Costa Rica: A Love Story

staywildfree

Thursday I came back home after spending 12 days in Costa Rica. It could’ve been the bitter Chicago wind, or glimpses of my own dusky shoulders in mirrors, or nibbles of spicy caribbean chocolate between sips of tropical coffee. Whatever it was, I realized that tiny country seized onto a piece of me and has refused to let me go.

If I were to describe Costa Rica in a word, it would be lush. I’ve never seen so much green in my life, in all different shades. Everything is growing and changing. Warm rainstorms stop and start without warning, and the sun is fierce and divine. The water is clear and sweet-salty, like warm skin.

The theme of this trip was ease; Vanessa and I hadn’t planned very much at all. When I asked around to get suggestions on where to go, I was bombarded with places that I HAD to visit. Cahuita, Osa, Monteverde, Tamarindo. Each place promised unparalleled adventure, sun, drinks, and hot surfers to ogle. Had everyone been to this country except me? Someone talked up Puerto Viejo so much that I booked a place to stay soon after our chat–a yoga hostel, no less!–and left the rest up to chance.

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Freshest batidos ever, everywhere.

We flew into San Jose, which is beautiful in a sad way that I’m tired of seeing. The food is good and some streets are lined with mysterious buildings that whisper secrets I had no interest in knowing: I was anxious for the jungle and beach.

We whitewater rafted the Rio Pacuare

(stunning, magnificent. where little waterfalls trickled into the river over mossy rocks, pushing each other into the river laughing during moments of stillness, and everything was verdant and ancient)

before settling into Puerto Viejo, a quiet, tiny town in a string of quiet, tiny towns along the southern caribbean coast. When I say tiny, I mean the main part of town is 4 by 4 streets. Everyone rides cruisers up and down the stretch that could take you from Cahuita National Park to Manzanillo if you’ve got a spare 3 hours to spend leisurely biking through paradise. The food here is incredible: from fresh, lovingly prepared vegan to chocolate grown and made in the backyard to terrible pizza appropriate only for 2AM drunken romps through town. I had the best fish taco of my life and I’m still craving the house tortillas that thing was served on.

You drink either Pilsen, Tono, or Imperial, all unimpressive but tasty beer (I actually prefer them in that order). You do shots of guaro–the local firewater distilled from sugar cane–straight up or mixed in curious house shots promising hangovers. Guaro was described to me as a mix between tequila and vodka; I say is milder, slightly sweet without the boozy heat of either. I wish I had ordered a guaro sour.

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Cocoa fruit, tasting table, drying cocoa beans, and the richest, spiciest chocolate drink ever.

Everyone asks you where you’re from. They are kind and generous. They tell you about where they’re from and how they ended up owning a cafe or teaching yoga or cobbling together a creative life most people would kill for. They are wild and free and you see how easy it is to make your work your play and live simply and close to nature.

Puerto Viejo was filled with yoga, biking, eating and exploring. I was sad when we left but excited to visit Montezuma, pretty much on the other side of the country.

Traveling within CR is long and takes a lot out of you, but the scenery makes it all worth it. I brought a book to read and sometimes wanted to sleep, but couldn’t tear my eyes off the lush trees and mountains, skinny white horses and alien flowers in all colors. Some of the roads are barely paved, jostling us awake when we could no longer keep our eyes open.

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We arrived in Montezuma exhausted and without a clue. If Puerto Viejo was tiny, Montezuma is miniscule. The town consists of an intersection surrounded by steep hills and jungle. The food here is also delicious; there’s a guy who goes fishing every day, makes ceviche with what he catches, then sells it out of a cooler on the corner.

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Best of self-catering.

Shady, right? Wrong. Best ceviche I’ve ever had.

We stayed at a B&B/butterfly sanctuary. Yes, you read that correctly. Their wings were impossibly vibrant and I knew how Nabokov could fall in love with these poetic little creatures.

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We hiked in swimsuits, scaled walls of rock and gnarled roots, and leapt fearlessly into waterfalls. In a sudden fit of careless courage, I leapt off a really high one.

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Then I jumped off.

I didn’t tuck and roll–or whatever it is you’re supposed to do when jumping into bodies of water–and collided with the surface sacrum-first. I’m still sore, but I’d rather hurt my back leaping off waterfalls than doing anything else.

We went to Tortuga Island, had an uneventful snorkeling trip, and a lovely beach lay-out.

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When it came time to leave Montezuma for the interminable ride back to San Jose to catch our flight back to Chicago, my heart felt heavy.

This is a painfully short and abridged version of my trip. Travel feeds the soul. It changes you. How can you describe something that has awakened a vibration in your being? My trip to Spain and Turkey last year was wonderful, but I was so happy to be back. But now–there’s something I can’t quite put my finger on about it–I can’t say why I feel so compelled to go back. So now begins the task of finding a work trade opportunity to go back and stay for a few months (or longer!). I’m specifically looking into herbalism, something I’ve always been interested in, to add into my repertoire of healing modalities. The jungle is abundant and ever-giving; I want to know her gifts and how to use them to heal others.

If anything, this trip has made me realize that it’s all possible. To uproot and move, to explore, to luxuriate in living close to the earth. That there are places where sustainability and love exist and thrive–something that’s hard to see when you’re surrounded by concrete and cars.

Am I sounding like a hippie yet? Good.


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