RSS Feed

Category Archives: Travel

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.

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.

 

Costa Rica, You and I Have a Long Awaited Date.

I developed a fascination with all things foreign, exotic and travel related when I was just a young teenager.  While other girls were thinking about prom and cheerleading, I found myself thinking about backpacking through ancient Europe, Caribbean palm trees and making my way through the primitive ruins and jungles of Central America. Of course, this didn’t serve my social life well, and I ended up with more hardcover friends then human friends (which resulted in the previous post, naturally).  It was also during this time that I developed an unbridled obsession with a little country called Costa Rica.  At that time, it was a still undiscovered explorer’s paradise. It was a place where ultra cool hipsters went, fell in love with the lifestyle, never went home and became ultra cool expats who ran surf shacks and coffee bars. This was probably the first time I also fell in love with the romantic idea of shrugging your shoulders at the known world and giving it all up in search of new adventures. I was sure Costa Rica had it all.  I needed to be there.  

Sadly, it was hardly in my 15 year old budget to get myself there, but I never forgot my first love, as is usually the case. I kept Costa Rica close as the years past, letting her hold onto that special place in my heart, reserved for all first loves.  Her name stayed in my head for years, letting off tiny whispers in my ear every now and again, but I had to keep turning her down year after year.  Thankfully, relentless is a word some have used to describe me, and after so much anticipation, this year, I finally hopped a plane headed for the rich coast. I was nervous. What if I built this up too much? What if my little Costa Rica disappointed me? Would it change the way I thought about things forever?  Would my obsession deliver? Or would this be like most other things in life that we obsess over, but in the end fails to deliver? Would the grass really be greener on the other side? Could Costa Rica be the anomaly in this crazy thing we called life, subject to all stupid “rules?” Would Costa Rica break the rules?

 Stay tuned…!

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?

In Search of Inspiration, I Wander.

 

Sometimes it’s tough to be a writer. Never mind the steep competition and the lack of pay and the undying urge to put words on paper, those are just minor idiosyncrasies.  We suffer from an endless stream of words swirling through our minds, our brains working overtime to try and string them together in a way that makes them stand out, in a way that takes other people to the moment, gives them a connection. We are emotional, guarded and always thinking. We are constantly in search of new inspiration to keep our thoughts fresh and original.  It is sometimes a love/hate thing, I must admit, as being an office drone sometimes impedes my thoughts, stomps on the inspiration.  I know you’re thinking, what, those beige walls don’t inspire you? Impossible! But yes, friends, it’s true—I need more than beige walls and ugly carpet to get the creative juices brewing.  So, when even my favorite muse can’t come through for me, I go searching. I wander to old places, new places. I explore, and lately, I capture it on film. The still shot of a moment etched in a photograph enchants me. I love the simplicity, the way time is frozen on film. There are no detailed words, only images, feeding our imagination, letting our mind feast on the unknown.  An endless array of thoughts and questions come to mind. Was it loud there? What time of day was it? What aromas filled the air? Who walked by? Did anyone walk by? What did the air feel like? Was the sidewalk silent? Busy? Were there snippets of conversation floating around your ears? The questions go on and on and on….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You’re So Pretty in the Spring, New York.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to wander to find inspiration. This week, I chose early morning in New York City, sort of by accident. It delivered.

Wrought iron guards with elegant, antique beauty.

Sometimes the Journey IS the Journey.

My bags were packed, sitting in anticipation by the door. My yoga mat was curled up so peacefully, waiting patiently by my luggage . I was ready to hit the road for an enlightening “girls weekend” road trip to the Sivananda Ashram in upstate New York.  It was just what my hectic, workaholic life needed.  It was a trip parallel to life; a drive through chaos to reach “serenity,” knowing that serenity actually lies in the mind… but that sometimes you need a little kick to realize it.

But, not surprisingly, the journey, much like life, didn’t quite work out as planned.  The directions, the plans, they all fly out the window with one mistake, one wrong turn.  The landscape changes, and before you know it you’re in Zombieland without a map, without cell service, without a connection to the outside world. It’s just you staring back at you, telling you to figure out how the hell you are getting out of this one.  And, like any problem in life, the choices look bleak and empty, it seems as if there will be no way out, every turn will lead to a “dead end” sign staring you obnoxiously in the face.

But then you glance around and realize it’s not just you that is frustrated, lost and almost hopeless. The faces of your friends stare back at you, bewildered, confused. You are alone in your head, certainly, on your own journey, but the collective conscience is there, in the present moment, sharing part of the journey with you. Your paths have paralleled for a moment, if only for the moment. And all of a sudden, you just burst out laughing at the absurdity of the situation.  A series of laughs erupts through the car; yes, your friends are there for you; for each other.  The collective conscience works together, you regroup, and before you know it, you’re back on the right road, headed in the right direction.  A sigh of relief, a moment of reflection, and then, back to life.

And that’s life. It’s always open to the moment, it’s always “who knows?” You can plot and plan and have everything you need, and then in an instant it can all fall away.  It’s what you do with the situation that really matters. All you can do is go with the flow, searching for answers, searching for reasons.  Life may be random, it may have reason, we may never know. It may be a whole lot of randomness looking for a reason… but that’s for you to decide.