people kept asking me what I was going to do for my birthday, and quite simply I had no idea. Upon arriving, Pepe informed me of his intentions to organize a picnic for my birthday. The Spanish couple went to the grocery store and bought items to make a chicken pasta salad and Spanish omelets. They spent the night cooking, and the next morning I awoke around sunrise (5am) and began preparing breakfast for the crew.

One by one the others emerged from upstairs to feed at the communal trough and pack for our upcoming birthday picnic. With 5 of us crammed into a Toyota Camry, we headed towards a beautiful riverside trail in Cartago. After a brief jaunt around the river, we promptly proceeded to our mountaintop picnic. The location was atop some random mountain, and it really couldn’t have been more beautiful.

Pizza birthday cake

Blowing out the candles on my “birthday cake”.

For the next three hours we just ate awesome food, drank good red wine, talked, laughed, lay out in the sun, and drank a little more. For the first time in a very long while, I felt a sliver of peace—stillness, calm… That was basically the point where my decision to leave in April became resolute.

That night they would surprise me again by ordering pizza and putting homemade candles on it to celebrate my 27th birthday. Without any planning whatsoever, this birthday celebration topped nearly all the others. That night I decided to visit an area of Costa Rica on the Pacific coast known as Manuel Antonio.

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