By Tava Hoag
I found myself strapped into a harness coasting above the canopy among the clouds in beautiful Costa Rica. I couldn’t help but think that this was one of the best experiences of my life. It was in that moment, suspended in the jungle, that I realized I want to see the world! I believe everyone deserves to have that moment.
I visited Costa Rica for 16 days in January with my boyfriend’s family. We only saw a part of this magnificent country but I have memories and experiences that will last a lifetime, not to mention thousands of pictures. We left New Year’s Eve and arrived in Alajuela, a town just outside of San Jose, in time for the family party.
Let me just say that I speak very little Spanish, I took classes in high school but I am by no means fluent. Taking this
trip definitely opened my eyes to the importance of learning another language. It also made me far more comfortable speaking and understanding Spanish. Ticos, as the natives refer to themselves, are extremely humble and welcoming. They don’t put on any fronts and they love unexpected visits. I was worried about botching a lot of Spanish words but the people of Costa Rica are extremely understanding. They are flattered if you make the effort to communicate with them at all.
A major reason why traveling is so worth it is because you become exposed to how other cultures live and work, and it can be a bit of a shock. Ticos are very relaxed, they aren’t in a rush and they live life openly and with much love and affection. I can’t tell you how many hugs I received while there and because of this, I always felt welcome by family, tour guides and even strangers. I felt separated from time while I was there, nothing was stressful and everyone seemed to go with the flow.
There was one day where Alajuela lost running water for a few hours, which meant no bathroom. No one was upset by the inconvenience, they accepted it and dealt with the lack of water calmly. In America, this would have ruined my day, but in Costa Rica they accepted it without fault. The homes are smaller, the people have big hearts, and I really enjoyed being without internet for most of the trip. It allowed me to be more present in Costa Rica rather than constantly checking in with what was going on at home.
Costa Rica is such a great country because it has something for everyone, whether it is the pristine beaches and resorts or the back country hiking of the rain-forest- there’s always something to do. It’s also not very large, roughly the same size as Delaware. (Alajuela is located in the central part and is a little over an hour each way to the Pacific and Caribbean.) We spent all our time in the western part of the country so the next time I visit I’ll have to check out the other side.
The first couple days were spent with family, I met so many amazing people and got accustomed to the climate (it’s very warm) and the environment. Our first trip was to Poas, one of Costa Rica’s Volcanoes- the climate change was crazy. It went from being sunny and 85 to foggy, windy and 50 in about an hour drive up the mountain. We traipsed around the park and meandered through trails encased with vines and moss, but unfortunately we did not get a good look at the crater of the volcano. Despite the poor views, it was still worth the trip.
The driving we did in Costa Rica was an adventure in itself; it was scary, exhilarating and intimidating. The roads are small, the locals drive fast and on the steepest unpaved mountain roads, there are no guard rails.
Aside from often fearing for my life, I loved driving in Costa Rica because I was able to see a lot of the culture not to mention the picturesque scenery. We saw cows and horses grazing on the sides of lush green mountains and farmers directing horse drawn carts full of sugar cane and coffee beans. We visited road-side stores and restaurants with delicious cuisine and saw breathtaking sunsets along the ocean.
The typical meal there is white rice, chicken or steak, black beans, plantains, salad with cabbage, cilantro, carrots and tomatoes, picadillo which is a blend of ayote(a kind of starch), corn, and potatoes, and fresh salsa. I noticed that the food is healthier there- less fat and a lot fresher. I would say that eating the local cuisine is a perk of traveling and I suggest doing that rather than eating fast food or at restaurant chains that are also in America. If you’re in a whole other country, you should try new things.
My favorite part about this trip was experiencing the warm water of the pacific. It’s almost indescribable because you can walk right in without so much as a shiver, which is not what my typical Hampton beach self is used to. The beaches have soft white sand, crystal clear aqua-blue water, palm trees drooping low over the shores; it’s the whole nine yards in a travel brochure. Most of the time I felt like I was in a dream and floating languidly in the calm waters of Punta Leona’s Playa Blanca only fueled that fantasy. I sipped freshly made smoothies while watching the sun dip lower on the horizon and it was magical, I didn’t miss the cold once. The two days we spent on the coast of Punta Leona, a bay on the western part of Costa Rica, were the most relaxing and rejuvenating days of the whole trip. The rest of the vacation was spent adventuring, the trip to Poas volcano, the zip-lining canopy tour in Monte Verde, horseback riding through Arenal national park and swimming in La Fortuna waterfall. We visited Jaco, a
popular tourist and surfing spot, bought souvenirs in the local shops of Alajuela, and took pictures in San Jose’s center at night. We were constantly on the move and it was invigorating.
I know a lot of you may be thinking, that trip sounds great but it’s probably way too expensive for me. I won’t lie to you, it costs money to travel but it’s worth every penny. There are ways to save even while traveling- stay with family if you can. I was fortunate enough on this trip to be able to stay with great people who are like my family now. You can also stay in hostels- they are everywhere in Costa Rica and are free. It’s not luxurious by any means but it’s a place to sleep in between excursions. I also know a lot of people who have funded their travels by setting up a ‘gofundme’ page on Facebook, which allows people to donate a small amount of money to your cause. My cousin raised about $2,000 for her trip to Australia.
The best advice I can give is to save money and do this for you. If you really want to travel, do it now while you’re young, before responsibility and growing up gets in the way. Put money aside, even if it’s only $10 a week and eventually you’ll go somewhere. Plan ahead and then just do it, make that commitment and go. Take that first step out of your comfort zone and see all that this beautiful world has to offer. You won’t regret it.
The decision’s yours, so what are you waiting for?
On your mark, get set, GO TRAVEL!