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December 1, 2018

Costa Rica: The Birthday Surprise I Didn’t Know I Needed

Costa Rica was never on my list of places to visit. All of the social media posts I had seen from people in travel groups made me not want to go even more. And yes, I know I am coming off as a total travel snob, but hear me out.

I had completely written Costa Rica off because it didn’t seem like it would fit my personal travel style. I’ll admit, I love hidden gems and places not as frequented by Americans (do you hate me yet?). And the places that aren’t the easiest to get to. My reasons being I can catch a sale to Costa Rica or anywhere else in the Caribbean for that matter, at any time. But my logic has always been, when you find an incredible deal to a place like Tenerife or Zanzibar, you jump on it.

I had initially hoped to revisit my beloved Colombia again for my birthday. I had brought in my thirtieth personal new year in Cartagena and it taught me things about myself I had no idea existed. Only this time, for year thirty- two, I wanted to explore Medellin and then hop over to San Andres Island, with the hopes of reigniting that passion I found before. But me and flight prices just couldn’t agree. Inexpensive fares to Costa Rica were readily available. Getting down to the wire on booking a place, I said fuck it and hit “confirm purchase” on a roundtrip to San Jose.

The logistics of getting around had really started to stress me out. I went back and forth on whether to base in Puerto Viejo or Santa Teresa. Then, like clockwork, stories of murders in each of those places surfaced within a few weeks of me booking my flight (why is it that every time you book a trip, someone disappears, workers go on strike or someone gets murdered in the same place?). Yes, even I get freaked out by shit like this in countries I plan to visit. So I settled on La Fortuna/Arenal instead. I ended up booking accomodations at a family run inn. I always manage to find places that are relatively new, as evidenced by the lack of reviews on Trip Advisor. But I was drawn to it because I’m anti- resorts (no shade to those that swear by resorts, they just aren’t my style) and it was away from the town center. Still, I couldn’t seem to hype myself up for the trip. I was in what I like to call a trip funk. Maybe because in a sense, I felt like I was settling for second best. It happens.

Fast forward to trip time, I’m slightly anxious but still not super excited. More so grateful to have the time off from work, if anything. But the universe has a way of checking you. The three- hour drive from San Jose to La Fortuna is scenic at best, with all the dips and blind curves to match. We then reach the pick up spot to our hotel. A pleasant, super chipper man awaits us just outside the mega resort we arranged our pick up from. His energy was infectious. It instantly pepped me up, through his countless chants of “Pura Vida!”. He drove us through another bout of hills and winding curves. We definitely were in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of the town. What awaited us when we reached our final destination…can’t even be put into words.

Seriously, the views reminded me of those pictures you see on laundry detergent containers with scents like “Crisp Mountain Breeze”. I woke up to this view every morning for five days. It put me in a trance. I had almost forgotten about the tours and excursions I had booked. I literally could have spent the entire trip lounging in a hammock and reading. Quickly I realized that I picked the perfect place to bring in year thirty-two.

Something about this place felt familiar. The long drives on all sides of the volcano coupled with morning walks down the winding roads reminded me of my summers at my grandma’s house in Louisiana. Surrounded by all the plush green just like her house was surrounded by overbearing trees. So much scope for imagination. And even in the night air, I felt a sense of peace that I have only ever felt while visiting my family. Pretty sure my Mom and Granny were there with me. That’s the sense of comfort I felt.

Everything was so fresh. Fresh fruit and herbs from the garden used in the meals we ate. I actually feel as though I lost weight between the hikes and the preservative free food. Our meals usually consisted of some form of rice, beans, fruit and vegetables. Fresh pineapple juice as well. And fresh coffee (you didn’t think I would come ALL this way and not drink real Costa Rican coffee, did you?).

I met so many cool people. Travelers just like me trying to expand their imaginations. I spent the earlier part of my birthday hiking around the Arenal Volcano, taking in all of the various flora and fauna. It was here that I made new friends with Kenyan and German natives. And we ended the hike with a dip in a free hot spring amongst locals, with a candle lit birthday toast.

Our hotel was especially cool because we could cook our own meals. The owner was kind enough to bring us to the market in town, so we gathered items for a barbeque that night. Our friends from Canada, France and Spain also helped me bring in my birthday, complete with all the freshest veggies, chorizo and skirt steaks we could eat. Oh and cervezas and rum. Because who needs cake when you have rum?

All things considered, well, I was wrong. I was totally wrong about my feelings for Costa Rica. Sometimes the beaten path isn’t all bad. And maybe you just need to carve out your own path. Or maybe a path made of bread crumbs? Either way, I shouldn’t have let its popularity deter me from discovering my own version. Now, I don’t think I’ll be jetting off to Jamaica any time soon but, I may surprise myself…again.

Just in case you feel like it, here’s a video from my trip:)

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