Dear Backpack:

Dear Backpack:

I arrive at the Hotel Aranjuez with the cab driver who, in his limited English, promises he will help me and come in and explain my situation to the hotel worker. Not that I needed his help. Gregory, at the HA, spoke almost flawless English and became My Angel during my stay in San Jose.

“I’m going to have to stay another night now and I don’t know what I’m going to do and I don’t know if I have to go back to the border now or what, but I have to get my backpack. I have to get my backpack. But I have to stay here tomorrow night too now. But I have a reservation for tonight, you know I have a reservation for tonight, right? But what about tomorrow, can I stay tomorrow too?” I said that all in one breath, I think and in the whiniest, littlest-girl voice you could imagine.

“Well,” he says gently. “Why don’t we start with your name and I’ll look up your reservation.” Ohgod, now I’m embarrassed that I’ve just blabbered all over this guy like a fool and started in the middle of the paragraph, no less. Okay, okay, back to the beginning. So I explained it all.

He couldn’t quite understand how all this had happened though and I felt like a bit of a buffoon when he started asking questions.

Did they give you some kind of receipt?
Do you know the name of the bus company?
Do they have an office here in San Jose?
No. I don’t know.
Where did they drop you off in the city?
I don’t know.

It kept going like that.

Ohmigod, the tears were falling and I was trying to maintain my composure, really I was, but I just needed to fall apart. Into someone’s arms who told me everything would be okay would have been preferable, but there was no one around like that and Gregory, well, Gregory was great, but he was not that much of My Angel. I kept moving away from and back to the Reception Desk as I tried – but failed – to dry my eyes. He looked at me with all the concern he clearly had and said, we’ll figure this out, we’ll figure this out and then awkwardly looked away when I couldn’t hold back the tears. The cab driver explained all the phone numbers I had and Gregory agreed he would try them all and help me to get to the bottom of this. The cab driver took his leave and my $10, which I found out later ended up being almost triple of what it should have been. Okay, so I tried to avoid getting conned by the renownedly-corrupt San Jose taxi drivers, but in my state, I fell right into his trap. No matter. No matter.

Gregory tried all three of the numbers and none of them worked. One of them was for a restaurant where the bus man told me they sometimes store luggage when the official place is not open. This was news to the restaurant. No one answered the “Official Number” and the bus driver for the next day didn’t either. None of this was giving me any sense of confidence in ever seeing my bag again.

I was beyond bereft. It was one thing to lose this stuff: all my clothes, all my electronic chargers, swimsuits, jacket, sarongs, all the exactly-right toiletries, medications. My vibrator. Now we’re talking important. None of this stuff was irreplaceable, obviously. I had all the, quote, Important Things on me. But what is important, after all? Can I be out here in the world with absolutely nothing? I thought not. I thought maybe I would have to just end the trip. Okay, girl, slow down, slow down, sister, no need to get ahead of yourself here. But I loved that blue dress and my new orange sarong and that little light, white, short-sleeved thing that was the perfect find and oh yeah, my sleep sack, my sleep sack. I’ve had that thing for fifteen years! I’ve got this packing-for-traveling thing down to a science and that’s taken some time and Virgo diligence – how could I possibly replace all this stuff? I couldn’t. Yes, everything was replaceable, but here, here in Costa Rica or Nicaragua or Honduras? Really, how was I going to replace everything? Okay, okay, slow down, slow down. Breathe. Fuck that, I can’t breathe, I’m freaking out. Where is my bag? Am I ever going to see it again? I’m fuckin’ all alone out here, all alone out here and my bag, where the fuck is my bag? Okay, so the tears were coming big time now. But I wasn’t alone in this. Really, I wasn’t. Gregory was on it and involved and determined to help me.

The Hotel Aranjuez was the perfect choice of a place. Not spendy, but beautiful, in a quiet, old neighborhood (not that I cared much about that, at this point) and clean, with sweet attention to creating beauty in its ambience and service. It was truly a refuge for me. I noticed a big exhale as I turned the key in my door and saw nothing outrageously splendid, but a nice big double bed, attention to art on the walls, and a motif of orange throughout. Orange, a color very similar to the color of my backpack.

I would not be leaving for Nicaragua in the morning after all. Whether I would be going back to the border or whether I would wait for the daily bus to arrive tomorrow seemed to be my two choices.

Gregory was not reassuring. I was on the hotel computer when he came to me and said he and his colleague had been talking. It all sounded quite fishy to them. He thought maybe I ought to file a report with the police.

Ohmigod, really, you think so?

Yes, I think so. This doesn’t make sense what happened to you. Why should they have kept your bag at the border? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

If my heart wasn’t as low as it could be, it sank even lower.

