During the summer of 2014, my family took a trip to Costa Rica. We explored San Jose, then traveled to Tortuguero where we visited the national park and took a canoe tour down the river. Not long into our canoe tour, it began to downpour! We gave up on staying dry and just relished in that fact that being soaking wet in a canoe in a Costa Rican rain forest was better than whatever we would have been doing if we were home.
The next leg of our journey was a coast to coast drive from Tortuguero to Guanacaste. After a long ride, we were tired, achy and irritable. It had just started to get dark when we pulled into our hotel, situated on the vast and breathtaking Pacific Ocean. The evening was warm with a soft breeze, and as we made our way to our rooms, we passed the pool where several guests were playing a lively game of volleyball in the water. We changed as fast as we possibly could and joined the game!
Because the resort was so relaxing, I wanted to stay at the hotel instead of participating in our last family activity, ziplining. Talking my mom into letting me stay behind was no easy task, but I finally got her to agree with only one condition, “don’t swim in the ocean”. She had some complicated reason involving riptides and how if caught in one, I could be pulled out to deeper water by the strong current and drown. I was annoyed, but obeyed nonetheless and settled for swimming at the pool.
While there, I met a father and son on a month-long vacation with their family. I played with the son and had an interesting conversation with the dad. That vacation remains one of the most relaxing and memorable times of my life, but the day I spent with that father and son became infinitely more impactful after we got home.
I was at my Grandma’s house one day after school, and when my mom came to pick me up, she had something important to tell me. A few days after we left Guanacaste, the father that I’d hung out with at the pool was swimming at the beach with his wife and two sons. The father and one of his young sons were caught in a riptide. Several nearby swimmers were able to pull the boy out of the current, but the father was swept away and drowned.
Hearing this was surreal. I was going into my freshman year of high school and thought I knew everything. I thought my mom’s warnings were just parental paranoia, but this situation reminded me of my own mortality and how tragedy can strike even in paradise. It taught me to have more faith in my mother because I may not always see what she sees in a situation, but I should trust her instincts, and in the fact that she is driven to make sure that I am safe and happy. The experience also prompted me to learn what to do in the event of being caught in a riptide. Don’t waste your energy swimming against it. You won’t win. Swim to the left or right of the current.
This isn’t the happy or exciting story you may have expected, but for me, it is full of wonder because it gave me a greater respect for things that I don’t know and a greater appreciation for life – the one that was lost to the ocean and that one that I still have.
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