Alcatraz.

Date: 16 December 2020

Location: Somewhere over the Caribbean. And isn’t that a miracle.

London.

On a good day it’s still wonderful, the dark dusted with twinkle lights, with a breath of Dickensian self-importance, never quiet nor really still. On a bad day it closes in around you – dark, persistent sirens, restless fast walkers with me in their number. And this year, it offers none of its usual sweets. The theatres and galleries have shut up. Restaurants limp through takeaway only service. The Tube rattles emptily. Winter Wonderland, the neon, be-tinselled horror we love to hate, never made it and Hyde Park stands grieving.

All of this to say, 2020 London is not the place for Christmas alone. It’s not kind to the homesick nor the tired. It’s no balm for the stretched-thin soul. I’ve done one Christmas in London (mostly) alone and it’s not something I’m keen to repeat. I won’t easily forget the hollow days from Boxing Day until that first proper week of January, where time slips and slides and it feels like it’s permanently 3pm on a winter Sunday. We had planned to be home in Australia but that wasn’t to be. Then we thought maybe Sri Lanka? Turkey? Italy? But their doors

And so here we are. On a plane for the first time in almost exactly six months, heading in the opposite direction to our Australian ‘home’. (Or, maybe towards it after all, the globe doesn’t care which way you navigate it.) En route to Costa Rica.

I know ten times more about Costa Rica than I did three weeks ago, but ten times “is it near Uruguay?” isn’t very much.

I know now that it sits proudly between Nicaragua and Panama, a rugged little emerald snug between its poor cousins. I know it’s far more expensive than these neighbours, a product of its popularity with American tourists. Probably itself a product of its having lots of sloths. I’m just guessing now. I know it is nestled between the Caribbean and the Pacific, on the slender but crucial strip that is Central America. I know that it’s famous for its wildlife, and its care for that wildlife. And I know that the flight from Madrid, which we had both pegged at ‘8 hours or so, right?’ is actually a hefty 11 hours, but gives you the benefit of the longest possible sunset, as you chase the tail of the day west. (Accordingly, have had like three brunches.)

We’ve planned quite an adventurous trip, most of which is on an Intrepid tour. This may be a mistake. It’s been a tough year (I can’t even type that without rolling my eyes at myself — no kidding) and perhaps what we really need is to flop on a beach? Instead, we’re travelling across a country with a mountain range at its core that sits on two oceans on a group trip. Is this wise? Who knows. I do know that it would be hard to go to Costa Rica and sit on one’s butt. What about seeking out the sloths? What about viewing the volcano from the lake? The zip lining in the cloud forest? Quepos? Monteverde? Not questions to be left unanswered. And a group trip in the Intrepid way — small groups, local guides, everyone low maintenance etc — seemed wise.

As I type, I can tell how tired I am and I can feel the stress creeping in, so I’ll leave you here to dream of jungles and the pura vida.

Love,

Alex

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