Courtesy of Walking Tree Travel

So… I loved my trip and I’m slightly bummed that the Tico lifestyle is not my reality. Thinking about my Abuela and the brilliant, smiling faces of the Herradura children brings me to tears. Since I returned, I’ve been debating whether it would be better to stay in touch or to emotionally distance myself but the latter would be for selfish reasons such as avoiding a long distance pen pal relationship along with the burden of writing letters and not getting them in time, and the painful truth of knowing it would be a long while before I ever got to see them again, if ever.

You know how people tend to have a “fear of the unknown”? Well surely I was handicapped by fear in the past; fear of getting hurt, fear of unfamiliarity, fear of failure, fear of…what it would take to conquer my fears. But in just two weeks I surfed and rafted, neither of which are things I ever thought I’d have an interest in trying. I lived in a jungle surrounded by a vast variation of wildlife, therefore, my neighbor’s dogs, Buddy and Fiona don’t scare me anymore which chalks up the score to Precious- 1, friendly dalmatians- 0. For this miraculous victory over my fear of animals (yes, ALL animals) I owe thanks to the lizards, spiders, dogs, birds, cows, horses, monkeys, and all the other creatures that I encountered in Costa Rica.

In the past, I’ve dedicated my time and money (but mostly my time) to volunteering and trying to help people in any way that I can. But never like this. None of my volunteer work has ever been an ongoing project where I had to dedicate so much of myself physically and mentally. But the physically demanding nature of our project was greatly surpassed by the village life in general. These people joyfully welcomed us into their homes and pampered us with a genuine, loving hospitality that put my worries to rest. It was then, when I came to the realization that they were happy to have us there, that I started to make the connections between their lives and my own. I can count the differences on one hand but the similarities are endless. The most significant similarity that I noticed was that they celebrate a family based culture. The elders are  looked to for their wisdom, the adults are very respected, the men and women’s roles respectively, the kids are the parents’ source of joy, and their culture gives life to the tired proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.”

There’s a lot of this world that remains a mystery to me. To be able to leave the country with a purpose and return with such irrefutable testimonies of triumph and new experiences was the first step to me conquering  whatever it is that separates me from the world I live in. My heart has finally been exposed to travel  and has shone a new light on nature in all its captivating beauty. I’ll never forget how big and green everything seemed to me when we first arrived in the Pura Suerte jungle. Or how I spent two weeks drinking my air instead of breathing it; I would gladly choose Colorado’s dry air over Costa Rica’s thick humidity any day! Or how I attended a Catholic service entirely in Spanish. No matter how many pictures we could have taken, no matter how high the resolution, no camera could have accurately captured the breathtaking, luminous elegance of the beach sunset. This journey has stripped me of my predictable, surface humanitarian tendencies and aroused my inner global citizen.

Now… how’s THAT for culture shock? read more →

Courtesy of Walking Tree Travel Blog

Sunday, July 24- We left the Herradura village and headed to Hotel Espadilla in Manuel Antonio. Almost immediately after arriving to the hotel we hung out at the pool for a couple of hours until we left for the beach. Overcome with joy, I sprinted for the water with my feet sinking into the soft, powdery sand. I was awe struck by the beauty of the sun sandwiched between the sky and the water as it kissed the horiz0n good night. The waves were calm so we had a blast being carried by their gentleness. I’m at a loss for words when it comes to accurately describing the captivating beauty of the beach that I got to experience for the first time ever on this trip.

Monday, July 25- Monday was another peaceful day enjoying ourselves at the beach. When we first arrived, we looked through the shops that we had seen the day before, searching for accessories, souvenirs, and gifts for friends and family back home. When we were done shopping (or exhausted all our funds, rather) we played volleyball with another group of Walking Tree Travelers and had lunch until it was time for our surf lessons. Our instructor demonstrated on a surfboard what we were supposed to do and when; then we all took turns practicing how to paddle, get into “set” position, and how to stand. Unfortunately, my struggles began before I even entered the water! I tried dragging then pulling my surf board to the water because I couldn’t lift it, but eventually one of the instructors lifted it and placed it on my head. Almost as soon as I set foot in the water I was knocked over by waves while trying to keep track of my board, which I guess wasn’t so hard considering it was strapped to my ankle. During my first attempt to master the waves, on my instructors command I lifted myself and stood on what I thought was a safe spot on my board but I slipped and crashed into the rushing water where I was pulled and tossed around by my board. I decided to give it one more try but with the same result, I called it quits.

