After a full day of two three-hour classes, I just wanted to go home to my host family. Being around the other students where I was studying abroad in Costa Rica made me melancholy. They were all so outgoing and confident, with a easygoing thirst for adventure that made my stressed-out, culture-shocked self retreat far into the shadows. Don’t get me wrong, they were a great group of people, but even as nice as they were to me, I was endlessly intimidated, and plagued by a foreboding sense that I couldn’t fit in with them.

It was also Friday. The weekend was calling my name, and I was cold and tired and ready to descend the hill to San Rafael where I could unwind. But on Fridays, we had another assignment. We had to stay later, watch a movie, and talk about it. It would be close to 8:30pm when I finally stepped up to my host family’s gate and called my shy, diffident, “¡Hola!”

Trying to ignore the fact that I really didn’t want to be there, I seated myself in a cushioned couch with one of my classmates, whom I had connected with most on this study abroad experience. After watching the movie, the students talked through a bit of commentary. I didn’t express myself wonderfully in Spanish–probably used the wrong word and sounded odd. And then we braved the dark windy night on Monte de la Cruz for the twenty seconds it took to pile into the university van that would take us each back to our home-stays.

The first part of the descent into San Rafael was hemmed in by tall trees, but about halfway down, they opened up, and I suddenly found myself looking at a sight that filled me with joy like a jolt of electricity. I saw the Valle Central spread out, a huge depression in the earth bordered by mountainous hills pulling up the other side. A dense network of countless lights unfolded, as far as I could see before trees blocked my view again. San José, San Rafael, Heredia…and many more cities and communities I hadn’t yet heard the names of, were illuminated, decorated with lights from closely packed houses, buildings, and streets.

City lights.

I was rushed back to my childhood, staring out the window of my parents’ car as we drove home in the dark. I would stare off into the distance at the speckled glow of the faraway urban landscape, and it always filled me with wonder. Even while I vehemently considered myself a country person, I had an acutely fond fascination for city lights.

I didn’t know how overwhelming they could be until that night. No one else in the car seemed as filled with the sense of ecstasy that beat within me. I didn’t know what to do with this inspiration, this joy. Civilization. Life. Activity. Light superimposed upon the dark in an eternity of patterns and variations. I tried to express my rapture in Spanish, but I failed. I would have failed in English too.

The second time I encountered this sight in Costa Rica, I tried to take a picture of it, but my phone couldn’t handle it. Fortunately, I found one on google, but it’s from a different angle, and it still doesn’t quite capture everything.

Like a starry landscape, something so powerful in person is very difficult to express with a mere photograph.

One thought on “Lights

  1. I love the picture, even if the lights are in the way-distance, and you have some lovely details here. The memory of skirting the urban landscape in my parents’ car is something that will stick with me, too. I love city lights for the very reasons you describe. Thanks for taking me back!

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