My virgin plane trip. My first time asking ‘donde esta le cerveza?’. My first time being cat-called by what can only be described as squirrel noises from local men. My first time having chickens run around at my feet while brushing my teeth. I view my time in Costa Rica as the pre-cursor to my nomad life. Albeit it was an organised school trip, it at least placed the matches beside the fire to light my travel ‘career’.
Way the frig back in 2002, my pimple-faced, prissy, materialistic sixteen year-old self jetted off to Costa Rica for two weeks with my high school Geoventure class. Geoventure, for those of you located outside of the Belleville, Ontario region, was a full one semester course designed to enlighten high school shit heads about the real world; to make us appreciate what we had in Canada, our parents, the dishwasher, toilets that flush, and all joking aside make us globally-aware. We learnt heaps about environmentalism, sustainability, multiculturalism, geography, and ourselves. Those five months were very much a defining time in my life; I truly changed as a person and can proudly and cheesily say that.
During the semester our class went on five big excursions: hiking in the Adirondacks, cycling across Southern Ontario, canoe and portaging through Algonquin Park, volunteering in Costa Rica, and winter camping in -35 (CELCIUS!!) weather in Ontario. In igloos. I really don’t know how much more Canadian it gets.
As challenging as the course was mentally as well as physically, I adored each and every minute. Although I never did learn to count past ten in Spanish, nor did I survive a full night sleeping in that literal ice box, I tip my hat to my then teacher (Gayle Miller) and my classmates who I shared those travel experiences with. Lots of friendships formed and memories created.
Unsurprisingly, our jaunt in Costa Rica with Canada World Youth was the highlight of the semester. We assumed we would be going on a tropical holiday, complete with beach bronzing sessions and horseback riding. As the trip was for educational and charity purposes, it panned out a bit differently. Instead of surfing on the renowned Costa Rican lines or relaxing in a hammock, we helped build a trail in a national park and spent nine days in a home-stay way in the middle of butt-fuck-nowhere.
Our time in civilisation was limited, but there’s one thing that constantly reminds me of my time in Costa Rica when I travel, and that is the beauty and mystery of touching down into a brand new place at night (which we did into San José). I loved opening the windows of our youth hostel the next morning and seeing the landscape for the first time. It’s mad how different a place can look from dusk to dawn, and to this day I am still in awe of some of the sights I see when I crack open those blinds for the very first time. World = awesome. Sun = yay.
Costa Rica was a lot of firsts for me, each of varying degrees of importance and relevance. But it is the place where I started my world sand/soil collection. Whoulda thunk a Coke bottle full of black volcanic ash sand would turn into a collector’s item!
So I want to bring some sort of organised chaos to my blog, and have decided that for each place I will provide ‘The Tips’; little tidbits you may find useful, or may not. No love lost. But for the older adventures (I was in Costa Rica 14 years ago…wow…that just sunk in…damn I’m old) ‘The Tips’ are going to be noticeably vague. And unless someone has some magical machine that will bring back all those precious brain cells I have lost partying a long the way (please PM me), that’s just the reality of the situation.
- Learn Spanish. This is an obvious one, but any country you go to whose native tongue is not English (or your own), make a concerted effort to at least learn the basics in their language. It’s a dick move if you don’t. Locals may giggle at your piss poor attempts to converse with them, but nine times out of ten they will be grateful you at least tried. It’s a nice gesture.
- Mosquito nets are your friend and aren’t just for mosquitos. There are other creepy crawlies on the loose in Costa Rica (I would know as I nearly stepped on a scorpion with my bare feet), so don’t be too proud to sleep under one, or wear shoes for that matter. Most accommodations will have nets already, so happy days. The necessity of them really will vary depending on which time of year you visit (dry vs. wet season).
- Mosquito repellant, however, is super important. Don’t ask questions, just pack it.
- Do a canopy tour. But try to avoid breaking your leg while doing one. A girl from our class neglected to lift her legs up when approaching the platform on the zip line, and going pretty fast you can put two and two together of what happened. Being in the middle of the jungle, she had to go down another few zip lines with a broken leg. And then get carried out of the jungle by the lucky lads in the group.
- I hope you like rice and beans!! If you want to experience Costa Rica like a local, you will inevitably eat rice and beans for most meals. Chow down! Your tummy and ass hole will thank you.
- Plantains are not bananas. Nor do they taste like them. Do your homework and know the difference. I didn’t and it resulted in some sad taste buds.
- Pura Vida is the national expression and mantra of Costa Ricans, and it literally translates to ‘pure life’. The true meaning is deep like the ocean though, and encourages humans to appreciate what they have and take pleasure in the simple things; there is always someone who is in a less fortunate situation than yourself so relax, enjoy, and take it all in – slowly. If you start your visit to Costa Rica (or anywhere) with this mentality, it is impossible to have a bad time.