I stayed at the computer, if for no other reason, that it gave me something to do with my hands, something to focus on. I was letting my hotel for tomorrow night know that I wasn’t coming. I was writing to “my women,” – those women in my life who are with me every step of the way – about what was happening. And I was crying. Typing and crying and typing and crying. But I was somewhere pretty and clean and with someone who could understand me and who wanted to help me. And while I wished for the comfort that I didn’t have in the moment, I also had everything I needed.

I approached Gregory again, not eager to take the next step he had suggested: contacting the police. He smiles when I appeared and says, “Good News!”

“Huh? What’s the good news?”

“I just spoke to someone at the border who knows about your bag. You don’t need to contact the police. She has your bag. And she’s going to try to get it on tomorrow’s bus. Everything will be fine. We’re going to work all this out.” And then he smiled again. And then I tried to, I tried to, but I couldn’t yet quite believe it. No, he wouldn’t be working tomorrow when I would need to call her (ohno, ohno, Gregory, don’t leave me now, I need you!), but I could explain everything to his colleague and he would help me to call Maria in the morning and find out what had happened with my bag.

“Don’t worry, don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

I liked Gregory, really I did. But I hatehatehate it when people tell me not to worry. And I liked Gregory but I hated that he told me that and I hated that he wasn’t gonna be here tomorrow when I needed him. But I didn’t let him know any of that, for god’s sake, of course I didn’t. I thanked him over and over and over again until I think I started to annoy him and then I went out to get some food.

It’s the next morning now. Gregory’s colleague tells me to take a taxi back to the bus stop and wait for the bus to arrive. It should get there at 3 pm.

2:15 pm

The bus stop is 10 minutes away, so I order a taxi and I’m there at

2:32 pm

I vaguely remember the surroundings now that I am back here. Waiting in front of the Hotel Cocori which looks like a place that rents rooms by the hour, even if it doesn’t.

There’s no sign that this is a bus stop, there’s no information of any kind. I am just standing here in the wind and the cold in my red spaghetti-strap dress that I’ve been wearing non-stop for three days now. (I know, Flea, you told me red isn’t a good color for me, but I swear this dress works, or it did before it was in its current state!) It’s smelly and so am I and I’m waiting for the bus to arrive. Maybe I look like I’m one of the women who could be available to hang out in the Cocori for an hour or so. I feel like I’m getting those kinds of looks from passersby, but maybe that’s just me. I’m cold. It’s blowing, the wind; and I have no warmth. I’m nervous. What if my bag isn’t here? What if the bus was early and already got here and left? Lots of tension in my body. Even tears at the surface and I’m not sure whether they are tears of relief or tears of frustration and fear of what I will do if my bag isn’t here.

A homeless man walks by. He is digging in the garbage can, finding food in there and eating it. He has a once-white sheet (double flat, it looks like to me) draped around his shoulders and it’s dragging on the sidewalk. It’s a filthy dirty mess and so is he. He is carrying an empty, huge metal wok. I know not what for.

The smell of urine wafts through the air carried on the wind that’s blowing, blowing, blowing and there is no relief from the cold for me. There’s a coffee shop connected to the Hotel Cocori and even though I could probably see outside from it were I to venture in and get out of the cold, I am so consumed with being right there, my vigilance on high alert, that I can’t even take the chance to step inside lest the bus arrive and rapidly depart in that very second. Yeah, I know there’s noting rational or realistic about it, but that’s what I’m thinking.

2:47 pm

My stomach is in knots. I feel palpitations and the tension is rising all through my body; it feels like my nerves are so close to the surface, I feel like I can almost see them. Yeah, yeah, breathe, breathe. But I can’t seem to stop the flow of anxiety. Tears begin to fall and again, I don’t quite know what I’m crying for except as a release of some of this tension.

It’s too close to 3 pm. I almost don’t want 3:00 to arrive; I don’t want to be reminded that the bus has already come and gone. Ohgod, what if the bus has already come and gone, how am I possibly going to track it down after it leaves here. There is no bus station, there is only an unmarked stop.

The minutes are simultaneously dragging and flying by. I am pacing and beginning to attract more attention. Even in their hurried walking along, people seem to be wondering what I’m doing standing here, pacing here. But maybe that’s just me, yeah, I’m sure it’s just me.

I’m freezing in my red spaghetti-strap dress as the local Ticas walk by in long sleeve shirts, jackets, boots and scarves and here I am a flimsy, gauzy red spaghetti-strap dress that needs a wash as much as I do.

2:58 pm

Ohgod, it’s almost 3 pm. What if the bus doesn’t come? What if it already came? I can’t believe I’m so anxious about this, but I am, I am. I am standing alone in a crummy neighborhood in San Jose, Costa Rica, freezing my ass off and waiting for a bus that supposedly has my backpack that might have already come.

The noise of the passing trucks and taxis and cars doesn’t stop. Horns blowing and tires squealing. The fumes are toxic and give me a feeling of queasiness on top of already too much tension. The skies are darkening and it looks like it’s threatening to downpour at any moment.

