Finding Rejuvenation in Costa Rica
I had finally done it. After months of searching, I had formally accepted a job offer that would mark a new chapter in my career and life. I was excited to leave behind an environment stuck in a continuous downward spiral of negativity and apathy. But before I could move onto the next, I wanted to shed away the layer of grime that had accumulated over the past year as I had survived multiple layoffs and restructures in a company I had started with 4 years ago. My spirit needed some TLC.
And with that, I gifted myself a free week to pause in between old and new. Always looking to satisfy my wanderlust, I wanted a change of scenery and the more exotic, the better. This trip would also be different in another way. Until now, I had been lucky to have traveled around the world in the company of friends and family. Hesitant about a solo trip outside of the country, I consulted my all-knowing friend, Google, for suggestions.
I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect setting for a week of rejuvenation and soul searching.
Costa Rica transfixed me with its promise of wildlife, adventures, and Pura Vida lifestyle. Pura Vida, or “pure life”, defines the small country and its people to its core. Life is experienced with an awareness and appreciation for the simple, the beautiful, and the peaceful. I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect setting for a week of rejuevnation and soul searching.
I hopped on a flight just two days later with a carry-on suitcase and a folder packed with the details of my full itinerary. It might have been a spontaneous decision to go to Costa Rica, but I was alone and a plan of when, where, and how comforted me. Even so, pura vida did not come easily as I landed in San Juan at midnight. The roads were desolate and a group of young men lingered in the shadows of my hostel when my taxi pulled up. I quickly checked in with the welcoming couple at the front desk and headed to the dorm to claim my bunk, where I uneasily drifted to sleep with my pillow resting on top of the backpack holding the little bit of valuables I had brought with me.
Morning brought a refreshing change as I took in my surroundings that sprung to life in the sunshine. I packed my bags and headed out to meet my adventure connection to La Fortuna with a stopover for white-water rafting. The driver, Alfredo, and I got to know each other over the next few hours as we talked about our families and friends, his brief stint living in New York City, and Costa Rica’s allure for locals and foreigners alike. We had only known each other briefly, but it was sad to part ways with a now familiar face as we reached the river where I joined the main group for some rafting.
Soon enough though, I was in a raft with a group of new friends, a German family visiting the country for a couple of weeks. We screamed “pura vida!” as we made our way downstream with our local guide, in search of the best rapids and waking up the sloths high up in the trees who turned their heads slowly to check out the commotion. Together, we jumped into the river when the rapids had disappeared and let the current float us towards an island of river rocks where we breaked for the sweetest pineapples and watermelons. By day’s end, the nervousness that had plagued the previous night had fully dissipated as I watched the sun set behind the massive Arenal Volcano and on my first full day in Costa Rica.
The following days spent in La Fortuna were a whirlwind of adrenaline and action as I rappelled down waterfalls, raced up mountains on horseback, and hiked up the volcano. Along the way, I shared these experiences with new friends that included a woman celebrating the payoff of her student loans and a couple of teachers taking advantage of the summer vacation. I worked through the awkwardness that comes with eating alone and realized how much we miss out on in our daily routine. It was such a simple joy of being completely present and savoring the food I put in my mouth.
I was perfectly proud of myself as I moved onto the second half of my trip and made my way up into the mountains of Monteverde. I had anticipated fatigue from the adventures in La Fortuna and planned to enjoy Monteverde at a slower pace. My inn located in Santa Elena was the perfect retreat situated high up and overlooking a valley filled with trees, waterfalls, and wild animals like the coati who stopped by and begged for bananas. The most special part of the inn was its deck, which stretched out, away from face of the mountain, and suspended over the open air for a panoramic view of the cloud forests of the region. Calm and peace enveloped me as I sat floating above the tree tops and enjoyed that very exact and present moment.
And with that thought in mind, I began to embrace the feeling of smallness so that it intimidated me less and less.
I spent portions of my days hiking and zip-lining, and left the rest for exploring the small town and immersed in introspection out on the deck. It felt good to pause and think of the myriad of things that made up my life, both past and present. There were moments of gratitude and love, but there were also thoughts of loneliness. One night was particularly rough as I struggled to fall asleep as the wind whipped against the mountain and battered the wooden walls of the inn. Not only was I fighting for sleep, but I was fighting against a feeling of insignificance as I lay at the top of a mountain thousands of miles from everything familiar.
But here I was in Costa Rica, a very small country that makes its mark with its unique serenity and natural beauty in a vast world of cultures. And with that thought in mind, I began to embrace the feeling of smallness so that it intimidated me less and less. As I boarded a plane back home to New York, I felt empowered and renewed as I anticipated a different kind of adventure that was about to begin.
Top photo credit: Josh K