The Best Yet

May 9, 2023 Betsy Voreacos

The Best Yet

“Sorry girls,” I said over a zoom call with my five college friends shortly before our long-scheduled trip to Costa Rica. “There is absolutely no way I can go. They are finally starting our kitchen and I can’t possibly not be here.”

My comment was met with deafening silence.

Followed by, “Why don’t you change the start date of the construction?”

My friends had been hearing about the latest of my champagne problems for months and though they have put up with a lot from me, understandably could not understand why I was so worked up. But worked up I was. So worked up in fact, that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees (insert appropriate kitchen metaphor) – and the only solution I could see was to cancel my vacation.

Meanwhile, one of the girls was simultaneously holding down a job as she hammered out papers and studied for tests in the final weeks of finishing up her well-earned college degree. Another’s husband was having a fairly common, yet still quite concerning, cancer surgery eight days before the trip; one was expecting her first grandbaby; another had a spouse newly diagnosed with a not yet symptomatic, but terrifying disease. In the interim, our most seasoned and sensible traveler was busy booking drivers and researching fun, trying desperately to underscore the negativity that was brewing beneath (and above) the surface.

Yet because it was my kitchen, my life, my muddled brain, no one’s woes were worse than mine. I reasoned that they’d be better off without me and my never-ending stresses and stories. The more worked up I got, the less appealing the vacation became. promised temperatures in the upper 90s with hideously high humidity. The main tourist traps were hours from where we were staying and we were highly advised not to rent a car which meant over-priced excursions with private drivers. And worst of all (at least for those of us who like their sleep and don’t eat before lunchtime), a house mom would arrive every morning between 7:30 and 8:00 to prepare breakfast and clean up our mess. I figured I’d be much better off staying home, emptying cabinets and fussing and fuming about why and how we had accumulated so much stuff. I would wallow in the sick comfort of my own little world and would ultimately enjoy that more than say, a Tempisque River tour that left before sunrise – you know, to beat the heat.

But of course I went. I always do.

When the day came, the six of us staggered our alarms, waking up between 1:30 and 4:15 for our pricey, early-morning departures from four different cities. The adrenaline built as we texted each other, documenting our hopes and fears of layovers and luggage that may or may not make it to our second planes. We swapped stories about the oversized man with the splayed legs touching our thighs, reviewed our movie choices of I Wanna Dance With Somebody and When Harry Met Sally, groused about the chronic coughing of our seat mate, exuded about the young and fun couple who were also heading to Las Catalinas for a weekend wedding, and of course asked if anyone had done the Wordle yet.

Miracle of miracles, all six of us arrived at the Guanacaste Airport in Liberia, Costa Rica, breezing through customs within an hour of each other. Every piece of our collective checked luggage appeared, albeit much of it filled with a plethora of precautionary items we’d never use in a month of Sundays. And didn’t.

Our new favorite human, Javier Vargas of was waiting with a sign and a smile right outside the airport door in the not-as-oppressively-hot-as-we-feared tropical air. He ushered us into his air-conditioned van filled with ice-cold beers and water. We bumped over roads worthy of lawsuits back home and stopped at a grocery store where Javy picked out the freshest vegetables and juiciest fruits for our house mom to transform into the banquet of the day.

We rented our casa from a friend of one of the girls and while the skeptic in me felt sure the web pictures would lie, it was quite the opposite. The house was beautiful and Las Catalinas was a town created with me in mind – modern, clean, car-free, cobble-stoned and ocean-viewed with infinity and lap pools, bars, corner stores, all with the kindest of workers and the friendliest of people, complete with big red dogs loping from house to house.

“So, what’s the theme for the week?” I asked that first night while sipping Costa Rican rum in the plunge pool directly outside the living room door.

“Best Yet!” chirped the best of the bunch.

“Done,” we all agreed.

We met Daniella, our adorable culinary artist of a house mom, early the next morning. I pantomimed vomiting when it was necessary; explaining that one of us was allergic to pineapple or that another was hung over. But we soon discovered what we should have known all along – there’s an app for everything, and soon we were conversing like fast friends.

A few of us headed to the hills to hike our way to beautiful vistas of a Caribbean-colored Pacific Ocean, dodging iguanas and snakes and lord knows what other creatures along the way. We left about 9 am with promises of a good meal upon our return. We reasoned that we’re young, in shape and tough as nails and that 85 degrees wasn’t really all that hot. Well, an hour and a half later we realized that heat stroke is real, that climbing mountains is not as easy as walking neighborhoods, and that you won’t have to pee on the trail because you can’t possibly drink enough water to make up for what you sweat out.

But what a feast it was! Baked plantains, bacon, scrambled eggs, fried cheese, fresh fruit smoothies, rice and beans, chicken, home- made tortillas, and tons of guacamole, pico de gallo, all of which doubled as afternoon snacks, and made believers of even the most die-hard non breakfast eaters in the group.

We hung out at the pools, walked on the black, volcanic-sand beach and rode the waves. We befriended the wedding party guests who had arrived in droves and were gifted pounds and pounds of delicious tuna they had caught and couldn’t consume before their weekend party was over. We had meals in terrific restaurants with beautiful views and laughed and cringed as we retold the stories of our college days.

Then came the dreaded river cruise excursion that I had adamantly refused to go on. My plan was to sleep late, catch up on Words with Friends and finish The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell for book club the following Monday. I had zero interest in getting up at 4:15 to look at birds and bugs.

But of course I went. I always do.

Our best buddy, Javy, drove us through the Costa Rican country side, stopping for coffee or, in my case, diet coke, doughnuts and bathroom breaks. We boarded one of those roofed river boats with open sides and saw crocodiles, anteaters, bats that camouflaged as snakes, coatis and white-faced monkeys that would have rested on our heads had one of us (guess who) not freaked out about the potential physical contact. And then there were birds. Herons of multiple sizes, shapes and colors; white ibis, spotted sandpipers, crested caracaras, mangrove swallows, turquoise-browned motmots, ringed kingfishers, boat-billed flycatchers, social flycatchers and great kiskadees. If I were a wildlife lover, it would have been paradise. As it were, I am a people lover, so it all worked out fine.

From there we went to Guaitil for a deliciously authentic Costa Rican lunch followed by a pottery presentation by the brother and sister duo, Jordy and Karina. As indigenous artisans, they gave us a touch of culture and history in return for the purchase of decorated bowls that now sit at each of our houses back in the States.

We did a little more exploring with Javier giving us the rundown on everything from why there’s no gun violence in Costa Rica (you need to pass a psychological test before you can buy one – imagine that), to the country’s economist president, to the burning of sugar cane fields and the abundance of machetes. Of course we got details on way more interesting things, which are better not revealed in a public forum.

A week later, three of us headed home while the more adventurous trio went inward and onward to the rainforest region. One of the girls went home to care for her recovering husband, another to meet her new granddaughter and I to fuss and fume some more over the impending destruction of my kitchen.

As we get older and unwiser, it’s so much easier to just say no. Or in my case, to say no loudly and rigidly followed by a tail-between-my-legs repeal of my staunch stand.

My glass may always be half empty but the half that isn’t will always be filled with the things that matter. I don’t ever have to see another iguana or howler monkey or active volcano, but I can’t imagine living this life without eating and drinking and laughing with friends who love me despite myself. I can listen to the same stories on a continuous loop and will forever and ever love to muse over the silly, stupid things we once did.

And still do.

Which is why this trip was The Best Yet.

Until of course, the next time.