In December of 2014, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Costa Rica to visit a longtime friend of mine. I haven’t been out of the country in a long time so I was really excited to see a part of the world that I have never experienced. While I always read about central America during my studies, I frankly didn’t know what to expect. In the end, while I met and connected with a great deal of hospitable people from different areas, I found myself missing the USA more and more.
Trip plan and overview
My goal for the trip was to visit as much of the country as possible. I really wanted to avoid the usual resort-related tourist traps and focused on seeing things that I wouldn’t see normally. To do that, I had to rent a car before my journey. The embedded Google Map below shows the points of interest I visited. If it’s not visible, see it here.
My travel companion was Johnathan Scott, a college wrestling friend from Maryland that is training on behalf of Costa Rica in hopes of competing in the Olympics. Johnathan recently competed at the Veracruz Games in Mexico where he went up against some of the best wrestlers in the world. It was a great reunion and John gave me some great local insight throughout my journey.
I also made it a point to collect the best pictures and media that I could find. An awesome iPhone App that I use is Photosynth (made by Microsoft) which allows me to make 360 degree panoramas. Just scroll your mouse through the image to see the full view.
Feb. 2017 Update: Microsoft announced in a blog post that is shut down the Photosnyth service. I therefore removed the embedded panoramas.
Arenal Observatory is the home to one of the world’s few active volcanoes. We didn’t get as close as I would have liked, but I took a decent panorama anyway.
Samara Playa (Beach)
“Pura vida” is the Costa Rican national slogan, meaning “pure life.” This was the first and last thing I heard when visiting the country. I quickly learned that Costa Rica is a much more laid back place the States. I thought California was pretty laid back, but it really didn’t compare to Costa Rica. I found myself getting anxious and antsy because I was used to much more fast paced culture. In fact, John’s brother Alex sent me a motivational text during the trip just saying “Relax.” I wish I took this advice more seriously. In short, I learned that being from America, I demanded food quicker, precise and brief answers, as well as a general sense of urgency from the people around me.
That being said, the people were extremely hospitable and went out of their way to try and accommodate me as much as possible.
Remote villages and exotic foods
While visiting John’s parents near Perez Zeledon, John and I took the ATV to a remote area where we met some neighbors. They were eager to collect (from the trees) and prepare every fruit they had near them. I tried various lemons, tangerines, tiny bananas and starfruit. I felt really humbled that they were so nice and shared some Coca-Cola and treats with the daughters. I felt bad because I shared fairly unhealthy foods while they shared organic fruit. I guess that’s the serving of irony that I needed to make me realize that I should think more about my diet more carefully.
I think the young ladies above were making funny comments about the bright color of my shirt, but I can’t be certain because my Spanish is not very good.
By day 9 of the trip, I was really starting to miss home. The roads in Costa Rica weren’t terrible, but they were bad enough to make you miss more boring aspects of the States like infrastructure and such. Also, John’s parents had a really nice home near a river that I was excited about seeing. I even saw some pre-columbian rock carvings. Back on topic, what I really missed the most was cities and urban environments. If you saw any of the pictures above, you probably noticed the green. I found myself getting “jungle fever” over the wilderness. It was easy to start forgetting my normal life.
Needless to say, I couldn’t be happier to get on that plane back home. I was so used to eating with my hands that when I was served my meal on American Airlines, I caught myself staring at the plate and silverware for ten whole seconds.
If my next trip is as fun and insightful as this one, I'll be really lucky.