Our recently concluded term in Spanish-speaking Costa Rica was a nostalgic one for graduating senior Liisa T., as her month there was filled with daily reminders of her very first term in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In ‘I want to go somewhere where the stars in the sky are different,’ Liisa looks back fondly on that first term while realizing just how far she’s come in the last two and a half years
Buenos Aires, Argentina, September 2012
When I was sixteen, my first overseas flight introduced me to a 5am Latin American sky colored in burning pink tones. At the time, the colors seemed to swallow the sky and the plane whole.
Thousands of meters underneath me lay Argentina; buildings and streetlights decorating the moist and soft morning ground where gauchos used to roam and where bloody wars for independence had been fought. From the distance of my plane, I remember thinking that the industrial lights beneath me resembled stars that had fallen from the sky and begun to flicker bright pink.
I glared down at South America from my small airplane window in fear. My trembling stomach and mind that had not been able to sleep for the past two days sensed that I would wander back to this distinct moment many times in the future.
I still think about that moment sometimes, though I forgot it temporarily after arriving in Buenos Aires and settling into my apartment with its small climbable balcony and street view. Rapidly, I learnt many things in my new city, including how dark apartments can become if both you and your roommate have an unfortunate knack of losing thin room keys. I also learnt that the secret for getting home from school on the days when torrential downpours caused the rain to flood above my knees was either by $8 dollar taxis or not at all.
Our first student apartment in Buenos Aires
As each day in Buenos Aires moved towards its end and two tired teenage heads hit their pillows at night, the childish and innocent question, “do you like anyone yet?” was posed over and over again by my roommate. Slowly, it emerged into an inside joke told in hushed girly giggles, limited to our apartment under Buenos Aires’ star-sprinkled sky.
Then, once the lights were off and my roommate fast asleep, and definitely long after the angry Argentines flocked to their balconies at midnight to serenade brown-haired presidents and their corruption scandals with kitchen utensil instruments and political chants, I let my mind roam the land and everything I could encounter. I pondered the life I had left behind in Sweden and the many ‘what could have beens.’ I made attempts at solving the riddle of where my new nomadic path would take me, both geographically and as a person, before my eyes would finally close, lulled to sleep despite the best efforts of our noisy air conditioner and the parties of our neighbors that might have echoed in sound all the way to Chile.
Monteverde, Costa Rica, January 2015
This January, I returned to Latin America for the first time since leaving Buenos Aires two year ago. I was flying to Costa Rica for the second term of my senior year. This time, I was here to explore Central America instead of long and skinny countries with their beaming sun flags in the South. Many years had passed since those days and much had changed. For instance, I was no longer a blonde strolling around naïvely waiting to be mugged, but instead had become someone who recklessly breaks in at night to make Skype calls and finish up work.
My new home in Monteverde not only meant moving into the depth of the rainforest, but shaping other aspects of my life, too. For instance, the sound of Spanish had reentered my life on every level and brought back memories of my first time studying Spanish in textbooks, aiming to pick up new words in our school’s cafeteria and on the calles of Argentina, only a few short years ago.
Admittedly, my Spanish is still nowhere close to perfect. Rather, it turns out that it is just good enough to run into the kitchen and ask if they have more coffee or milk available, to exchange cheeky jokes with the campus workers, and to stress the word que and have people responding with warm smiles and a slower Spanish. Still, being back sometimes vaguely reminded me of being that scared sixteen year old who kept asking friends how to ask for more bread (¿hay más pan?), and then repeating the phrase many times in my own head before asking it out loud to our waiter Donny. This was only further stressing the radical changes I myself had gone through since first leaving home. Though, I still looked like the same blonde dressed in the same pastel colored blouses disguised in the same height.
Diners enjoy a meal
In the following weeks after my arrival in Costa Rica, I spent many afternoons on the front porch of our campus drinking coffee with my favorite Mexican classmate. Sometimes we would talk, sometimes we would scroll our fingers down our phone screens, other times we would be accompanied by more people, and some days we would just sit and stare at the rapidly moving clouds, admiring how the Costa Rican sky slowly turned bright yellow and orange. Other nights we would walk back from late night studies, again making time to stop and analyze the sky.
One night, when darkness had set and I was making my way back from the library, accompanied only by the light of the stars, I stopped in the middle of our campus soccer field. Flashbacks of being 16 years old and new to Argentina — “che”, alfajores, heated PE teachers with many insults and girlish giggles accompanying the sleep process each night spun in my 18-year-old mind. Clutching my backpack filled with heavy books and lengthy word documents, I stared at the Costa Rican night sky.
Out of all of the many books we read in Argentina, one quote stood out in particular more than all the others crammed into their many pages. It became a sentence I highlighted in my book and that I came back often to analyze. It became a sentence I cut out of papers and incorporated into art projects. A Texan author exclaimed in his book, the same book we read and analyzed in class, that he had solemnly left his state because he “wanted to go somewhere where the stars in the sky are different.”
Somehow, the words magically etched themselves deep inside my busy teenage mind. At the time, it felt as if all the dreams and hopes of this sixteen-year-old Swedish-Estonian girl, who thirsted for travel and culture, had been enraptured in one single metaphor.
Two years later, as I stood here staring at the buoyant night sky, my mind was once again flooded with thoughts of Buenos Aires, from that first early morning flight all the way up to my own solemn departure. On some nights, my mind was still up long after midnight. The bungalow I slept in, night after night, with a talkative Brazilian, an ever-reading South African, and a smiling Californian, (roommates whom all shared things in common, but most importantly a profound like of alliterated nicknames), was located in the middle of nowhere; in the jungle, and shuffled in between mountains. Nearly every night, the cold winds of the mountains would cause clouds to storm through the sky in between starfalls, and all I could think about was that even though this was the same sky that stretches itself above my hometown, it looked nothing like it.
Juan Santamaria International Airport, Costa Rica, Departure Day
On departure day, I plopped down into my plane seat, relieved to have removed my heavy backpacks and camera bags if only for a few hours. Though it was still dark outside, I looked out my window at Costa Rica one last time.
The sun had set many hours ago during the antecedent evening, and while setting had colored all of the palm trees outside of our airport hotel in orange and warm tones. I found it ironic to be leaving in a sleep-deprived state much similar to the one a younger me had experienced when arriving in Buenos Aires. This time was different, though, as the butterflies and anxiety that accompanied me on my initial flight years ago now had been replaced by fond recollections.
This was different, because this particular sleep-deprived state was the result of long discussions about politics, patriarchy, and anthropology, right up until my 3am departure. As I recalled my goodbyes to the friends who had become my family, the 4am sky outside had started to turn into 5am. A small layer of pink colored the early morning horizon in the faraway distance.
To me, the pink stripe characterized a small pink Post-it Note that someone carelessly had attached to the morning sky. If I could, I would have seized the Post-it Note from the sky and collected it, stored it somewhere safe, and saved it forever.
Because to me, the bright pink reminded me of an early 5am morning on another plane, in another Spanish speaking country, and with a much younger me. Before I noticed, the note had faded away. This time it had been replaced by the innocence of Costa Rican baby-blue tones that were marking a new day on the same morning sky.
Soon the plane took off and I realized that this, once again, meant goodbye. This goodbye felt different than the last one, and incomparable to the initial ‘hello.’
I looked out and spent the remaining time wondering what my next visit would be like, and equally, what I would be like.