In Tamarindo, Costa Rica, I had one of my more epic ping-pong matches in recent memory. My opponent was a talented young German, who incorporated elements of Balls of Fury into his playing style. We rallied before starting the match, exchanging pleasantries and complimenting each other’s game: “Looks like you’ve played some ping-pong growing up…” “Nice shot man, I had no response to that…” “You’re a talented player, this is going to be a tough match…” Dusseldorf jumped out to an early lead in the first game and feigned humility, while inwardly basking in what he perceived to be imminent ping-pong glory. However, he failed to consider the countless hours I played with my father growing up, in friends’ basements, and the wall of my own ping-pong table. Dusseldorf was nothing compared to that wall; that wall returned everything. After losing Game 1, I ramped up my defense and wore him down with long rallies. It’s hard to lose in ping-pong if you don’t beat yourself. I ended up winning Games 2 and 3, taking the series, and the championship belt from Dusseldorf. We returned to our cordialities and congratulated one another on a hard-fought match, as we both sweat from head to toe. I don’t know what compelled me to tell this story, other than to share that there aren’t many competitions better than an evenly matched, fierce ping-pong battle (Full Disclosure: I may not have shared this story if I had lost the match). “History is written by the victors…”
Fatigue caused by my frequent movement from place to place every few days was beginning to set in. Towards the peak of my weariness and bouts of loneliness, even some of the incredible natural beauty I was experiencing failed to fully inspire me. Rationally, I knew what I was looking at was magnificent and should feel awe-inspiring, but you can’t muster up those feelings if they aren’t there. I even grew tired of meeting other travelers at hostels. Just as I quickly grow weary of small talk at cocktails parties, I made an effort to avoid the travel equivalent. At a cocktail party with new acquaintances, one can expect to be asked, “What do you do for a living?” The travel version of the “cocktail question” is, almost unfailingly, “‘Where have you been?, Where are you going?, What did you think of Place X,Y,Z?” In response: “I’m not sure about X,Y,Z…but I know what love is.” This triggers an uncomfortable laugh and an obligatory follow-up question to disperse the awkward particles floating between us: “Oh, okay, well…where are you heading to next?” (Sometimes I feel the need to stay in character): “Travel is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” And then she exits stage left. I’m a veteran at scaring away nice girls.
On other occasions, if I’m trapped and can’t avoid travel chatter, I might opt to derail the status quo and ask something like, “Do you have an “innie” or an “outie” belly button? Do you prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter (some Europeans will write in their answer: Nutella)? Would you rather continue to answer my bizarre questions or reestablish the status quo?” But honestly, more often than not, I don’t pull the trigger on these questions, and they remain floating around in my head. At hostels, you’re constantly surrounded by people who you engage with for short periods of time, and then they disappear a day or so later. Who would’ve thought it’s possible to feel lonely without a moment of privacy?
I realized my temporary travel funk was strongly related to my desire to establish a greater sense of purpose. A project that I could contribute to, a goal to work towards, a new skill to master. Don’t get me wrong, travel for an extended period of time in a foreign country (especially with a language barrier) teaches you lessons that you won’t learn in the classroom or cubicle. There is intrinsic value in experiencing new cultures, people, and languages. The lessons learned facilitate personal growth that will serve you well in whatever future endeavors you pursue. However, I will at some point rejoin the workforce, and believe it or not, I was eager to take a step in exploring how I might want to go about my reentry. Who, What, Where, When, Why…and How, are good questions to ask.
Through a series of fortunate events and connections, I was extended an opportunity to contribute to a unique project in Costa Rica for the next few months. I may or may not continue this blog during my travel hiatus, but for those who have been following my trip, know that all is well and I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my mother’s visit to Costa Rica, which was a rejuvenating and special experience for both of us. We went ziplining, wildlife watching, hiking, swimming in the ocean, cruising on a catamaran, and still found time to relax by the pool. The meals we shared were also really great. After months of transient travel and unfamiliarity, it was comforting to spend time with my mother. Definitely a blessing!
Other Recent Highlights Include: Exploring Isla Ometepe by moped, attending a professional baseball game in Nicaragua, Volcano boarding in Leon, Nicaragua, ziplining in La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio, viewing wildlife in Manuel Antonio with our talented guide and her scope, enjoying the beautiful Pacific Coast Costa Rican beaches, learning how to surf in Costa Rica, mountain biking in Costa Rica, watching a local soccer match, settling down for a few months and having a community of people in Costa Rica.