I remember the feeling I had when I placed my phone down onto the kitchen table after learning that I had received a full scholarship to Appalachian State University. Shock, followed by disbelief coupled with bewilderment finished off by an overwhelming wave of happiness. At the time, I was too preoccupied with the flood of emotions to remember that a trip to Costa Rica would also be included. However as the first few weeks of my freshman year rolled by at lightning speed, the time for filling out travel paperwork and receiving rain gear drew near and I suddenly realized that I was going back to the country I had fallen in love with just half a year before.
The entire trip was, for me, filled with soaring highs and just a couple lows. We began our journey in the same place that many international adventures begin, in a bustling terminal filled with people who all seem to know exactly where they are going, but not where they want to be. I remember trying to block out the sounds of buzzing alarms and yelling TSA Agents as I pushed through security, because as a self-proclaimed “extroverted introvert”, my mind easily becomes overwhelmed by loud noises. I was able to forget our anxiety inducing time at the airport after we touched down just outside of San Jose. I remember being greeted by one of my favorite features of Costa Rica, a glorious view of a large mountain just outside of the terminal window.
Costa Rican mountains are a peculiar but breathtaking sight. They are brilliantly green and always seem closer than they actually are while still remaining unapologetically unreachable. The cloud forest, Poas volcano, and the gulf were all beautiful in their own way, but the mountain ranges seemed to captivate my attention the most. I was also hypnotized by the sheer amount of green that surrounded me at all times. The lush landscape stretched for miles, broken only by a thin line between the foliage signaling the location of small gravel roads. Costa Rica’s environment appeared to have its’ own natural heartbeat, an ancient pulse both self- sustaining and never ending. That heartbeat can not only be felt within the land itself, but can be seen in the faces of those passionate about their home. To speak about Costa Rica without mentioning the people who live there would be an injustice.
We met many people throughout our week in Costa Rica. We learned about the biological corridor from a man named Randy who apologized for his English skills, but was unaware of the admiration we all felt towards him for transcending the language barrier in order to educate us about a topic so important to him. Our hike through the Cloud Forest Reserve in Monteverde was led by Mark, a man with kind eyes framed by a thousand smile lines and a collection of knowledge about the natural world around him that only an encyclopedia could match. Our guide, Fern, embodied everything that Costa Rica seems to stand for including intelligence, progress, education, and resilience. However, the most profound interaction occurred between the Wilson Scholars and a large Costa Rican family on their farm in a small town below Monteverde.
The woman who owned the farm, whom we called Abuelita, did not speak any English but still seemed to touch each and every one of us in her own way. There is something beautiful about grinding your own coffee harvested only a few feet away, pulling the skin from a foreign squash, and hand-squeezing juice beside someone who speaks a different language. One of the most memorable moments occurred in the moments leading up to our departure from the farm. As we prepared to say our goodbyes one of the residents, a child named Josue, handed Jake the Pikachu keychain that he had carried around the entire day. The two had become friends during our time making lunch, and I began to suspect that the young boy would probably not let Jake leave without something to remember him by. This was one of the most genuine moments of the entire trip, and is not one that I will easily forget.
I believe that the one theme that I will take away from this trip ties into the interaction between Jake and Josue. Their encounter was incredibly “real” and their connection was as pure as relationships get. My second experience in Costa Rica was infinitely more real than my last visit, simply because I was able to remove myself from the tourist attractions and highly populated areas of Costa Rica and focus on the half of the country that I did not see, the half that is rarely ever uncovered. By experiencing the country through that new, unfiltered lense, I was able to understand my attraction to its’ land on a deeper level. I realized that I do not only love Costa Rica because it is a beautiful country. I do not love Costa Rica simply because the people are naturally kind.
I love Costa Rica because it is a country that sits happily on the edge between antique and 21st century progression, balancing the old and the new in a way that is both curiously inventive and timelessly charming. To live the Costa Rican way is to live without excess while still achieving personal contentment. That is truly, the purest life.
Writen by: Vicki Anderson