This has been a particularly insightful week in Costa Rica. Why, you ask? I don’t know, it just has. I’m already making plans for my next trip, so it means there is some sort of end in sight and that always brings a time of reflection, whether a philosopher or not. This trip in Costa Rica will be my second longest trip ever. The first, when I lived in South Africa for a summer during college. Just as the trip in South Africa did, this has been a very revealing trip, as I’ve immersed myself in a culture I only knew from books, magazines, and conversations with friends and family. As I was sitting on the beach today, I was quickly able to come up with a long list of things I’ve learned and could have kept going. So here it is: 10 things living and traveling through Central America has taught me.
1. Pura Vida. Ok, if you've spent anytime in Costa Rica, than you're probably saying to yourself right now: "I swear, if I hear someone say 'pura vida' one more time!" Pura vida, translated "pure life", is everywhere in Costa Rica. You see it on shirts, marquees, and homes and hear people using it in various forms, as greetings, salutations, and more. However, like so many phrases you may be accustomed to in popular culture, the term "pura vida" is much different. The term has come to mean a way of life in Costa Rica. You'll notice that life goes by at a much slower, laid-back pace in Costa Rica. This is something much of the world can learn from.
2. I am a slave to time. It's called "tico time" in Costa Rica. "Tico", being the term for Costa Ricans. You might as well just leave your watch at home when you come to Costa Rica, because nothing is going to happen on time. Throw out your strict itinerary and learn to just roll with things, because you're not going to convince anyone to be on time around here. If you want to leave at noon, tell your driver to be there at 11:30, and maybe he'll be there at 12:15. That's not to say this is the case all the time, but I've learned to let go of my dependence on time.
3. The great affair is to move. As much as I like the ring to that phrase, I can't take credit for it. That credit goes to the great Robert Louis Stevenson, who accompanied those words with: "For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake." While so much of travel and travel writing is about landmarks and attractions, the most memorable moments for me in Central America have been conversations and experiences.
4. We're all running from something, but while doing so, we should be running toward something else. I can't emphasize this one enough. When my marriage unravelled last year, I promised not to run away, but to stay in the general area where I was living and continue my job for at least 3 months. You can't escape your past, even in Costa Rica. Many people I've met are divorced, jobless, recently out of prison, or otherwise. However, while you may be running from one thing, make sure you're running toward something that will result in a better outcome.
5. I am a slave to technology. While most people have cell phones and other gadgets here, you won't find the same dependence as you would in the U.S. A couple weeks ago I took a three-day weekend and left my cell phone and laptop behind and it's one of the best things I've ever done while traveling. If there's anything this trip has taught me, it's the importance of unplugging while traveling.
6. I am a traveler, and not an expat; yet. While I've always said that I could see myself as an expat, that time hasn't quite come. Some people made comments before I left, wondering if I would end up staying in Costa Rica, but if there is a country I'm going to do that in, it's not Costa Rica. While the thought has crossed my mind more than once to stay, there are many more trips on the horizon.
7. If there's a perfect *insert word here*, I've yet to find it. I've tried to be a little bit more careful when making recommendations, especially in a place like Costa Rica. You may hear terms like "perfect beach" in Costa Rica, but that doesn't exist. I've seen some nice beaches, but nothing even close to what I would call perfect. What is the perfect beach anyway?
8. The term "socially unacceptable" is subjective. While taking your bathing suit top off on the shores of the Outer Banks of North Carolina to walk around and nurse your child may be "socially unacceptable" there, that doesn't mean it is so in other parts of the world. Also, in some cultures, driving down the road in an ATV or golf cart can actually be quite stylish and not redneck, as long as you have a license plate.
9. Face-to-face relationships are what bind us together. While I love all of my Facebook, Twitter, and blog friends, I really hope I can meet you all in real life. While I still use Twitter and Facebook a lot, there's nothing like connecting with fellow travelers and locals while on the road. It's the conversations and experiences with those people that have made this a special trip.
You were expecting a 10th item here weren’t you? Are you really disappointed? I think not. You’re probably tired of “top ten” lists anyways, and I’ve actually just done you a favor. So you’re welcome – you can buy me a beer later. The fact is that I can’t put a cap on what I’m learning and experiencing in Central America. I made this list in just a few minutes, which is rare for me, and I really could have gone on and on. This is how travel should be. There is no right or wrong way to travel, however, there should be a change that goes on within. The day I no longer find that the case is the day I quit traveling. Echoing the words of many great travelers before, I find that the more I travel, the less I actually know.
*Photo #5 is courtesy of Kirsten Alana.