RSS Feed

Category Archives: Summer

A Love Letter to the People of Costa Rica.

Pura Vida! Pura Vida! Puuura Veeeeda! I hear this happy phrase constantly, its joyful energy suspicious to my cynical American ears. It dances around me, like perfectly planned choreography, just waiting for me to catch on, join in the dance.

Pura Vida. It flows out of the lips, curling them ever so slightly into a smile, whether you like it or not. My American style skepticism is on high alert. Who are these cheerful people, throwing around such a blissful saying with such genuine happiness? I thought happy people, real live happy people, were just the stuff that myths and movies were made of? Could it be that I have found a treasure trove of happiness in this little nature drenched country?  Suddenly; there was clarity—the true key as to why Costa Rica is able to cast such a spell on those who visit, leaving a permanent imprint on the heart. The secret, my friends, is the people.

As I meander through the crooked streets, I’m met with smiles. Friendly “holas” greet me as I saunter by. Warmth radiates, hangs in the air, mixes with the landscape, creates magic.  There is soulfulness to the people, a friendliness not usually encountered in everyday life. Am I just drunk on vacation, I wonder? I must get deeper, so I set out to observe.

There is perpetual laughter in the air, a smile painting the lips of almost everyone. They throw nicknames at each other in an affectionate way. It seems as if everyone cracks jokes, exchanges glances, and “pura vidas.” 

Are they faking it? I am now on a mission, seeking out anyone and everyone willing to give me the time of day (which, by the way, is pretty much everyone). They are funny, gracious, and curious.  I find myself smiling more, the petulant American style attitude shedding more with each day.

Through many a long hour of conversations with locals, I discovered that life is not always smooth sailing in Costa Rica—wages tend to be lower than in United States but the cost of living is similar. People work long hours in hard jobs for half of the money. And yet… they just shrug this off when asked about it. They are happy to share details with you, but not once did it exit their mouths in the form of a complaint, a difference that I notice immediately. Is that their secret? I decide I need a second; third, many even tenth visit in order to further test my theory.

I later learn that Costa Rica is in the top 5 countries listed in numerous studies as the “Happiest Places on Earth.” Last year, it ranked number one in a study on the “happiest countries.”  I am not at all shocked, but I am glad I didn’t know this before I went, so there wasn’t a chance that statistics and “supposed tos” could influence my mind.

 So, you ask, what does “Pura Vida” mean?  It means, well… everything. It’s “hello” “goodbye” “thank you” “you’re welcome” “don’t worry about it” “it’s awesome” “nice to meet you…” the list goes on and on and on. It makes no sense and yet perfect sense.

As my days in Costa Rica wind up, I find myself thinking of how I can bottle this happiness up and bring it home with me. Impossible. Then suddenly, I think of “pura vida.”  If I blurt out this little saying out at home in the states, would people just crinkle up their face at me in frustration? I didn’t know, but floating on optimism, I vowed to try.

Advertisements

Happy Birthday, Blog!

 A year ago, I started out on this little adventure. Who would read? I thought… and I’m kind of still thinking that.

 Kidding!

It’s been a fun year of putting my thoughts out there, forcing me to be more disciplined about writing, the only thing that matters in life (Aside from travel. And cheese).

I don’t want to go all mushy and lovey dovey and all butterflies and baby kittens and all that, for fear it may ruin my surly and cynical reputation (What? You thought I was nice? You’re so silly!! Oh, wait, I want you to read my blog… ok, I am nice! Butterflies, kittens, yaay!!)

So, I’ll make it a quick little shout out.

Thank you to all my new friends who have said so many wonderfully kind, encouraging words as the days slipped off the calendar.  You really can’t imagine my joy at the positive feedback that you, my handful of readers, has given me (and seriously, the word “joy” and I don’t normally make appearances together, so really, thank you!)

 I enjoy your visits, your comments and your blogs, as I have been lucky enough to connect with some brilliant writers and artists.  Thank you!

Next post—travel back to Costa Rica with me for part 2 of my adventure!

Costa Rica, te amo (part 1)

The meandering road from San Jose to Manuel Antonio stretched before me like a dream—its curves enticing and mysterious, so different from my world. Indescribably bright flowers greeted me with silent “hellos” as we climbed through wavy hills and long stretches of green so bright that it seems a disservice to just call it “green.”  My body yawned, an involuntary response to the dry air hanging in the plane, but my mind was exhilarated, my eyes being assigned the impossible task of trying to take everything in.  The colors were jubilant; the traffic sparse, the roadside fruit stands plentiful.  A smile crossed my face as I settled further into my seat, and felt the everyday world sliding off my back.  I knew in that instant that the rules of life didn’t apply here—sometimes the fantasy does live up to the reality.

