Tomorrow, I celebrate two years in Costa Rica. I also board a flight at 12pm to go home to Kentucky where – for the first time in almost 4 years – I plan to stay, at least until I can gather up the necessary money and experience I need to open my dream hostel/hotel/restaurant (and put an end to my nightmare-inducing student loan debt). Tomorrow is a big day for everyone – Balto the adventurepup is taking his first flight, and Pablo is waving ¨adios¨ until he comes to meet us. Besides it being a day full of goodbyes, hellos, and dog-related travel stress…. It´s also the anniversary of the longest time I´ve spent in a foreign country. Somewhere along the way, Costa Rica became home.
Lessons learned during two years in Costa Rica
I´ve learned a lot along the way; big lessons like less is more, that nature cures all, and that pura vida is so much more than a cute catch phrase. I´ve learned that the best coffee comes from a sock, the best bananas can´t be found at a supermarket, and the best chocolate hides in the hills of Heredia. I´ve become addicted to the freedom of moving – whether it be a trip to the river, jungle, beach, and volcanos , or taking a stroll with the guarantee of witnessing plants and animals that warrant moments of awe. I´ve learned to appreciate – crave even – the simplicity of perfectly plumb beans and long grain, white rice…. and to truly savor a good hamburger and beer when I find them. I´ve learned that gringos exist everywhere and that I prefer to be the variety that speaks the local language (pura vida, mae and all). I´ve seen the corruption and downsides of a country dependent on their tourism, but I´ve also seen passion and innovation poured into sustainable solutions, pristine national parks, and animal rehabilitation that is funded by those same tourist dollars. I´ve learned that I need room to breathe to be fully me, that life is truly measured in happiness, and that appreciating the little things is key in achieving the bigger dreams. I´ve met people and seen solutions that light an internal fire I didn’t know how to feed before. Plus, I scored an amazing man and an impossibly cute dog along the way. Without a doubt, Costa Rica has been good to me. Here´s a quick recap of the past 24 months:
Houses lived in: 6
For a little over a year, I lived on the ¨jungle base¨ of Outward Bound Costa Rica with my co-workers, three dogs, and fist-size spiders. While the isolation got to me at times, I still get nostalgic about waking up to the sound of a distant river, bigger than-life trees, bottomless coffee, and the dysfunctional family atmosphere that comes with living and working an office job in unspoiled jungle. On the other hand, I discovered my extreme dislike for hot climates, no matter how beautiful the pools and ocean surrounding while living in Herradura, and the pure torture of living in the Osa Peninsula without air conditioning. Lots of animals and jungle rivers were nice, but I´ll never trade mountain living for beach – especially when there’s one within driving distance.
Rivers rafted: 3
Outward Bound taught me the value of pushing your limits, but it also taught me just how traumatic falling out of a kayak on a class III river can be. Good thing that fall led to meeting Pablo, because not much else good came out of it: the next two kayaking experiences included tears, laughter and a bittersweet mixture of adrenaline and dread. River rafting went much more smoothly. (Not to mention, rafting the Pejibaye river inspired one of my favorite rainy day recipes!)
Countries visited: 4
Visiting Guatemala was a highlight. We traveled to Tikal, Lake Atitlan, and trendy Antigua with my mom and grandmother – from overnight busses to hitchhiking with a French family, it was such a cool experience to share with my family – all three generations of us! Nicaragua became a favorite over multiple trips, whether it was the gorgeous surf beaches or the time we rented a moto and circled the two volcanoes that form Isla Ometepe. Panama will always be the place I learned to breathe underwater.
Waterfalls discovered: 18
The waterfall date got me hooked on hunting down Costa Rica´s most gorgeous waterfalls and I got my dose of cold waterfall showers while doing the ALS ice bucket challenge with Outward Bound. Not to mention, we get to drive by the ever-impressive La Paz waterfall every time we visit Pablo´s house!
Animals adopted: 4
While I officially name any street dog or attractive horse I come in contact with, the only official adoptions have come in the form of three flea-bitten kittens and of course, Balto. The kittens were a short affair – their journey from a rainy night abandoned on a street, to my purse riding on the bus, and eventually to three loving families only lasted three weeks, but the memories of Pablo washing them until squeaky clean and all huddling around the heater together will last much, much longer. As for Balto – it all started with an instagram picture. The rest is history! (Obviously, if I could have adopted this baby sloth at the Toucan Rescue Ranch, I would have!)
National Parks visited: 7
During my short stint working as a travel agent we threw out lots of references to Costa Rica being a paradise. Most of it is exaggerated, but for nature lovers Costa Rica doesn´t disappoint. Manuel Antonio is home to one of the best beaches, the worst monkeys (keep an eye on your cellphone!), but also the most fanny-pack, running shoe-clad tourists. Climbing Arenal is almost as fun as waterfall-hunting in Braulio Carrillo, and Monteverde quickly became my favorite park in the country after discovering the climbing tree and dining options like the orchid café.
Cabalgatas attended: 2
Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a cowgirl. When I met Pablo, he said I´d get my chance….I loved it and stuck around long enough to attend this years Cabalgata too. We rented our horses, filled up on chicharrones, guaro, and boiled yucca, then rode with a couple hundred others through the fields, rivers, and hillsides of his hometown…then danced the night away.
Witt that, it´s chau for now Costa Rica. Now, it´s time to make memories and uncover the hidden gems in my own backyard….to see Kentucky through new eyes and give friends and family a long, overdue hug. xxoo