I read the travel writing compilation of Don George before I left on this trip. His book, “The Way of Wanderlust” struck a yearning in my heart for places I’d never considered visiting until he wrote about them. From hiking Kilimanjaro to relaxing in the Cook Islands to exploring hidden temples in Cambodia. George’s words have a way of making one feel as if you’re right there with him, and upon snapping out of the trance, an intense urge to buy a plane ticket immediately.
Reflecting on Costa Rica, I wish I could describe this country as perfectly and poetically through the written word. Unfortunately I feel my favorite memory from the trip has to be accompanied by pictures to tell the story accurately. Maybe one day I’ll be a great travel writer, or maybe I’ll always need the pictures…
It was hot. Nine in the morning and the sun was already beating down with such ferocity I knew my cheap straw sunhat and sunscreen applied over an hour ago were doing little to protect my skin. We had also been trudging along the beach for the past fifteen minutes, so sweat had began to form at every crease of my body. I glanced up to Michael, about 10 feet in front of me, diligently marching towards our final destination, surfboard in tow. He’d insisted on grabbing it before we entered the park, so I had little sympathy for his struggle as he shifted it between arms every couple of minutes.
Looking past him, I could see the end our of trek. The Whale’s Tail in Parque Nacional Marino Bellana. At low tide Playa Hermosa and Playa Uvita, two beaches along Costa Rica’s southwestern coast, joined to form the infamous Whale’s Tail. From the moment I saw the aerial view on one of the many travel blogs I poured over prior to our trip, I knew I had to see it for myself.
I wiped my forehead and adjusted the backpack on my shoulders. Many around us were making the same trek to the end of the Whale’s Tail, but some had plopped down right on the narrow stretch of beach for a break. I envied them. They didn’t have a husband on a mission. I picked up my pace and briefly wondered how many Pina Coladas I was walking off.
After five or so minutes, the soft, wet sand began to be sprinkled with rocks and I looked up from watching my feet to see we’d reached the end. The rocky, tide-pool filled end of the whale’s tail. Michael had come to a stop and as I tried to maneuver around rocks to reach him I understood why. Our flip flops were no match for the jagged, soaked terrain. We’d planned to walk to the very end so he could surf and I could sun bathe, but there was at least 500 ft to go and no chance we’d make it unscathed.
“So much for that,” he said begrudgingly and I sighed in agreement. “Well, I saw some bigger waves back where we entered in the park. Let’s just go back there. Closer to food and drinks. Maybe you can find some shade.” I grimaced thinking of the walk back, but knew my face was already beat red. Without another word he turned around and walked away. A bubble of anger rose up in my throat. I was disappointed enough by our anti-climatic whale’s tale adventure, but his disinterest in anything but surfing was beginning to piss me off. I stubbornly contemplated sitting down right there among the tide pools to take in the turquoise ocean crashing into the black rocks of the tail’s end all by myself. I glanced back to see how far he’d made it and instead, I saw the view.
The stretch of beach that led us out to the tail had already begun to disappear back to the ocean. But each time the waves retreated, the jungle, mountains, and marshmallow clouds before me reflected in the wet sand. To describe it as simply “stunning” would be a travesty. Frozen in place and humbled by the earth, it hit me.
Walking out on the Whale’s Tail to stare at the ocean wasn’t the point. One could stare at the ocean from any position on shore. Travelers walked out on the Whale’s Tail to look back. They walk out into the ocean to see the land from a different perspective.
I stood for a few moments longer before Michael called to me. He pointed up at the mountains with a delighted expression. I smiled in spite of my annoyance just moments before. Sharing this with him, with the person I love more than any other, was so much more important than being bitter he rather surf than meditate. I jogged to catch up with him – a feat considering the sun only blazed more fiercely as we approached mid-day.
We walked in sync back to the main beach together, silently sharing our awe of this place we had the privilege of visiting. Just before we veered right to settle into our palm tree hangout, I saw it. The very point where the beaches met. The very tree from which the whale tail grew each morning and disappeared each afternoon at high tide. My head must have been down on the walk out to have missed it, so focused on the destination I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey. Or, I had simply needed a new perspective.
I snapped the picture. Michael yelled back to say he could see the perfect spot up ahead. I turned away from the edge of the world and find that weeks later, it is forever seared in my memory.
Thank you for the memories, Uvita. Pura Vida.
“Now more than ever do I realize that I will never be content with a sedentary life, that I will always be haunted by thoughts of a sun-drenched elsewhere.”
I am probably in the minority when I say I did not visit a foreign country until I was 23 years old, and my first was Canada. A lovely, diverse country I’m sure but fairly anti-climatic when in search of experiencing a new culture. I grew up in Minnesota after all. We both hold our vowels equally long and wear parkas 9 months of the year.
Costa Rica was my first true foreign experience.
– Hardly anyone spoke English. M thankfully speaks Spanish pretty well and was able to act as a translator for us, but I wish I’d brushed up a bit as I was hopeless.