The days unfolded in an array of colors, heat and rain. The beaches, the colors, the mysterious allure of the jungle, the seamless integration of humans and nature—they all delighted my eager eyes.  The mysteriousness of the rainforest, with its secret medicines disguised as leaves unfolded around me, enchanting every last one of my senses.  Even spiders, with their ominous legs and ever expanding webs seemed relevant when in their element.  Sloths cradled themselves in trees, relaxing in the shade, and hiding from the midday sun coloring skin on the earth below.

Costa Rica is a land that seduces all of the senses—assaulting each and every sense individually. From tiny houses suspended on mountain roads to flowers so bright you think they’ve been photo shopped; Costa Rica is probably the model they based “high definition” on—vivid, intricate, colorful, alive. The nose will tingle as it discovers scents like no other it has encountered before—the lingering smell of night jasmine and fresh rain, a scent of pure romance that would fly off the shelves if someone figured out how to stuff it into fancy glass bottles.  The scented air intoxicates, romantically lulls me into relaxation so deep; I forget what day it is, throw away my watch. The humidity is a gentle touch on the skin, wrapping itself around my body only to be relieved by the chilly, crisp water enveloping me as I glide under waves—a hideout from the sun’s intense rays.  Lounging in a hammock, the eyes close automatically, leaving the ears to act in their place.  Spanish fills the air as I drift into a restful slumber, the words like a dance, filled with emotion, filled with life.  Awaking from a short nap, there is hunger, the last sense begging to be fulfilled.  On this one, Costa Rica delivers big time. An explosion of flavor awaits– luscious pineapple, pink watermelon so juicy your arm becomes sticky from the dripping juice, but you care not.  A steaming mug of coffee from fresh beans awaits– dark, nutty and bold, the taste unsullied by storage and transport.  Fresh fish, never frozen, playfully sit among cilantro, limes, onions and tomatoes in tangy cerviche, waiting to be piled on crackers and enjoyed.  Plantains, smashed and refried decorated the side of the plate, a delightful detour from the standard American side of French fries. Next to them, red meat so delicate, so tenderly, melt in your mouth delicious, it’s almost a crime.  Where on earth has this meat been all my life? The flavor is so smooth and buttery, an explosion of pure, simple beef flavor, not ruined by preservatives, cheap feed, or sadness.

I cannot go back, it is not possible after all I have seen, heard, tasted.  I will keep repeating this sentence over and over, until I am forced to face reality.

 

Brake Tapping Is Not A Sport… (and other summer rules)

Oh, summer. We meet yet again for a few joyous months of drenching humidity, scorching sun, bugs, grilled meat, and traffic, traffic, traffic.  Ah, yes, all kinds traffic. Out- of- Towner traffic.  ‘I don’t recognize that license plate’ traffic.  ‘I can’t seem to travel on my own roads’ traffic. So lovely, so welcoming. So, this post is for you, you “from elsewhere visitors”, and also for those of you who plan to be elsewhere this summer. I will be the friendliest local, and I promise locals will be nice to you if you merely heed my advice.

Number One: Brake tapping is not a sport. I don’t know if it is where you come from, but here, it’s frowned upon.  We like the accelerator here, especially if you’ve positioned yourself in the left lane… which brings me to my second point…

Number Two: The left lane is for people who like to drive, not ‘brake tap.’  Contraire to what the “signs” say, the left lane is not for “passing only,” it’s for those of us who like to drive. Fast. Now move.

Number Three: You don’t live here, so don’t act like you own the place! That means no harassing locals, no cursing at those of us who know where we are going, no being loud and obnoxious at the beach (okay, so that’s a lost cause, but it was a valiant effort on my part, no?)

Number Four: No need to bring your entire life to the beach.  That includes, but is not limited to: coolers with wheels, multiple coolers with wheels, whole watermelons, foot long heroes, two radios, two umbrellas,   your entire extended family and a full size tent.   Please also don’t talk “business” on your cell phone while you are shirtless in a beach chair. This does not make you look powerful or important. No one cares about you, your money or your job.  We care about relaxing on our beach.  Now shut it.

Adapt to the environment you are in, not the other way around. That’s the whole point of travel—getting out of your comfort zone… not bringing it with you.

