Finding Family in Costa Rica

BY TAVA HOAG

I found myself strapped into a harness coasting above the canopy amongst the clouds. I couldn’t help thinking that this was one of the best experiences of my life. It was in that instant, suspended in the Costa Rican jungle that I realized I wanted to see the world! Everyone deserves to have that moment, in which their whole outlook on life changes.

I often claim that I want to travel, but I find myself using the same excuse for why I don’t or can’t.  Remember, the timing will never be perfect. My advice is to plan ahead and then just do it, make that commitment and go. You won’t regret it. I visited Costa Rica for 16 days in January with my boyfriend’s family. I am proud to say that I found inner peace in my travels, and was welcomed with open arms into the Tico’s culture.

We arrived in Alajuela, a town just outside of San Jose, in time to celebrate the New Year. 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.

Seeing how different cultures live and work can be a bit of a shock. I am a more reserved person and I was worried I wouldn’t connect with anyone while abroad. I’m relieved to say that I was wrong. Ticos are very relaxed; they aren’t in a rush. 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. The meeting of so many new and different people brought me out of my comfort zone, and only fueled my desire to continue branching out.

Costa Rica is a very diverse country; there’s adventure everywhere whether it be at the pristine beaches and resorts or the back country rainforest- 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, among the bustling town of Alajuela and in the hills of Poas.

The first couple days were spent with family, I met uncles, aunts, and cousins who treated me as if I were an old friend. Our first trip was to Poas, one of Costa Rica’s Volcanos, and the climate change was unforgettable. It went from being sunny and 85 to foggy, windy and 50 in about an hour drive up the mountain.

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, stop signs are not mandatory, 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 the picturesque scenery. We saw cows and horses grazing on the sides of lush green mountains, farmers directing horse drawn carts full of sugar cane and coffee beans, and breathtaking sunsets along the ocean. I craned my neck out of the window and listened as my Costa Rican family chattered excitedly around me, pointing this way and that so that I could see everything.

On our trip up to Poas we spent most of the day driving through the hills, taking pictures under waterfalls, and encountering roadside produce stands that sold Bizco Chitos (fried corn rings sprinkled with sugar). I had the pleasure of seeing La Paz Waterfall Garden, where the water fell so far and fast, that spray splashed your face from the view along the wooden bridge. Then we had lunch at a small restaurant perched on the side of the mountain, called Fredo Fresas (Fresh Strawberries) We sat at a table by the window and watched the fog roll by as we feasted on flan and a cheese custard filled with strawberries.

I noticed that the food was healthier here. There was this one night when my boyfriend’s cousin Kenneth-a tall boy with a big heart- took us to the outdoor farmers market in Alajuela’s center. It’s the largest farmer’s market in Costa Rica and people, from all over the country come just to experience the camaraderie and to sell their best produce. There are dozens of stands and some have the same fruit or vegetable, it’s the shoppers’ job to scope things out and find the best deal; it became a kind of game for us visitors.

As you can imagine, the covered barn-type structure was teeming with shoppers, taking samples of delectable fruits and crispy vegetables. I watched my boyfriend’s mother take charge and barter with these vendors. It didn’t surprise me that she got her way with most of them. I even tried my hand at bargaining when we went to a particular mango stand. Despite the fact that my Spanish was a bit rusty, I got the lowest price of the night for 5 mangos! It was here that I witnessed the simple pleasures of life for Ticos. There was no rush, no time-limit, I felt weightless and free as I watched people -young and old- taking their time walking up and down the aisles, meeting one another and hugging after their final purchases were made. I smiled to myself because this is what it should all be about. We left as the full moon rose over the hills in the distance, our bags may have been heavier, but my heart was lighter and full of appreciation for these people.

One of my favorite parts 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 Massachusetts East coast 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 which is 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. We zip-lined the canopy of the rainforest in Monte Verde, went horseback riding through Arenal national park, and swimming in La Fortuna waterfall. Monte Verde was possibly the most special experience of all. This is where we went adventure swinging through the lush tropical rainforest. I felt my stomach drop, the cool breeze caress my face. I was so high above the trees that I could see the world below me. It put me in touch with nature in the most primal way, I found myself imagining what it would be like to live in the rainforest, living off the land and running around barefoot. The idea was actually pretty appealing, and it still is.

But, the decision’s yours. So what are you waiting for? On your mark, get set, GO TRAVEL!

 

IF YOU GO

Costa Rica Travel: http://bookit.com/costa-rica

Hotels

Punta Leona Hotel and Club: http://hotelpuntaleona.com/home.html

Restaurants

Freddo Fresas: http://costaricalearn.com/great-restaurant-poas-volcano-area-fredo-fresas