During our recent trip to Costa Rica, I knew I had to return to Playa del Coco. Fifty years earlier, while traveling by land back to California after our two year Peace Corps stint in Colombia, Barbara and I took a local bus to Playa del Coco in northern Costa Rica. It was a small town and we stayed in a very minimal cabin facing the beach. I took two photos while I was there. One of a veranda with a thatched roof and the other of a lone tree on the beach.
When I learned that this Costa Rica trip would take us near Coco, as the locals call it, I dug around in a box of old photos until coming across those two possible Coco photos. I say ‘possible’ because I hadn’t labeled them.
So now our group – my son, his girlfriend Laura, his Argentine friend Sebastián, my husband and I and Frida, the rescue dog – piled into the worn pickup truck and bounced the forty minutes into “town”, Playa del Coco, now a rather shabby but bustling tourist destination. Nothing looked familiar to me – until we reached the beach. I looked up and down the curving stretch of white sand, trying to recall the moments all those years ago when I’d stood in that very place. I showed the group my two photos and we set off down the beach to find where I’d snapped the tree-on-beach photo.
“There, those hills bordering the beach look just like these in the photo.”
“Isn’t that your tree?”
“Oh, my gosh! It is!”
I ran up to it and wanted to hug it. There was no mistaking it’s broad, deep green leaves and its tilt towards the ocean. It hadn’t grown a lot in fifty years. They snapped several photos of me under my tree.
I filled with nostalgia for the young woman who’d stood on this spot five decades earlier, never imagining I’d be there again in later life. I was moved by something more that has taken me some time to identify. The place had taken on a special meaning for me. Perhaps it was euphoria or gratitude – not only for the possibility of returning, but also for a deep sense of completeness.
I still had the other photo to identify and needed to locate someone who’d been here in 1967. Walking along the beachfront, I spotted an elderly ice cream vendor with a friend. Aha!
“Señor, are you from here?”
“Then maybe you can help me. I took this photo here fifty years ago, but I don’t recognize this place.”
“Oh, that was the Playa del Coco Casino. It’s no longer there.”
“Muchas gracias! Would you mind if I took a photo with you to commemorate this fifty years event?”
We posed, smiling, in front of his ice cream cart, Playa del Coco and the Pacific in the background.