As I sat gazing out of the window on the plane, I thought: what kind of amazing adventures could I get myself into on this trip? Costa Rica : the land of rainforests, toucans, and succulent pineapple. Leaving the U.S. for the first time in my life on a high school trip for our outdoors club, I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know, I was embarking on one of the most memorable trips of my life.
On the first evening of the trip, we went into the rainforest. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I knew that I never wanted to be anywhere else for the rest of my life. Glistening drops of crystal water covered the entire forest; beautiful creatures roamed about; howling monkeys screeched in the distance ;and shining webbed limbs draped with graceful tarantulas surrounded me. White beams of sunlight shot through open gaps in the leaves above me. The beauty of this country was breathtaking. I had never seen such magnificent sights in real life before. Sure, in magazines and on television I had seen pictures of beautiful tropical lands, colorful birds, and intricately designed fungal sprouts, but I had never really seen them.
As amazing as this vacation was, I was continuously disappointed. I found it rather frustrating when my classmates would not enjoy nature with me. Distracted by cell phones, DVD players, and iPods, I felt like I had not really left my home of materialistic stuff and technology. All my peers were carrying on like they would back in suburbia. Emailing seemed to be vital to these kids, as well as using their cell phones to call home and the family quite often. I wanted nothing to do with my life at home. I had completely ditched my phone and did not want to see or use a single piece of technology on the entire trip. Many of my classmates preferred to stay in and watch a movie instead of getting outside. It seemed as if some of them would rather watch the beauties of life on a screen than view them in person. I was amazed at the people in Costa Rica and how beautifully simple and happy their lives seemed to be.
Because this was my first time ever out of the country, the whole experience was mesmerizing and eye-opening in itself, but Costa Rica had something extra special. The people here were happy. Although most had limited housing and luxury goods, it didn’t seem to matter. Considered poor or “less fortunate” to some, the people were more fortunate in ways I hadn’t considered before my trip. No distractions from petty technologies and materialistic objects.. No teenagers constantly texting friends or young girls obsessively thinking about designer brands and caking on foundation goop to create “flawless” skin. It made me sad to look at the way we live in our society compared to the simplistic nature and lifestyle of the people I met there. A very common greeting used by local Costa Ricans is the phrase “Pura vida,” meaning “pure life,” an exact definition for their lifestyle.
One day we took a thrilling white water rafting trip down the Río Sarapiquí. After cascading through monstrous white rapids, our rafting group came to a more tranquil area of the river. High above it was a long rickety bridge where a couple of young Costa Rican children were playing. A group of family members stood below at the shore of the river and watched the young rascals on the bridge. After shouting a welcoming “PURA VIDA” to us, the family applauded the children as they plunged into the cool water from a 40 foot drop. I guessed this to be maybe a weekly activity for this adventurous group of people. What a great life they must have, simple, yet so exciting.
A small group of students and I ventured into the forest one night to examine the nighttime habits and noises of the jungle animals. One interesting aspect of this nocturnal hike was that the tarantulas like to come out and explore their surroundings in the dark. To get a better visual of these magnificent arachnids, we would shine flashlights deep into the wild to look for reflections of their eyes. Our teacher found one and reached his hand out towards it. It eased its way onto his hand. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This couldn’t be safe! He offered me the creature, so I got gutsy and let it linger on my hand. I just sat there and let it slowly step across my palms and over the tips of my fingers. Its beady red eyes looked up into mine and in this moment, I felt more in touch with nature than ever before.
Going to Costa Rica was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’ll always remember the salsa dancing, zip lining, and volcano trekking. I will never forget our fun-loving, crazy tour guide, Nacho, and the musicians, instructors and many locals we met along the way. But what I really took home with me was that beauty of this place and the importance of “pura vida,” no matter where you are.