Seems simple, doesn’t it?

Just a taste.

I’m closing the book on this summer for good, and as I browsed through my pictures, I remembered what a feast it was.

I traveled, I ate. What can I say? The best way to get to know a place is to taste it’s food. And now, for you, I present the highlights….

Slow Cooked and Sloppy in San Antonio... (sigh) I miss you.

Yes, I will marry you, Fresh Fish Sandwich from Maine

Oh, the gluttony that is Chicago Deep Dish...

Leaving is harder than arriving.

At the end of my vacations, I always feel a slight anxiety on the last day. I mean, I just got here, how can I go? I’ve never been one of those people who longed for home.  What is home anyway? Is it the familiar, the routine?  I never think about leaving when I embark on the vacation simply because I am usually happy to be involved in this part of leaving. I’m happy to be free of the everyday chains and excited for new experiences.  I focus on this and put the unavoidable out of my mind.  I arrive, I settle in, I start to feel its aura, start to let go of the known “home” and make wherever I am my new “home.”  Inevitably, I fall in love, and don’t want to leave.  I’m full of attachment, much to the dismay of my non-attachment having intentions.  Travel is such a sensory experience; I’d say it’s hard not to fall in love for my” living in the moment” type of personality. It’s all new, and I’m happy.  When it’s time to leave, I get anxious, I act out. I can’t fathom going back. I sink because I know what’s waiting for me on the other side. Repetition, routine, reality.  While I was having this breakdown just a day ago before heading “home,” a realization hit me. I don’t go on vacation to sightsee, I travel to live.  I travel to wake up when I want to, to wander, to explore or be sloth like. All my senses are alive and awake, driving my mind at a speed so fast; I can barely contain it enough to formulate the ideas into words on a page.  I am alive because the routine is gone and I have a new found freedom that I am living my life for myself.  When I return home, if you know me, it is best to avoid me. Instead of being on a “high” from my vacation, I am depressed and miserable (and generally just a joy to be around, clearly).  It’s the realization that my soul is a renegade, and it suffers when I stuff it fancy office gear and abandon it Monday through Friday, from 8am to 4pm. It is a realization of how can we go back to what we “know” when there is so much left to find out?

So, perhaps it is the idea of freedom, the idea of really living, that I am in love with as much as the place itself.   Often I find myself thinking, is leaving really inevitable? What if I just disappeared into the mist (ok, exaggeration, but it would be totally cool, no?), just abandoned my stiff office chair and just took on the job of “keep moving?” Would I end up hating travel, and begging for the routine?  I’m not sure, but there’s really only one way to find out…

A Tip Jar Isn’t For Everyone!

Just so we’re clear, a TIP is granted for a service, yes? Ok, and SERVICE usually means that something was actually performed and required movement and thought… like say, bringing me delicious food or mixing my coffee for me. A service is not simply taking my money.  (On a side note, why don’t we tip the chefs too? I mean, they’re the ones back there actually doing the cooking!) Ok, fine, now that I’m thinking about it, there’s probably A LOT of people who we should tip but don’t, but that’s off topic (for now).  We’re talking people who DON’T deserve tips, and today my focus is on one particular set of people who are so undeserving of a tip that they should be exiled to somewhere really bad (insert least favorite country/place here). They are the teenage girls who take my money at the beach.

To clarify, I live in a state that demands money in exchange for beach, and this fun, fun feature requires people guarding the beach entrance with intensity that can rival the Border Patrol.  These employees—yes, this isn’t a volunteer job—are usually giggle happy female teenagers who sit under a shady little perch all day and take people’s money (in this case $8), make change (with a calculator, naturally) and slap hideous bracelets on your arm to prove you’ve successfully crossed the asphalt/sand border.  As you can tell, it’s pretty demanding.

So, yesterday, as I was waiting to have my passport stamped, uh, I mean, go to the beach, I noticed a (rather large) “tip jar” perched directly in front of the girls.  WHAT?! As if that wasn’t enough, the tip jar had a hand written sign on it which read:

                                                             TIPS.

                                BECAUSE COME LABOR DAY WE’RE OUT OF A JOB.

Yes, you did read that correctly. Somehow, I should tip THEM for sitting there and giving me change (with a calculator) because somehow it’s my problem that they took a job that only lasts 3 months?? Are they for real???

Sadly, there WERE tips in the jar… presumably left by people less cynical than me. Damn them.