Tuesday, July 26- In the morning we visited the National Park where we saw monkeys swinging from trees and shooed raccoons away during our PB&J sandwiches, tortilla chips and salsa, potato chips, and oreos picnic lunch. In the afternoon we traveled to the capital, San Jose, where we strolled through the mall, had dinner and watched the newest Harry Potter movie together. Personally, I’m not a fan and I never could keep up with the books or movies. It was no surprise that I was confused and bored during the first 45 minutes of the movie so I “accidentally” fell asleep and ended up missing the rest of the movie. Oops.

Wednesday, July 27- Apart from experiencing a beach for the first time, I’ve also never been rafting. I haven´t been as terrified as I was yesterday in a while but I had to trust our guide otherwise I would have decided against going altogether. Once I learned how to paddle I eventually became a little more relaxed and got comfortable with the rocking of the boat even when it crashed against the rocks. Every so often we would be able to stop, and look up, and just soak in the beauty of the greenery surrounding us. We stopped halfway for lunch and got back in the raft for another hour or so. After we returned to the hotel, we got ready for what would be our final group dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant in San Jose. We embraced the restless night that we knew would surely find us because only six hours remained until we would leave the hotel for our flights home.

Thursday, July 28- It’s a little after 3 a.m here and we’ll be leaving for the airport in about forty minutes and that, my friends, will conclude this journey.

Courtesy of Walking Tree Travel

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Yesterday was our last day working in the Herradura village. With the last water pipe inserted, we were overcome with mixed feelings of pride and humility, quickly followed by sighs of relief. It´s very satisfying to know that our efforts are much appreciated by the community. The village showed their gratitude by throwing us a fiesta last night. We danced the night away together, swaying to the beats of bachata, merengue, and salsa music.

Leaving this village means that I will be leaving behind working long days in the sun, trying to avoid greedy, stray dogs at lunch time, and waking up to fresh bug bites every morning. Unfortunately, it also means that I´ll be leaving behind the only “grandmother” I’ve ever known. It was a new, unfamiliar setting at first living with someone who gladly waited on me, cooked all my meals and did my laundry but after nights of long talks full of her words of wisdom, I feel like I’ve known her all my life. I´m excited to move on to our next location but I can´t help but feel like I´ll be leaving a piece of my heart behind.

Our vacation is a little more than halfway over and I´m still trying to suppress feelings of homesickness. I think about my family every day, wonder what they´re doing, I dream about them and imagine what it would be like to see them for just five minutes. My heart won´t allow me to call them because I know that my whole attitude will turn sour and I´ll want to hop on the first plane back to Colorado. I did get a piece of home today when I went to the Catholic church with my Abuela. Although I´m not Catholic, it was refreshing to be in a church for the first time in a couple of weeks.

We had to write a letter to ourselves that Paul (one of our group leaders) will mail to us in a couple of years. If nothing else, I want to remember how much I’ve grown during this trip. I’ve become more aware of the world that I live in. My likes (working with children and helping others) have been reinforced and my dislikes (physical labor and working under pressure) have been brought to light. I now seek to understand others and our similarities as well as embrace the beauty of our differences. It´s been quite an experience and it seems that I´m learning something new about myself everyday.

Tomorrow we´ll be off to the beach and I can´t wait to see what´s in store for us in these last few days.

Costa Rica Discovery C 2011: The First Week from Walking Tree Travel on Vimeo.

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Today’s the third day we’ve been in the village. There is so much to do, see, and eat when in a different country! When we first arrived, the local  community members of all ages greeted us with welcoming hugs and from there we were assigned to our host families. Some of us had more than eight siblings whereas others had none. I live with my Abuela (grandma), Abuelo (grandpa), and their dog. Although having a smaller family is a more comfortable setting and we have people constantly passing through it does get pretty quiet in the house sometimes. My Abuela doesn’t speak any English so there’s a lot of pointing and gesturing required for us to communicate with each other and it has actually become a fun little game!

A lot of us seem to be having dreams in Spanish or go in and out of Spanglish when conversing. I guess learning a new language becomes a totally new experience when you are immersed in the culture because you have to use your Spanish every day whether you’re greeting people passing by, talking to your family, or trying to communicate with the community members assisting us with our service project. Our service project is by far one of the most physically demanding jobs I’ve ever had to do. We are digging around the community and inserting water pipes and if we work hard it’s usually done around lunch time.

