Taking Chances on a Farm in Costa Rica
My first solo international trip was to a small organic mountain farm in Costa Rica. I wanted to take a vacation where I’d be active and not just sipping cocktails beside a pool. I found my destination farm, Pura Suerte (Pure Chance) through World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I would volunteer to work on the farm and receive lodging and meals. It would only cost me $15 a day for the experience.
I had traveled internationally for a company I was working for, but always with people I knew. I was nervous because I was on my own and didn’t speak Spanish. I knew I’d be fine on the farm, owned by an American expat, but I had concerns about getting there. I arrived on a national holiday in Costa Rica and the buses were not running. The farm owner told me he had some friends on the same flight as me that I could catch a ride with. He told me to look for an older man traveling with a blonde woman.
At the flight gate I checked out who was on my flight: many older couples and blonde women! I grew increasingly nervous as time passed. I boarded the plane and had all but given up on finding my ride when a man with a greying beard across the aisle asked me where I was going. When I answered, he said, “That’s where we’re going too!” I’ll never forget what a relief it was and what a lucky coincidence it was to be sitting next to the very people I needed to meet to get where I was going.
A large beetle landed right in my coffee. “Welcome to Costa Rica!” my new friends laughed. Costa Rica was showing me what it was made of. Nature reigns supreme in Costa Rica, and it rules with a sense of humor.
The farmer’s friends were happy to give me a ride. At the San Jose airport we stopped at a small bar for beers before collecting our luggage that would arrive in “Tico time,” which means taking your time like a local. It took several hours to get to Pura Suerte, driving along curving hillside roads through lush green mountain landscapes. We stopped at a roadside café along the way and dined on an open patio. At one point a large beetle landed right in my coffee. “Welcome to Costa Rica!” my new friends laughed. I felt like I fit right in, and Costa Rica was showing me what it was made of. Nature reigns supreme in Costa Rica, and it rules with a sense of humor.
My first evening at the jungle farm was magical. I’ll never forget the wonderful nighttime symphony of nocturnal creatures. I was staying in the main farmhouse, which did not have a toilet. There was an outhouse and we were instructed to pee outside on the ground. On my first night I went out into the backyard in the dark to urinate. Later, I learned I should have had a headlamp on because there are poisonous creatures around the farm, including deadly fer-de-lance snakes! I did not come into contact with any such creatures during my stay, so I can laugh at my beginner’s mistake.
Costa Rica made me re-calibrate my values. I was not bombarded by things to spend my money on and felt happier and more connected to nature.
A woman from Germany around my age (which was 30) managed the farm. She would get up at sunrise to water the plants in the morning and was skilled with a machete. Machetes are used for clearing jungle vines and opening fresh coconuts. She didn’t like me much, and I don’t blame her because I was a dumb American at the time. She suggested I needed to learn to finish things, which was true. When we were planting seeds and she had some ants on her feet I suggested she pee on them because she had told us to pee on the ants in the garden. My joke made her laugh. We got along well enough and she sent me emails later on describing her adventures, including scuba diving in Panama.
Costa Rica made me re-calibrate my values. There were not many mirrors on the farm and I appreciated being less vain and spending less time thinking about my appearance. I was not bombarded by things to spend my money on and felt happier and more connected to nature.
This trip had a profound impact on the next several years of my life. When I returned to my home in Rhode Island I experienced reverse culture shock. I didn’t like returning to a culture of shopping and immediate gratification. I missed the variety of fresh fruits and the closeness to nature I had experienced.
I purchased a multi-family home as an investment, planning to convert it to condos and move to Costa Rica after making a profit. Things did not turn out the way I had planned. I live in San Francisco now, but I have returned to Costa Rica and other parts of Central America (visiting Mayan ruins in Guatemala and snorkeling in Belize) with my husband. I’m in my early 40s but I can envision retiring there. I fell in love with Costa Rica on this trip and also learned that I can overcome certain challenges, such as home ownership and moving 3,000 miles away. Taking chances in Costa Rica was a rewarding and educational experience.