Walking through San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, was like jumping into a river. Save the “getting your feet wet” for Spanish class. Each of the 16 members of this school trip, including myself, were floundering, hardly able to escape the sensory overload. Our deer-in-the-headlight looks were cues to vendors, who approached us in attempts to sell. We were trying to take everything in: the buildings, the people, the bird noise, the Spanish flowing all around. We drifted along, carried by the crowds going through their everyday routines.
The one to pull our heads above water was our tour guide Angela. She was our saving grace. She was 4 foot 9 inches of pure determination and force as she maneuvered through crowds with an ease that amazed us. Angela was from a company called Escapes Ecologicos which provided us with several meals, a bus with a driver, and our tour guide.
Angela helped us to survive our first experience in Costa Rica, but before we knew it we were on to Destination 2: Tortuguero. Being a small village on the Atlantic coast, it’s only accessible by boats that weave through rain forest canals. After 2 hours of weaving, we finally arrived.
Tortuguero easily became my favorite part of our trip. Our hotel, named Laguna Lodge Tortuguero, was a collection of cabins in the rainforest. It had the canal on one side, the Atlantic Ocean on the other, and the rainforest between. It was a short boat ride away from the village itself.
Venturing into Tortuguero gave me a taste of Costa Rican culture. Upon entering the back edges of the town, we saw several young boys playing soccer. After a quick conversation in Spanish, we were set on joining their game. Before we knew it, they were picking teams. They shouted out some instructions, pointed to some things around the space, and the game began. The boys were good, but it may have just been because we didn’t understand the rules to their game. (They seemed to have more than 2 goals). But the outcome didn’t really matter. That game, which those boys have probably long forgotten, has stuck with me. Their friendliness, the way they took some of us down to the ground with their skills, the way their eyes lit up when they realized we wanted to play with them. These were all things that reflected their way of life, and the way of life of many Costa Ricans.
Throughout the trip, I constantly found myself in situations where I learned about the culture of Costa Rica. During the trip, we made our way from Toruguero in the east, all the way to Tamarindo on the Pacific Coast. There, I had the chance to live with a family for 3 days. Through that experience, I learned directly what it was like to live in Costa Rica. On this trip I allowed myself into the culture of the country. When things were overwhelming on the first day, I didn’t let myself be swept away by it. I could have done only “touristy” things like surf and go zip lining. But I didn’t, and that’s what made my trip so special.
In Costa Rica, you may often catch someone saying “Pura Vida”. Literally it means “Pure Life”. The only way to truly understand this saying is by submerging yourself into the culture and by learning how everyone lives. Going to a country is one thing, but true life-changing experiences will only come by immersing yourself. That is the only way to learn, and the only way to live.
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