Friday, January 7, 2011

Four years later: Remembering Costa Rica

My post yesterday mentioned going to Costa Rica, and with good reason.  Four years ago today, I said my goodbyes and made the flights from Columbus, OH to Houston, TX to San Jose, Costa Rica.  This trip was one of the pieces of a carefully orchestrated year of my life in which I was never living in the same spot for more than three months at a time.  A winter on campus, a spring with my parents, a summer in Detroit, a couple weeks in Europe,  a fall with my parents, a winter in Costa Rica, a couple weeks in Ohio, and then a permanent move to New Orleans.  The change was constant and invigorating.  I can't help but feel a longing for those days when my life was lived in three month increments.

Not many people are in the fortunate position to have extended family living in Costa Rica, so for that I'm thankful.  They gave me a home base and provided a natural social connection, something that you start to miss after long periods on your own.  I established a second base in the first three weeks I spent at the CRLA.  This little language academy was a great find, and brought together groups of students and travelers from all over the world.  We would study during the day, gather at the local bar in the evenings, and spread out around the country on the weekends.  Monday mornings back at the school were full of ear to ear grins and countless stories of adventure.

After a few weeks with fellow travelers, I made the move to my family's house in Barva, a small town overlooking the country's central valley.  Accomodations were vastly more comfortable, and I got the chance to know some family better than I ever would have otherwise.  From the house's vantage, perched on the slope of an old volcano, you could see beyond the western edge of the country and on to the endless pacific.  One thing I share with my uncle is an obsession with books.  His library allowed me to divide my weekdays between jogs around the town square, writing in the local internet cafe, and zipping my way through books and shelf after shelf of old National Geographic magazines.  Weekends were once again spent taking long drives to obscure places that most people can't imagine; cloud forests, sky blue volcanic rivers, old forts and ruins, giant trees, fields of stinging ants, beaches empty except for the local farmers going by on horseback.

Not all was perfect by any means.  I actually think that was part of the fun.  I got to argue with unlicensed cab drivers, got passed some counterfeit currency, got to see public officials requesting bribes.  The sense of anti-Americanism was rife with "No al TLC" found graffitied everywhere ("no to CAFTA").  People in small town Panama could not take their eyes off of me because they'd probably never seen such a pale individual in person before.  Things were dirty, small, and you didn't know if the next bus you took would be the one to fall off the side of the road for that day.  But it was beautiful in that it was genuine.  If I wanted a glossy, superficial version of a place, I'd look at a brochure.  You can't know a place by staying in a resort.

The worst part of trips like this is that eventually, you have to come back.  I had a few short weeks to travel back to Ohio so I could pack, say another round of goodbyes, and move to New Orleans for work.  Seeing volcano tops drift away from the plane window's view made it seem like I was just waking from a fading dream.  Was I really there?  Did all of that really happen?  It's not until some time later that you realize that details might drift away, memories will become a little fuzzier, but the deeper impact of experiences will never leave you.  Peoples and places will carve their names into your brain to be seen and felt for a long time to come.

So here I am, four years later, looking at pictures, reading some of my writing, and once again wearing that ear to ear grin brought on my countless stories of adventure.

~Pura Vida~

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