– Driving was unlike anything I’d ever seen, with cars and motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic with little regard for the bicyclists and walkers on the sides. Speed limit signs seemed to be a suggestion and it appeared to be a game of how close you could get to the on coming traffic when trying to pass. I was more scared while riding in our shuttle from Uvita to San Jose than I was at any other point in the trip (even when walking through an area notorious for poisonous snakes).
– They don’t automatically serve water with your meals and nearly every server acted confused when we asked for “agua” with our alcoholic beverages.
– Despite Costa Rica being the third world* we saw just as much wealth and “middle class” homes as we did shanty tin roof set ups. I admit we only saw the Puntarenas, San Jose, and Arenal areas but there was less poverty that I’d imagined.
– Tipping isn’t the norm, so the few people we chose to tip practically hugged us with gratitude.
– “Browsing” a store does not happen in Costa Rica. Every store we visited had personal shoppers that asked you what you needed and sought to help you find it quickly. If we would politely decline their help, the person would proceed to follow us around the store and if we quietly spoke to each other about something like a hat – our friend would pipe it in with the price or that they had it in another color. I had a feeling this has more to do with theft then anything…
– Everyone seemed #BLESSED to live there. We didn’t run into one cranky Costa Rican. The guides, drivers, and hosts we asked about living there spoke of Costa Rica as if it was the best place in the world. They had no intention of leaving and seemed humbled to call it home. The beauty of the country and the positivity of its citizens makes it easy to see why Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world.
*I feel it’s important to comment on referring to Costa Rica as the third world. I was aware before I went that it was a less developed country, but I actually didn’t do significant research on how developed it was or wasn’t until after I returned. Costa Rica has a growing economy, a great healthcare system, clean water, the lowest homicide rate of any other Latin American country, and a successful democratic republic government. But, it also has one of the highest poverty levels in the world and has a lot of work to do with infrastructure. Calling it the “third world” still seems outdated and inaccurate. It’s a less developed country, but its economy is growing and tourism helps.
It was difficult driving by tin roof establishments that span a city block to arrive at our luxurious hotel situated on a cliff side overlooking the ocean. But that hotel employed ALL native Costa Ricans from the hosts, servers, cooks, masseuses, maids, grounds keepers, etc. Just as we try to buy and eat local in the United States, we did the same while in Uvita. Everything I read online predicted the country thriving in years to come.
Overall, for my first taste of culture shock I am humbled and thankful I got to experience it in this beautiful, joyous country. Below you’ll find a few moments I captured on camera when I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore…
Costa Rica Pt. 3 will be all the pretty views. I promise.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
― Anita Desai
Til next time,
Paradise is a place on earth. I found it here.
Uvita, Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
We had talked and talked about taking our honeymoon for years. Before we were even married, I fantasized about the dreamy, tropical vacation I wanted to take with the mister. Unfortunately finances and the reality of starting a life together set in after we said “I do”. Living in Alaska, establishing my career, and making sure we had enough plates to eat off of trumped a plane ticket to the Carribean. Making our honeymoon a reality was put on pause.
After the first year, we thought maybe we could squeeze it in. I had earned vacation time. We had all necessary furniture. We’d even saved a bit of money. But plane tickets from Alaska were a nightmare and the impending move we’d have to make within the following year kept creeping up on us as we put it off. Once we knew we had a giant move to Washington to save for and the potential unemployment I’d be facing, it was put on hold our second year of marriage as well.
Then we moved. I found a job within 6 weeks. We made overdue trips to see respective families. We saved a bit more. We looked up destinations with the airline we could get the best discount with (Alaska Airlines is everything and I will rave about them until the end of time), and we found Costa Rica.
A Central American country tucked farther south than the Carribean with limitless adventure. The Mr. isn’t a fan of lying on a beach and tanning for a week straight. He likes to do things. And frankly, I do now too. We did research. I mapped it out and planned our time and activities. We booked the tickets. We booked the hotels. We made it happen.
It seems silly, right? Everyone takes a honeymoon. But we were kids when we got married. 21 and 20 years old. People our age who get married drive 2 hours to cabin in the woods for a weekend, but we knew we wanted to do this right. We worked our asses off to save for this trip. We saved so much that we have leftovers for our next adventure.
Travel is pointless to some people. It’s trivial to others who do it often. But travel is everything to me. It invigorates me. It brings me joy beyond measure. We made this happen. We took our “belated honeymoon”. A 3 year anniversary gift. A tropical vacation. Whatever you want to call it.
My favorite moment was the first morning we arrived. Drinking Costa Rican coffee on the deck of our villa overlooking the jungle and ocean. It was barely 7 am. The sound of waves crashing against the beach was audible from where we sat and the sound of jungle around us was alive and brimming with birds and animals alike. In my fraying college t-shirt and shorts, sunscreen already freshly applied I turned to Michael and said, “We’re here. We made this happen.”
He grabbed my hand, gave it squeeze, and smiled. “We did.”
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo