What visiting Costa Rica taught me
My office in Cahuita Costa Rica
I’m sitting on a bus to San Jose. I have been for almost an hour now and yet we haven’t advanced more than 5km.
There was a hold up.
The bus got hold up by police even before we left Cahuita, the place I stayed at for the past two weeks.
3 Policemen came on board and asked everybody for IDs and passports. One of them rushed to the back of the bus as if he’d identified the target. He escorted two girls off the bus. Then he came back and demanded that everybody with a luggage in storage get off the bus. At least 20 people did and had their luggage searched.
I don’t really get the logic behind searching all the bags in storage, but none of the hand luggage. But having my bag on board with me saved me from the ordeal those 20 people went through that’s for sure.
No one had a clue what was going on. Someone said it was border police and they were looking for something that slipped through the Panama border.
30 minutes into the hold up and people began returning to the bus. One by one.
Except the two girls. They never made it back.
On the one hand, this story is the opposite of my experience of Costa Rica.
We tend to say the people of X country are friendly unless something really bad happens to us there.
But hey, you don’t know friendly until you’ve been to Costa Rica.
Three days after I arrived, I knew half the village. Truth be told, it was a small village, and most of the people I got to know tried to sell me marijuana at one point.
But still, people are so friendly here that my „Too good to be true” safety mechanism kicked in several times and I seriously considered the possibility of being drugged and robbed by some con artists. But the two local ladies, who invited me to share their table in the restaurant opposite, turned out to be genuinely friendly people who just wanted to get to know me.
South American women are not as reluctant to praise men as their European counterparts. An Ecuadorian or Peruvian woman will whistle after you in the street and say things if she likes your legs in shorts without missing a beat. What I’ve never had before though is women walking up to me in the street and saying how handsome I was (and really meaning it). I wish I’d had a better answer for her than a lame „thank you” when she said that, but I was busy trying not to throw up because of the banana cake that had made me sick for two days.
On the other hand, my whole experience of Costa Rica is reflected in the hold-up story and can be summed up in two words.
In Costa Rica, you never know what kind of animal you might find yourself admiring or trying to get rid of next. Everything is so alive, it’s incredible! You, don’t know whether you’ll have electricity in 10 minutes, and you have no idea who you might be talking to 5 minutes from now. You have no clue what the food you ordered is going to taste like and you don’t know whether the bus arrives on time. But you kind of guess that it doesn’t. You don’t know whether it’s going to rain at any given time and most of all you don’t know why people are genuinely cheerful here all the time, despite not having it easy.
We are making a stop in Limon. I need to go and stretch my limbs.
Back on the bus, it’s at least a 1000 degrees hot here. I feel like my head is going to explode unless we leave soon and I get a bit of cool air coming in through the window.
The other day I had to dump my only pair of walking shoes. They were too far gone, and smelled worse than a dead crocodile in a swamp so I didn’t even think about saving them. A local man saw me chuck them in the bin outside the house and told me that I should check if someone might need them before I throw a pair of good shoes out. I told him they were rotting from the inside, but that didn’t stop him from picking them out of the garbage.
I always thought I’d be able to put myself in poor people’s shoes once I got rich, because I was once poor myself. But it looks like I’m not even rich yet, and I can’t put myself in the shoes of people who have less than I do.
Note to self: watch out for becoming an asshole.
We just passed the market in Limon. It was surprisingly busy at this time of day. We’d spent almost an hour stuck in traffic here. The sun has already set, but the heat persists.
Costa Rica made me realize a few things about myself.
I realized that the main driving force of my life is adventure and that I need to have more of it.
Do you ever get the feeling that time just flies by? Why do you think that is? It’s because one day is like another. You go to work, come home, watch TV, go to sleep and that’s it. There is nothing for your brain to remember. Routine for the brain is just a mash. If nothing stands out, nothing is remembered.
Every time you do something new or fun, you’ll feel like time has slowed down though. And your brain will use those extraordinary events as anchors and remember them. That’s why you can recall what you did each day of your holiday in Thailand 10 years ago (unless you spent all your time lying next to the hotel swimming pool), but can’t remember what you did at work last week.
I never want to go back to being bored and boring.
The time I spent in Costa Rica also taught me that adventure starts where comfort ends. And that you sometimes need to cross some lines and even inconvenience people for epic shit to happen.
I used to be good at that. At going far enough to spice things up but not too far I mean.
At primary school, I few of my classmates were trouble. They would break shit, tease other kids until they cried, get into fights and all the usual bad kid stuff. Both teachers and other pupils were wary of them.
There was another group, the eminent students. They’d keep quiet, always do their homework etc. I was somewhere in between. I’d spend most of my time around the bad kids, but leave when I felt we’re going too far. My grades were pretty good, but you’d find me doing my homework at school on most days. So teachers couldn’t really put me in either the good or the bad kid box.
I want to find that fine line again. Never hurting anybody, but crossing some lines, and possibly inconveniencing others for the sake of fun. I feel like I have in Costa Rica, which lead to some epic stories that I might tell a few years down the line.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about doing shit and then running away to avoid being held responsible. I’m talking about doing stuff that might be against some people’s good taste or liking, but when they realize the absurdity of the situation, you all laugh together.
Costa Rica reminded me that “If it looks too good to be true”, it isn’t always.
Sometimes it really is as great as it looks. It’s OK to be cautious with people you don’t know. By all means, don’t drink something a stranger just handed over to you in a bar. But know that some people are just deceivingly nice. Don’t let your natural guardian instinct alienate them.
Costa Rica reminded me that you are only alone if you want to.
Spending time in Finland or Norway may give you a different idea. But it’s not really about the place. It’s about how you relate to people around you. Most people are more sociable than you think or they like to admit and they don’t mind, but even enjoy meeting someone new. When you come across one that doesn’t, just put that down to them having a bad day.
Costa Rica confirmed what I’d already knew: I adore simple, natural processes that produce an outcome that’s good for something. A couple years back, I got interested in the process of making soap. So I did a little research, built a mould out of wood, got all the ingredients together and made some soap. I gave most of it away and people loved it.
In Costa Rica, I saw the entire process of making all natural chocolate from the cacao bean to the chocolate bar. It’s just as simple and yet fascinating as making soap and the final product is even more admirable.
I just love how going to new places allows me to learn more about myself and what I’m passionate about. Travel is about exploring new places as much as it is about exploring yourself.
Six hours after departure, we’re finally in San Jose. I’ve got a 20 minute walk back to my hostel before going straight to bed so that I can get up and catch my flight to Mexico early morning.