Courtesy of Walking Tree Travel Blog

Experiencing the cuisine has been one of the most exciting parts of this trip. The mystery of what will be for breakfast and questioning the contents of your colorful omelette has almost become routine. There are many different types of fruit drinks, all with their own distinct sweetness and the milk here is fresh and so much richer than the watery kind we have at home. Lots of the meals include rice and/or beans so here I’ve attached a recipe to one of the most popular dishes courtesy my Abuela. I haven’t tried out this recipe for Gallo Pinto yet myself and the measurements are a little off so if yours doesn’t turn out as delicious as you had hoped, do not fret for I will perfect it myself when I get home.

Gallo Pinto

Necesita:

1 cuchara de aceite

3 rodajas de cebolla

1 diente de ajo

2.5 tazas de arroz (cocinado el dia anterior)

2.5 tazas de frijoles negros cocinado

.5 cuchara de la salsa Lizano

Preparación:

Ponga aceite en un sartén un poco caliente, agregue cebolla y ajo, sofría todo junto, luego ponga el arroz, los frijoles y la salsa, mezcle todo y dejar a fuego lento, moviendo ocasionalmente hasta  cuando los sabores se combinen y espolvorear el culantro picado finalmente. ¡Sirva y disfrute!

In English

You need:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 slices of onion

1 clove of garlic

2.5 bowls of rice (cooked the day before)

2.5 bowls of cooked black beans

.5 tablespoon of salsa Lizano

Preparation:

Put the vegetable oil in a pot over low heat, add the sliced onion and diced gloves of garlic, stir it all together, then add the rice, beans, and salsa, mix everything over medium heat, let simmer and stir periodically, sprinkle chopped cilantro last. Serve and enjoy!

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It seems impossible to put all I’ve experienced so far into words. I suppose I should begin at… well, the beginning. This was my first flight since I was but one year old so I was expecting to be blown away. But the sensation of being lifted and shifted through the sky, engulfed in a sea of clouds, and watching the sun rise as if it’s within reach was almost overwhelming. I know the world is massive so to be ABOVE the clouds was by far the most abstract thing I’ve ever experienced.

On Thursday, I think I was sitting down for all of thirteen hours between the flight to San Jose and the bus ride to our jungalows. It took us about half an hour from the airport to get to a restaurant called La Casita Del Café where we had our first taste of Costa Rica (pun intended). I recognized the gallo pinto because it was omnipresent in the research I did about the cuisine along with fried plantains because it’s also a popular Nigerian dish.

I’ve never experienced wildlife to the point where I’m hiking past bulls and watching crocodiles bask in peaceful nothingness. They seem much livelier on the Discovery Channel when they’re being wrestled with against their will. Go figure.

Courtesy of Walking Tree Travel

Not being able to see the stars at night is kind of bitter sweet. I don’t get to marvel at the luminous beauty of shimmering stars dancing opposite the stillness of night. Instead, the sky is one solid sheet of a magnificent shade of blue that I’ve never seen before!

My ever-resourceful travel mentor, Angela Steele, gave me one piece of advice that really stuck with me. Poorly paraphrased, she said, “You shouldn’t hate everything you do, and hopefully you won’t. But don’t think you’ll love everything you do either because you probably won’t. Just keep in mind that every thing will seem new to you so embrace every experience, good or bad.” Unfortunately, the bad came earlier that I had hoped for. On Friday, we went on a demanding, arduous, trying, and every other synonym for difficult, hike down to the Nauyaca Waterfall. We waded and splashed and gave each other muddy, clay facials, all immediate to the bed of large rocks below the rainforest in fear of getting swept away by the strength of the currents. I could whine and complain about the downhill, muddy stumbles or the fiery burn of walking up at what felt like a ninety-degree angle for about an hour. But to be able to embrace the beauty of the mighty rushing water at the end of it all was totally priceless.

Courtesy of Walking Tree Travel

The scenery or “greenery”, rather, along with the sights and sounds of the rainforest are worthy to be deemed a place of mystery and wonderment. Colorado summer showers seem like running through lawn sprinklers compared to the rain that falls here. So to put it in perspective one of my fellow travelers, Caroline Atsaves, wrote a poem about the enchanting environment in which we attempt to discover.

******

Caroline’s Poem

The bugs hum softly along with the birds making beautiful sound absent of words

The rain tap dances adding to the gentle tune, sometimes growing aggressive in a time of monsoon

A gleeful call brings contrast to the rain, unexpectedly becoming a link in the chain

Alone they are nothing, just a random noise, but when heard together: a symphony structured with poise

An overlooked soundtrack hardly taken in, chaotic on the surface yet peaceful within

The joyous melody is on constant repeat, producing new tones complimenting the jungle beat

We are instruments too, we just don’t know. Our voices and movements all contribute to the flow

It’s a beautiful thing, once you know

So just sit back and feel the jungle beat grow. read more →