As a not-so-seasoned traveler I realize that I struggle with actually publishing the things I write about my travels. It can be a hard process, finding a way to make all those words and pictures form something new and relevant on the web. From lists of things I’ve learned along the way, to city guides, to random ramblings about the state of the American psyche… I’ve got issues publishing. With that said, I bring you: Travel Truths! Lists are obviously the easiest way to make sure you [the reader] stick around… but even so… you’ll notice I get all tangential on you once or twice (my bad). Here they are, a few things that I’ve learned from the beautiful Central American country.
1. It doesn’t matter what time you arrive. Anywhere. As long as you’re moving, you’re on the way.
Time is relative. A cow herd napping in front of your bus? A torrential downpour creates a new waterfall in the only intersection for 40 miles? Relax, you’re on tico time! This can apply to pretty much anything. Checking in to hostels, bus times, appointments with doctors, meet ups with friends, you’re more likely than not going to wait a little bit. But hey, life happens in the rainforest. Sometimes it is best to admire the distractions, for they may be very entertaining.
Take a few breaths, take a seat, and get used to it. As a Westerner, being late is being rude, and if you aren’t early, you’re late. I also have a little bit of a karma thing for lateness, but you can’t deny the earthquakes wrath. Giving up this constant feeling of guilt (I’m usually late) was a tough one for me, hence the number 1 spot.
2. Everyone is NOT trying to steal your sh*t/money/time.
I was so sick of people telling me that “traveling alone is dangerous“, “traveling as a woman is unsafe“, “traveling with a surfboard is risky” by the time I left. All I heard was horror stories of valuables being stolen, robbed of dignity and monetary value. But the truth is- be aware, be smart, and be not-robbed!
Time for a tangent! On a trip up the Nicoya Peninsula coast, I took a shuttle instead of the 14 hour bus journey (making it rough on the surfboard due to extra cost & bump-age). In my shuttle were various forms of travelers, backpackers, honeymooning couples, rich women who were apparently completely lost in the country. We stopped about halfway to have lunch. The first five hours weren’t the most comfortable. Being the shortest person on the shuttle, I got the small jump seat, which was apparently broken and sprung back and forth from sitting completely upright to laying down flat. I thought it was funny for about one hour. However, during my sling shot sleep daze, I listened to others mostly complaining about x,y, or OMG z! When we stopped for lunch these were some common threads:
“Why didn’t they tell us we were stopping?” (Because you know already.)
“Oh my god where are we?!” (You wouldn’t know where we were even if you were told.)
“How are we going to get there on time? (Time? What time? You’re on vacation, time is nothing.)
During this break, my surfboard was being moved from one car to the next, an action that prompted some serious accusations being thrown the way of the drivers. One guy actually said to me “yo if you’re not careful those dudes are going to steal your surfboard.” To which I replied “it’s not stealing if I’m in the car with them.”
It is time to give up the “everywhere else is so dangerous” act. Americans, I beg of you, compare the streets of a major city in YOUR country to where you are going. Sure, you don’t know the language, or the laws, so danger just SEEMS so imminent. But be smart, keep your eyes open, and for the love of all that is sacred, don’t ASSume.
With this said, certain areas of the country are inherently dangerous. Shit happens, you leave anything on the beach, it will be stolen. The most important thing to remember: do not make yourself a victim. Be proactive.
3. S L O W D O W N .
Where are you going so fast? You don’t need to multitask. You don’t need to do 10,000 things today. You don’t even need to do over 10. Honestly. There’s the beach. There’s sunrises, sunsets, and many people you haven’t met yet. Do not prioritize. Just enjoy. This is what hammocks are for.
4. Eat local.
If you don’t like rice and beans, try having it the Tico way. Not by going out to eat, but by eating it at home, cooked for hours, prepared days ahead, with new friends. Or you could spend a ridiculous amount of money eating what YOU eat at home… whatevs.
5. If you don’t speak Spanish, LOUD ENGLISH DOESN’T MAKE IT ANY MORE UNDERSTANDABLE.
Oh, and ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, are definitely very easy to learn. If you haven’t mastered them already…
Hello: Hola [oh : lah],
Please : Por Favor [ pour fah vor]
Thank You : Gracias [grah see ahs]…
Then, please, por favor, practice… Now..
6. If you are unsure of what to do in a town or city, just ask.
(Obviously, speaking the language helps, but there is enough tourism there to cover the bases.)
I’ve touched upon this in other posts, but seriously, nobody knows better than those who live there. I used to have a serious propensity to plan. I wanted to be sure of where I was going, staying, doing before going somewhere. Also, you won’t know that walking on the beach at night alone is dangerous, unless someone tells you. Or you ask. Just ask dude.
7. Get away from the beach for a bit.
Taking a road trip with new friends (read: complete strangers that I’ve shared a room with for a month) up to the mountains was an amazing break from the heavy surf lifestyle I was embodying. Sure, the beaches are incredible, but have you seen a cloud forest before? Hiking up into the atmosphere to a point where clouds and precipitation hang heavy around the tree line really does wonders. Not only is the air so deliciously cool, but it feels as though you could honestly fill a glass up with it.
8. The Biggest, Baddest, All-encompassing, Every-country Travel Truth of all:
Forget your story.
Travel=Freedom. You are whoever, whatever, wherever you desire. Whether you believe that we have several “selves” hidden in our personality (Did I tell you I was a psychology-freak?), or you just truly like the rush of meeting new people and recreating yourself, try getting out there.
Interacting with people who know you deeply is, of course, incredibly rewarding. Who doesn’t like to share time with loved ones who know you’re deepest darkest secrets? But meeting someone from a different country, on nine hour bus ride, with nothing but snacks and your bus ticket in common… Now that is something different. The conversations twist and turn in ways they never would at home. You may never move on from “what” you do, and “who” you are, and your attachments to these things can show. But forget your career, your jobs, your past, and revel in the present moment; serendipitous meetings with strangers can change your life, altering your story just a little bit more.
If you never let go of your “story”, i.e. your titles and roles, past experiences, and existing beliefs… then you might as well stay home. This Travel Truth is not unique of Costa Rica. This is something that I try to embody every day now. If you can not let go of who you BELIEVE you are, then becoming WHO you are is quite difficult hey? Sorry if I’ve lost you, but it’s bound to happen.
So friends, family (that’s primarily the only people who stick around to read these) thank you for reading the first installment of Travel Truths. I will be bringing you more TT’s from various countries and trips soon. All I need is a little motivation (help me!) and some serious caffeine.