The following post details the Global Goulets’ journey from August 3 to August 16 (Days 114 – 139):
Eric didn’t remember much about Luisa. His old babysitter, who worked with his family up until he was 5 years old, had dissolved into not much more than a fading memory. “She was so wonderful with you,” Eric’s mom had told him. She sent him a few pictures from back in the day, which served as warm, fuzzy reminders of old times past.
But what would things be like now? It had been 20 years since Luisa left Eric’s family in New Jersey to return home to Palmares, Costa Rica. Things had changed. Luisa wouldn’t be the young, peppy 30-year old lady she once was. And for that matter, what would she think of Eric? Not only is he a full grown man now, a strikingly different stature from that smiley little boy she must’ve remembered, but he is weathered and scruffy from over four months on the road. And now there’s three of him! Brian and Alex were equally unshaved and unkempt, and we Goulets were in some especially unsightly conditions after a series of nights on the beach of Costa Rica’s gringo capital, Tamarindo.
There had been a great deal of anticipation leading up to this reunion. Eric had been calling up Luisa’s brother Gabriel every couple of weeks since May to tell him “ok, two more weeks!” The delay was compounded by our paralyzing car trouble and the ensuing heroism of our friends the Marletts, who were able to procure us a brand new American-made alternator to temporarily solve our woes. Back in El Transito again, Terri and Chris Marlett decided to hire us to make NICA some promo videos. But a trinity of reasons implored us to cross into Costa Rica now and return to Nicaragua later: our 90-day visa had 1 day remaining, we’d made plans to meet up with our friend Charlie in Tamarindo, and then of course the much overdue date with Luisa.
We picked up another traveler on our way to Costa Rica. David, an American who moved to Israel at age 11, had spent almost three months in San Juan del Sur, the home to the biggest party in Central America, and he was desperate for an escape route. He became only the second person to join our journey for any extended period of time, but he taught us some invaluable tricks, most notably how to smoke tuna in a can with only a flame and good old-fashioned toilet paper. Once in Tamarindo, we met up with Charlie, who did us a huge favor by bringing a much-needed package of goodies from New York, treated us to a fantastic falafel dinner, and delighted us with all the happenings in Manhattan. But prices were too high in Tamarindo and the scene oversaturated with vacationing Americans. We had to get out.
Several hours of driving later, we pulled into Palmares and scoured the town for a wifi connection to get in touch with Gabriel, who could meet us and bring us to their home.
When we finally met with Luisa, she arrived with baskets full of pep and enthusiasm, instantly reminding Eric of his cheerful boyhood days. She never seemed to run out of energy, simultaneously preparing meal after meal for all three of us whilst telling enough stories to fill a book the size of The Odyssey. From Luisa’s own childhood memories alongside her many siblings and cousins to the majestic recounting of their annual Christmas festivals and even into the juicy gossip of the relationships within her massive family, she seemed to be making up for lost time now. In fact, listening to her lengthy tales required just about the same level of focus as it takes to read any of literature’s great classics.
Over the course of the next several days, Luisa’s home became our home. While we so often meet incredible people on the road who openly invite us in and treat us with an abundance of hospitality, our stay at Luisa’s house quite literally felt like we were with family. She made it her goal to look after us, take care of us, feed us, and made absolutely certain we were experiencing all of the beautiful aspects of life in the quaint and humble little town her family has called home for hundreds of years.
We went on a series of adventures with Luisa and her family and friends. On day one, after a brief tour of the plush and vibrant garden adjacent to her home, we set off on a tour of the family farm, a source of immense pride to Luisa. She weaved us through a nearly nonexistent path on land that belonged to one of her dozens of cousins. At last we made it onto her turf. A vast expanse of land sat above and below us, primarily utilized as a coffee plantation but accompanied by several rows of plants intended for sale as decorative shrubberies. The outing revealed to us that Luisa’s family and their sizable share of land remains a cornerstone of the eco-cultural fabric of Palmares.
With Gabriel and Luisa together, we spent one evening at the rounded top of one of Palmares’ picturesque viewpoints. With stars lit up from above and the twinkle of the town’s nighttime lights from below, the scenery shined with a romantic glow. By day we journeyed to a lookout on the other side of town, where Luisa’s friend Adonai led us up a path through a pristine ecological reserve to the site where we could take in all of this unassuming little town that rested below.
After days of hype, Luisa at last introduced us to a much-lauded member of the family, Marcela. Every part as spunky as our bubbly host, Marcela took us to check out her family’s land in the neighboring town of San Ramos, where we met her incredible farmhand, Don Jugo. This 83-year old soul is a lifetime campesino (farmhand), spending six days a week de-weeding farmland wherever he’s been needed; he’s been doing it for nearly 70 years and shows no signs of slowing down. His tireless work habits brought to mind our own 6-day flirtation with life as a farmer back in El Salvador. We remember that time as grueling, thankless, and humbling and will forever admire those who make it their lifetime’s work.
After a short ride to check out a nearby, magnificent waterfall, we rolled on back to the house where we met up again with Gabriel and the newest member of the Rodriguez clan, his niece Sol. After a quick nap to re-energize ourselves for the rest of this jam-packed day, the five of us visited Gabriel’s favorite place in all of Palmares. A gentle stream, ironically named Rio Grande, lies veiled within a valley bursting with nearly ripe coffee bushes and otherwise untamed woodland. Though he normally spends his weekends there casually fishing in the stream’s natural serenity, we set out on a mission that day to traverse the river from our starting point at a two-hundred year old bridge to a hidden waterfall near the river’s birthplace. But this walk was no leisurely stroll. Gabriel took with him a machete to clear a path as we ducked under thickets of branches and climbed up and down stone-laden brush.
On our final night with Luisa, we enjoyed a festive feast with the entire extended family, fittingly celebrating Costa Rica’s Mother’s Day. We joked and laughed and practiced our improving Spanish as best we could with the relatives that relaxed alongside us. A common theme arose – one in which each family member insisted that they may not be rich, they aren’t poor, but they’re as happy as could be; we could feel their positives spirits palpably. From where we were sitting, this pervasive happiness starts and ends with a strong family bond. It’s something that seems to permeate throughout Latin America, making people from all ends of the economic order joyful and content.
We allowed this warm family vibe to saturate our own spirits. And as with nearly each and every place we’ve been to on our ever-extending adventure, we promised to be back.
Spending time with Luisa not only sparked childhood reflection on the part of Eric, but within Alex and Brian as well. So often on this trip we are focusing on personal growth, thinking about how we have and will continue to change the way we view the world, using our departure from New York as our starting point.
With Luisa, those thoughts expanded quite literally 100 fold. Rather than internalizing our growth over the course of the first four months of our trip, which we consciously grapple with on a daily basis, our visit to Luisa’s house provoked a stirring of our personal life paths from as far back as we can remember. It opened up a brand new appreciation for the journey we are on and a reminder to that question we so often ask ourselves: “how in the hell did we get here?” Such a unique lens of reflection elicits and broadens the importance of the many months, countries and cultures that lie ahead.
Our Luisa reunion reminded us that no matter how far we travel away from home and how rugged our living conditions become, we still melt with glee at the aroma of a home-cooked meal, made with love, and a warm bed to return to at night. Just as Luisa helped Eric prepare for the ups and downs of growing up in the safe confines of his New Jersey home, she has done the same for all three of us as we continue on our rally through unfamiliar turf to the end of the world.