A few days before we began our volunteer work up in the highlands of Costa Rica, my classmate and I decided to do some exploring along the Pacific coast. We arrived in the country on December 29 in San Jose and soon after landing, a taxi drove us to our hostel in Manuel Antonio.
Even before the three-hour drive, the differences between the United States and Costa Rica became apparent, first being currency. Costa Ricans use Colones and, in some establishments, Dollars as well. It took a second to re-adjust my brain to the exchange rate, but found that it is better to just use Colones as it is difficult to get the correct change back in Dollars. Thankfully the majority of Costa Ricans are pretty friendly and patient with tourists adjusting.
The next difference was the food. Costa Ricans have a traditional dish called Casado. It consists of fried plantains, some type of grilled meat, Gallo Pinto (a bean and rice mixture) and cabbage salad. As a nutrition student, I explored my first dish of Casado like scientist dissecting a specimen. The combinations of flavors and freshness in each bite fascinated my senses!
Along with the dish was another must-try, COFFEE! I had talked to several people who had been to Costa Rica prior to my departure and they insisted Costa Rican coffee was superior to other types. Well, they were right! Costa Rica has the best coffee I have ever tasted in my life and I’m not exaggerating. It is no joke, friends. The smoothness and rich flavors cannot be matched in my opinion. It is almost as if you can taste the “Pura Vida” vibe in each sip and I, too, will now rave about it to future Costa Rica explorers.
Another obvious difference is the amount of foliage covering the land. It was truly breathtaking. No matter which direction I turned, overwhelming amounts of trees, tropical plants and moss surrounded me. The rolling hills – and the windy roads we took through them – never gave me a chance to think about the past or future. I was living purely in the moment.
This present-moment living became a trend for the entire trip. It was in those moments I remembered to quiet the constant scattered-brained self-talk because it served no purpose. It was in those moments I appreciated the miracle of life in all its forms, from the air we are able to breathe to the vision with which we are able to see. It was in those moments I remembered we are not defined by the physical or materialistic entities in our human experience; we are here to experience and interpret in any way we please. It was in those moments I remembered how interconnected we are to one another. It was in those moments I embraced a new perspective. Those moments can change an individual forever and mostly for the better.
Traveling offers the greatest opportunity for personal growth and that is why so many of us enjoy exploration beyond our country’s borders.
The greatest souvenir I brought back from Costa Rica did not require a customs check or a postage stamp. It was brought back through my impressions and memories. One thing I remember saying to myself about half way through my trip was, “Just do the best that you can, that’s the best you can do because plans change as quickly as the Costa Rican weather.” I came to this conclusion because regardless if we are at home or traveling, our environment, our plans, our life circumstances are always changing whether if we like it or not. Trying to control every detail in our life will only cause stress and anxiety, qualities we carry all too well in our society as a whole.
Costa Ricans have such a relaxed attitude about the majority of the things they do and it was so refreshing to be surrounded by such ease. So my advice, do like the Costa Ricans do, take it day by day, appreciate nature and stay flexible with your plans and expectations. Every day can be filled with so many unexpected surprises and moments that will bring joy. The only thing required on your part is to be open and willing to accept them.
I appreciate you for taking the time to read this post. I hope this in some way will inspire you to start a new adventure of your own. Pura Vida!
Sarah Villalpando is a foods and nutrition major also completing the didactic program in dietetics. She spent Winter Break volunteering on a coffee farm in Costa Rica