But then I look in another direction and the sky is almost crystal clear and blue with some scattered white friendly-looking, puffy clouds. So I move my head back and forth – clear over there, dark and threatening over there. I guess I have a choice which way to look, which perspective to take; but all that New-Age, high-falutin, spiritual gobbledy-gook feels just like that right now. Sometimes cloud are just clouds, for fuck’s sake. I’m anxious and that’s all there is to it and nothing, nothing is making it better.

3:08 pm

Out of nowhere two large green parrots suddenly appear and land on the traffic light dangling from the black overhead wire. They begin chirping, singing, squawking loudly. No one seems to notice them or at least paying them any mind except me. I’ve decided they’ve landed to announce the bus’s and my backpack’s imminent arrival. Nothing like a little narcissism in the midst of the anxiety to really round out the picture. Last night I had a dream about having a pet bird, so maybe these parrots are somehow related.

I should have come earlier. Why didn’t I get here earlier? I wasn’t doing anything at the hotel anyway; why didn’t I come earlier?

3:15 pm

A man approaches me and starts speaking to me in Spanish. He remembers me from yesterday, he says. I wonder if it’s me he remembers or the red spaghetti-strap dress. I realize that it doesn’t really matter. I don’t remember him, but I was out of my mind yesterday and I’m still pretty close to it today. No, the bus hasn’t arrived yet, he says. Soon. Pronto. Yeah, I like the sound of that. I breathe a little deeper, notice the slightest lessening of tension in how I’m holding my shoulders, but slightest, slightest. What does he know? Why should I believe him?

The parrots are gone.

I notice lots of dead roaches (as in insects, not as in marijuana) in the cracks of the sidewalk. And lots of cigarette butts. It makes me want to smoke. Cigarettes. Ohno, I don’t really want to, but if there was a cigarette nearby right now, I would light it right up and smoke it. And I’d feel even more sick to my stomach, but I would do it, I swear I would.

3:24 PM

There must have been 100 buses that have passed already. I keep sticking my head around the corner, around the corner that I think I remember is the corner that we came from; and I keep seeing buses coming from that direction and then my heart jerks a little bit thinking maybe this one, maybe this one is my bus. But no it isn’t and I wonder, how the fuck many buses have passed by in the almost-hour I’ve been standing here in my red spaghetti-strap dress, freezing and thinking I could have spent this time counting the buses. But I didn’t.

3:33 pm

Well, the bus is either late or this guy is wrong and it already came and I missed it. Ohfuck, I hope I didn’t miss it. What will I do if I missed it?

Another man arrives and him I do remember. He remembers me, too and approaches, puts an arm around my shoulder and asks me how I am. Terrible, I say, in my best Spanish accent, rolling my r’s just like I’m supposed to. How the hell do you think I am? (I don’t say this.)

“No, no, don’t worry” (people hear love this expression – I hear it a lot – it must be in the texts of Learning English 101). “Everything is fine, the bus is late, but it’s coming, it’s coming soon.” Then he gets on his cell to call the driver.

A woman in the tiniest shortest shorts walks by. She’s got the longest legs I’ve ever seen in the shortest shorts I’ve ever seen and she’s wearing the thickest wedge shoes I’ve ever seen. Wedge shoes are back, did you know?

3:42 pm

“Here comes the bus! It’s coming around the corner now!,” the man yells towards me.

I run to the corner to watch as yes, the Bocas Torenos bus is turning the corner and coming in this direction. Ohgod, here is the bus. Is my backpack on the bus or is it not on the bus? That is the question. I’m so nervous about this moment, I can’t believe how dramatic I’m being in this process, but it’s just what is so, so I’m standing here in my red spaghetti-strap dress and feeling ridiculous and cold and nervous and worried and anxious and now the moment arrives.

The bus is here.

The driver gets off and opens the big door on the side to get all the bags out.

I don’t see my bag.

Boxes of bananas and suitcases and over-sized bags of rice and god-knows-what are being lifted up and placed onto the sidewalk.

Still, I don’t see my bag.


Suddenly I see it.

It’s the last bag coming out of the bus.

And then the driver puts it on the sidewalk like it’s just another bag.

But it’s not.

It’s my backpack and though it looks a bit worse for wear and dirtier than I remember it, it’s here.

My backpack is here.

I go to it, approach it slowly, almost tentatively, but more like with great intentionally and with sacred attention.

I pick it up and hold it against my body.

I think I probably look ridiculous but I don’t care.

My backpack is here.

When the taxi driver offers to carry it to the cab, he stops immediately when he sees the look in my eye and reconsiders. I almost always accept the offer of help, but not this time. Not today. Today carrying the backpack is my responsibility. And so I do and we are off, together again, like we belong.

This entry was posted in Central America. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dear Backpack:

  1. Richard Powers says:

    AMAZING story about the backpack–incredible!!!

    Love, Richard

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