Costa Rican sun and inspiration

Current status: Sitting at the beach in Costa Rica

We woke up before 6 am, the sound of the waves beckoning us toward the shore. My sister got up to walk right outside our door– a pristine stretch of beach with waves percolating, the convulsing motion of foam like chariots charging to the shore, waking up the town. I woke up right after to peer at the world outside– our world today consists of the beach, coconut trees and tree houses.

As we slowly woke up to the day, the sun on the rise from a distance, we sat right underneath the tree house lodge in which we were staying. Between cups of coffee, we connected to our other reality– one that consisted of checking emails, attending to the demands of daily life. We started talking about the beauty of the country, the happiness of its people and the common sense of community here.

With omelets and toast later, my sister and I began to talk about our trip thus far– the beauty of the country, the happiness of the people, the communal sense of the natural environment. We talked about such topics in parallel to our lives.. from our childhood in Manila, the forces that shaped our life in the States, as well as our shared travels. We talked about passions, both individual and shared, and our conversation led to the need to make a difference: positively impact the places we’ve been in. What else can we do to make others’ lives better, aside from volunteering. There’s a certain sense of duty we feel to reach out to those in need and do something of consequence. More than anything else, this inclination is derived from the gratitude we feel for course of events, some random, some controlled, that has placed us where we are now– educated First World residents with the means to travel, with more resources than others even if sometimes we think we have so little, with even many more reasons to go out there and make this world a better place.

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Goodbye to our small, hospitable volcano town

It’s been a great 4 days in La Fortuna– today is our last day in the area. Since our Safari float adventure farther away, we got picked up quite early from Hotel Los Lagos, but not before we got our last breakfast at the resort. We’ve met so many great people– from the employees at the hotel and restaurant who made sure our stay was a delight, to the young drivers shuttling us from the reception to our room multiple times. We definitely enjoy and are appreciative of Costa Rican hospitality.

Eddie, our driver, picked us up from the hotel and drove us along rolling hills, a grand man-made lake, winding roads, and verdant scenery. The drive from La Fortuna to Guanacaste is really a sight to see. There were many houses perched on top of a hill; on one side they have a view of the water, and overlooking the rest of the province on another. We exchanged stories with Eddie, who was originally from Golfito and came to La Fortuna to work in the tourism industry. In Spanish, we talked about Costa Rica, vacation, education and government. With the least amount of English sprinkled in, Eddie talked about the free education offered to Costa Ricans.

My sister and I are aware that most of our trip so far has been made delightful by the team of people who catered to our needs and provided us with what we needed in the last four days. We knew that while the country’s biggest industry is tourism, it doesn’t paint a picture of the daily life of Costa Ricans and is far from their everyday lifestyle and struggles. At every chance we get, we try to look through the eyes of those who are in this place to get a more real outlook of the country.

I discovered from this trip that Costa Rican are generally positive people and they are quick to engage with others– be it small talk or an in-depth conversation about life. They take such pride in their work– even in humble jobs such as driving taxis and cleaning rooms. Their responses are deliberate, and they mean saying “welcome” with the same purposeful tone as answering where they’re from. It’s quite interesting that they say it with gusto, literally– because “con mucho gusto” is a ubiquitous Costa Rican expression and they know that it represents their country.

Inspiration from natural abundance

When we got to our destination in Guanacaste, we realized that the office of the travel company that planned our Safari Float component was actually housed inside a family home. It was interesting how the house doubles as a home, a tour office and a restaurant all at the same time.

The tour guide was a Costa Rican native, and our trip was an authentic Costa Rican experience. He helped us get on the raft and paddled for two hours straight down the Rio Tenorio into Rio Coribici. We saw such beautiful and wild creatures– green and black iguanas, monkeys, herons, kingfisher, crocodiles, bats… Samuel, our guide, with his sharp eye, was able to spot animals in the wild even when their coloring blended with the natural environment. It was a sight to see how these animals interacted with each other– it brings you closer to the natural ecosystem, which we are a part of. You don’t normally see that up close in the big cities. Iguanas ran, monkeys slept, birds flew, crocodiles opened their mouths… and halfway along the trip, Samuel offered some local cookies and juice for us– far from Oreos and Ritz, he gave us Chiky and Bo-Kita, chocolate and cheese cookies respectively. A little while later, he also offered us some fresh pineapple– he had the whole fruit in a cooler, took off the skin with his machete, cut them into small bite-size chunks for us to enjoy. Costa Rican pineapples are the best pineapples I’ve ever had– sweet, juicy and a delight to eat.

The family was very hospitable and made lunch for us, a typical casado plate consisting of a salad, a cup of rice, grilled chicken and gallo pinto. Muy delicioso! They offered water to drink and my sister and I ordered Diet Coke, after the warnings we read on our travel guides. They call Diet Coke here Coca-Cola Light, just like in France. We ordered two sodas in place of water, even if we don’t typically drink soda at home. Ironically, when they brought us our drinks they poured it in a glass with ice, so we ended up drinking only half of what was left in the bottle. After our lunch, they sent us on our way, with Giovanni as our driver. Giovanni spoke mostly in Spanish, since he knew so few words in English, and the rest of our conversation during the 3-4 hour ride to Samara was mostly in Spanish. He spoke faster Spanish than I can comprehend in full, so I was only able to grasp the gist of what he was saying, and he had to express certain thoughts in other ways for me to understand them. It’s interesting how languages can be a barrier especially when one is not acquainted with the other person’s language, but the willingness to communicate and patience to convey your thoughts help overcome the barrier. In my imperfect Spanish, we talked about childhood education, government, country vs. city living, technology, fishing, import/export industries, etc. He had more thoughts to express than what I could understand, and I had many more ideas that I wanted to share than I could phrase in Spanish. Knowing different languages is so important; it gives you a voice and helps to communicate your thoughts.

Starting a Costa Rican adventure

Flying to Costa Rica tomorrow. Out of office note set. Warm-weather clothes, swimsuits and summer dresses rolled. Camera re-charged. Treats for the kids added. Bags packed. Off to the tropical country for one week of traveling with my sister to Alajuela, Arenal volcano and Samara, and after, one week of childcare volunteering in San Jose. Excited!