One of my favorite parts of travel is that travel inevitably changes you. Leading up to the trip, there is always a sense of anticipation, knowing that you will come back a different person than you left as, but not quite knowing just yet what that will be. Usually, you get back from your trip, and are so busy trying to jump back into real life, that it takes a while for you to reflect, to contemplate, to recognize just how you have changed. It wasn’t until I returned from Paris that I realized what an important part music plays in my life, that I am actually an introvert, and food can be a form of entertainment. It was not until I returned from Dublin that I understood my opposition-defiant nature, my love for the land, and for Oscar Wilde. It was not until I returned from Costa Rica that I appreciated my sense of adventure, my time with family, and the ability to fit in really, really small spaces.
I believe, as Millennials, we owe it to our grandparents and our parents to take advantage of traveling, because travel is so convenient, so accessible, so affordable. It used to be that only the elite got to travel–the only way the average American family would see the expansiveness of the United States was to travel on Route 66. In Season 2 of ‘Mad Men’, it is a big deal when Don Draper travels from New York to do business in California, and picks Pete Campbell to join him. My dad remembers going to the airport with his mother, he dressed in a suit, she dressed in pearls and heels–because traveling was AN OCCASION.
As I sit here and type this, it’s amazing to think that, exactly one week ago, I was vacationing in Costa Rica. I hopped on an airplane, was dropped off in a completely different world with rain forest trees, rural roads, and Zika, and, in a matter of a few more hours, found my way back to my natural habitat (that included NO bugs, NO rain, and NO sandy floors).
It was a very interesting experience to be vacationing in a third world country. As we drove down the partially completed, very pot-hole infested, windy “highways” in our fancy Toyota Land Cruiser, I couldn’t help but recognize the irony in the fact that, here I was, taking advantage of a land where the resident population lives in shanties, walks everywhere, perhaps with old tires tied together as shoes, has no trash service, and maybe–maybe has running water. People, like myself, go to Costa Rica, because the land is lush, green, and beautiful. The remote black, volcanic beaches back up to swells of jungle (I imagine this is where the kids in ‘Lord of the Flies’ wash up to). There is hardly any traffic, the ‘attractions’ are relatively inexpensive–and after we take advantage of these amenities, we pack up, and go back to our privileged lives.
Especially as a person of European descent, I felt my privilege emitting attention everywhere I went. I’ve had one other notable racial experience when I transitioned from riding the metro in Paris to the subway in New York. In Costa Rica, the locals were certainly friendly, and because I clearly was not a local, I absorbed cat calls, requests, the store clerks treated me differently, eyes followed me down the sidewalk. While racism certainly exists in our own country, I’ve never felt this uncomfortable, this naked by simply just my appearance, and the fact that I come from a category of people I have no control over, and I can only imagine how it must be like to live in any of these ‘minority’ categories on a daily basis.
As I lounged in the hammock on the beach, and had the fan boy feed me grapes (ok, this didn’t actually happen, but I did guilt someone into bringing me the Cheetos), I thought about the 35,000 North Americans who migrated to Costa Rica, probably for this lifestyle, where there is no sense of time, no formal obligations, no urgency or expectations to look a certain way, dress a certain way. I think there is a difference between living a life of pleasantry, and living a life of purpose. As Americans, we often think this egotistical and illogical thought that everyone should live our middle class American lifestyle–everyone should go to college, everyone should takes showers everyday, everyone should have an excess of everything, everyone should work in the corporate world. Costa Rica lives in the ‘blue zone’, which means that their people have a higher life expectancy, and as I toured the country, I couldn’t help but agree with the validity of that statement. The local diets consist of rice, beans, vegetables, and a little protein–not processed fats, sugars, and other synthetic ingredients. My lungs and pores immediately felt refreshed since there are few cars, people walk or ride their bikes everywhere, so there is limited pollution. The pace of life is slow, revolves around family–why WOULD they want to adopt our materialistic, stress driven, lonely American middle class lifestyles?
On our very-American vacation, we spent one day at Diamante Eco Adventure Park, which cost us $88 for a day full of zip lining, kayaking, paddle boarding, an amazing animal sanctuary, and lunch (with the BEST mango juice). The zip lining guides were so friendly and knowledgeable–the best part is that they release you, so you have no control over when you start. We met the owner–a former Carolinian–who took us on a private tour of the animal sanctuary. We were so impressed with his knowledge of Costa Rica culture, the construction of the park, his interaction with his employees. It was definitely money well spent.
We also spent a day with Marlin de Rey sunset cruises. The boat offers a variety of seating options (I sat in the front, like where JoJo & Jordan “fell in love” during their sunset cruise in Uruguay). We spent about an hour, sailing into the vast ocean, and passing The Four Seasons (where Kim Kar-trash-ian and Charlie Sheen are said to have stayed), did a little bit of snorkling (there are some QUITE ugly fish in the ocean), ate a delicious chicken dinner. On our trek home, we saw some sea turtles fornicating in the ocean, some dolphins playing with driftwood, and of course, a beautiful pink and orange sunset, contrasted behind the lush green jungle hills. It was magical (no picture will ever do it justice).
But, with all of this set aside, would I recommend going to Costa Rica? If you don’t like bugs, humidity, and sand, probably not. Don’t expect any large metropolitan districts that you can spend a day shopping in–the town of Liberia has one stoplight (and, surprisingly, a McDonald’s). You won’t wear any make up, and there’s no use in doing anything to your hair, because it will probably rain. You probably won’t go to any refined museums, like the Louvre or the British National Museum–but you might get to hear the local marching band perform. While the restaurants have decent food, you probably won’t find yourself wining and dining in fancy get ups every night (or if at all). But, if you care not about those things in a vacation, and your adventurous spirit is tugging at you, I’d say absolutely go to Costa Rica. The land is beautiful–the rolling hills, the black, sandy beaches, the lush green jungles, hidden waterfalls. The locals are super friendly, and are always willing to help you find a trail, give recommendations for food, or explain the history of the culture to you. The accommodations and attractions are relatively inexpensive (even if you do feel like you are ‘raping the land’).