On days like today when I am frustrated, tired, and wondering what really is the point of life if it’s going to be such drudgery, I find myself drifting off into my travel memories of warm beaches, mountainous vistas, urban sparkles, and quiet desert solitude. I have a handful of experiences that I mentally keep in my back pocket, easily accessible for times like these when I need a brief respite from daily life; I’ll take a moment at my desk, stare off into the corner (uh-oh, my coworkers are going to be on to me now) and envision myself swaying in that hammock or looking down at the breathtaking landscape from that mountain I just climbed.
Out of all my travel memories, though, one in particular stands out as utterly perfect; it was the quintessential vacation day, filled with relaxation, exploration, new sights, new food, a little bit of magic and an overarching sense of bliss.
So for today’s Travel Tuesday, I’d like to share that experience with you…
Sunlight streamed through the second story window and tickled my eyelids playfully, trying its best to lure me into wakefulness. Warm, sticky air hugged my skin and blanketed me in place of the sheets I’d kicked to the bottom of the bed, which were now entangled with the edge of the mosquito net surrounding me. The sounds of the jungle called loudly.
I blinked twice.
Where am I again?
The past week flashed before my eyes in a blur: Caribbean cruise. Dad’s wedding. Overnight flight to Costa Rica. Meet Hallie. Eight hour bus ride. Tequila in a water bottle. Arrive at the coast.
Oh, right. Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica.
We had arrived last night in the small town on the Caribbean coast and after finding our hostel, promptly passed out.
But truthfully, the place was less a hostel or hotel and more a house or cabin; our room occupied the entire top floor, complete with a large bathroom, fridge, kitchen sink, mini stove, and a patio balcony with a hammock, tables, and chairs. The owners, a couple named Alex and Yaneris, had been gracious and welcoming and told us they would show us around the next day. The high quality woodwork throughout the place, which Hallie was quick to observe, was handcrafted by Alex, himself. All for $20 each per night? We reveled at our luck (or my excellent research skills?) in finding this place.
I sat up and glanced through the window at the tops of the banana trees before joining Hallie on the balcony to take in our surroundings. We cooked ourselves banana pancakes and made some kind of rum and orange juice cocktail. Nevermind that it was 8am. Vacation, baby!
We donned our bikinis and sunscreen and meandered down the dirt driveway a hundred meters or so and found ourselves at the beach. The black sand, a result of a nearby volcano, glinted in the sun while it stretched down the coast, bordered by lush, tropical foliage. We waded in the warmest water I’ve ever felt as the gentle waves lapped our feet; I found it hard to believe that this is usually a booming surf spot, as the crystal clear water was as pristine and flat as a lake.
Save for a few locals striding in the sand en route somewhere, we had the beach entirely to ourselves. Until, of course, we came across the wild horses basking in the sunlight and enjoying the views as well. They seemed fairly domesticated, though, and walked right up to us and allowed us to stroke their faces before moseying onward.
Once properly tanned (read: burnt to a crisp) we returned to our place where Alex excitedly waved a machete in one hand and beckoned us to follow; a sight perhaps most people would run from, but we happily traipsed through the jungle with him until he pointed up into a tree and we saw it:
A SLOTH!! Not just any sloth, but a mama sloth holding her baby!
Kristen Bell would have lost. her. shit. (watch this ilarious video, can’t get embedding to work for now) –> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5jw3T3Jy70
Alex explained how lucky we were, considering that many people travel to Costa Rica explicitly to see sloths and never witness one.
Back at the house, we made further use of the machete as Alex chopped down a few coconuts from the trees and showed us how to chop open a coconut to drink its sweet water inside.
Kaleena + machete = daunting sight for ex-boyfriends. Personally, I think it’s a great method for anger management.
Next, Alex and Yaneris offered to drive us around to see some sights for $20, so we happily obliged. We stopped along the way for a traditional meal called casado: a plate of rice, black beans, a protein (chicken or fish), fried plantains, and a cabbage salad. Oh, and spaghetti. They really seem to like carbs with their carbs.
We drove up into the hills and after stopping at a local’s hut and purchasing some 50cent homemade ice cream in a plastic baggie, we forged through the jungle on a well-worn hiking trail.
“Just be careful of jaguars and snakes,” Alex warned, mischeviously. Hallie and I exchanged wary glances.
A short distance later, we came to a river and made our way up through a smaller series of waterfalls until we came to a large fall with a deep pool for swimming. The water was much colder than the ocean, but refreshing from the stifling heat. Some other swimmers were bold enough to climb the fall and jump in; Hallie and I chose to grind up rocks from the stream, as Yaneris demonstrated for us, and apply the paste to our arms and face like a facial.
“People pay good money for this stuff in the salons!” she winked at us.
When our time at the river came to an end we hopped back in the jeep and made our way back down the mountain, passing a small house boasting homemade chocolate. We stopped inside, and received a tour of the premises as they explained the process of picking the cacao bean, roasting it, grinding it, and eventually transforming it into chocolate. Then for the good part–we sampled all the chocolate. There were dozens of flavors, and other beauty products made from the cacao bean, as well.
Once we’d had our fix, we made our way back into town and Alex took us to a local fish market. We had been craving fish tacos, so he helped us purchase some good filets and we returned to our room to cook them up. Oddly enough, Alex and Yaneris had never had fish tacos–Yaneris even went so far as to say she doesn’t think tortillas and fish GO together!!
Aghast, we cooked up some mean tacos and insisted they try some. I don’t know if they were convinced, but at least we tried. Hallie and I sat on our balcony as twilight fell and munched our dinner in silence; the song of the jungle grew louder with the fading light and we marveled at what an incredible day it had been.
This had truly been one of the best days of my life. This is why I travel. I may had spent the last couple days getting up at ungodly hours and traveling in crowded, stuffy buses and planes to get here, but it had all been worth it; for this day of bliss, I would have done it all again.
And now, here in my office, I realize that, for me, this is what life is all about: the adventures, the experiences, the days of living in the moment without a care in the world. Not every day can be like that, I know, and the memories wouldn’t be as sweet if it were; but for now, until I find myself
amidst another magical day, I will relish these memories and continue to stare off into the little office corner with a smile at the corners of my mouth.