He stayed up most of the night packing. His bags were heavy, but his heart was light. The room cleaned out, he felt the impact of the decision he had made and worked so hard for. It had been 4 years in the making, but I could argue that it had actually been 32 years in the making. The ride to the airport with his mother and brother was full of fond memories and good jokes. His brother has always had a way of waiting until the last minute to crack some jokes. However, this time, the brother had one more piece to add. “Tons of people thought that you couldn’t do this. You worked your absolute *$# off in order to make it. I am proud of you. Go change the world.” The tears welled up in our characters eyes. He has always been close to his brother, but these words changed him. It was the first time that he felt such pride. The goodbyes were said, and he knew he had to go on from here alone.
The walk through the airport was quick. It didn’t seem to be overly crowded. NSA check point went smoothly. Now he had a few hours to kill. Always the over-punctual one. Better too early than missing this most important of flights though. He drank a beer to calm the nerves, although the actuality of this new adventure had yet to set in.
Fast forward to the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica. He walked out of the airport and into the throng of cab drivers trying to take bags and make money. The humidity change had him sweating like an iced-tea in a Louisiana summer. He kept his cool and pressed forward to await his Uber. Once in the car, he attempted to speak some Spanish. Fail. However, his driver knew how to get him to his new home. After the 40 or so minutes through backroads, traffic, and incredible views of his new city, he arrived at the home-stay. The place was beautiful, different than any place he had been in the US but somehow felt like his first time at the university.
He got to his new room and arranged his belongings. Trying to unpack and feel at home, he sat on the bed and took his first deep and calming breath. It was true. He had made it. He ventured into a new country with no friends, no family, no idea about how to do most everything. He then took a short tour of the neighborhood and found a place to eat and have a coffee. The owner of the place had to come and help with the translation, because the waitress spoke no English, and the newbie spoke no Spanish. However, the waitress was sweet, patient, and very polite. He was so thankful that he left a bigger tip than he knew. He returned to his new home and listened to a hockey game online while trying to adjust. He slept with trepidation and awoke many times.
The start of his new career was upon him and he of course became lost immediately. He took the wrong bus on the first day. He made it to the office, sweating, panicking, and on-time. The first few weeks, he had almost no idea how he was going to ever get the hang of it. However, with patience, support from his coworkers, and his strength of will, he slowly started to adjust to the amazing opportunity that he was given. Now he was hooked.
Getting the Feel for It
Eventually he found the rhythm. His days became easier and less confusing. The support of his mentor sent him on the path of finding the best and fastest ways to get through his planning. He was off to see the figurative wizard.
He found that his rhythm was getting better also because of the challenges he set for himself. It is amazing what one can become accustomed to when they possess the correct mentality. At this point, he had really begun to enjoy himself. His classes filled him with joy as he pressed on every day. His new companions and he were really starting to have some fun. The company had begun to feel like his new family. He could count on them for any questions he still had, which were many.
One night, he went with a good crew for a night of dancing and merriment. After a few bars that felt like all the other clubs he had never cared for, they found a place with a view, good drinks, great vibes, and the right kind of music. They had added some random strangers to their entourage and took the entire party to the next level. He and his new companions danced until the bar closed. His morning was spent sharing metaphysical discussions until the sun came up. He found the groove.
Friends in all the Right Places
He had moved to a new apartment with his best friend in the new country. The excitement of having more space, more privacy, and more companionship enticed him to making the jump to the next level. He and his bestie would work through the motions of the day and then return home to each other’s comfort, and conversation. On the weekends they would stay up late, sharing music, beers, and stories. It is friendships like these that can change lives.
Throughout this time, he built his friendships to levels that hold for as long as both people are interested. Many times, he would laugh into the night with nothing but happiness in his heart. He knew that some of them are what I call “lifers.” Meaning, these friends will last a lifetime.
However, with the good always comes the bad. During this time of seeming bliss, he was given some bad news from the motherland. It doesn’t help our story to go into details, but this bad news was the type that makes someone long for the comfort of family. He fell into a depressive state. He struggled to find quality sleep. He fought off the mood during the days, while in his classrooms and at the office, but at night, he was haunted by the facts. He woke frequently in the middle of the night. He had many nightmares. And he eventually ruined a good relationship because of his inability to convey his true feelings. Even through this though, his best friend had his back. He let him have those long moments of sadness without pressuring him to “feel better.” In fact, the two of them went through similar problems at the same time. It was as if the universe knew they needed to be around each other at this place in history. Eventually, they were both able to break the cycle and return to the bliss. The mountains in view sure didn’t hurt the healing process either.
At times such as those, the reality of being away from the closest people in one’s life really takes its toll. But when we have the friendships that these two were able to formulate, the richness of life returns stronger than ever.
Becoming the Teacher
When starting at Idioma Internacional, he found that the learning curve was rather steep. There is a lot of information to absorb and he was a sponge. He soaked it all up as best he could, but at times he felt that he wasn’t doing enough. He wasn’t sure if he was making an impact on the students. Didn’t know if he was delivering the lessons correctly. Had no idea what it meant to be a teacher.
He adhered to the lesson plans with the grip of epoxy. He tried his best to memorize the better part of the information for each class, reviewing and reviewing. Sometimes he felt that the class went great, excellently, fantastically. Others he wished he would have given more thought to this or that, practiced the grammar more, tried out the directions with a wall. However, through all of his doubts, there were always ways to get excellent critical feedback. Also, part of the company’s many aspects of developing the teacher, were the evaluations by administrators. These helped him focus on his teaching abilities that needed some polishing.
After some of these feedback sessions, he would reflect and find a new style, new practice, or new method. As he told himself and occasionally needed reminding about, failure is part of the learning process. He failed. He learned. He succeeded. With time, patience, and amazing support, he eventually found that his methods improved. His classes were not only fun, but very informative. He was often complimented by his students and sometimes by the fellow teachers. Realizing this change, gave him great comfort and confidence. He had become the teacher.
During all of the trials and errors, the friendship building, the growth of the professional teacher, there was still some time to take on the unlimited amount of adventures in Costa Rica. He went to several beautiful beaches, the mountains, rivers, fresh springs, waterfalls, hikes. The list went on.
On his first visit to a beach, he was told by the local populace and many of the other teachers that the beach he would be seeing was “the worst beach in Costa Rica.” He was sure that he didn’t care. The bus was crowded and hot on the way out. He brought only the essentials with him, but that was enough. When he and his 3 friends arrived at this beach and he walked upon it, he said to himself, “worst beach? This is the most beautiful beach I have ever visited.” Apparently however, this was the “worst” beach. To this day it still makes him laugh. The thought that the worst is better than most will ever see in a lifetime is a testament to what can be found in this amazing country.
Another aspect that he found about adventuring in Costa Rica, was that sometimes, oftentimes, the adventures find you. Sometimes you go to find a new restaurant or bar and end up on an urban adventure. He found that the ways to best enjoy these adventures is with the same sense of wonder that brought him here in the first place. Stay positive, be patient, and everything will work out. So far, it has worked every time.
The final aspect of adventure was found in the realm of mentality. Multiple occasions, he found that his life would take an unexpected turn, but he thrived through those. He learned from each and every situation. His mind broadened. His heart grew. His adaptability increased.
He remembers everything, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the failures and successes. He could not be who he is now without the friendships and support he gained in this year. He knows that he will take everything with him for the rest of his life, where ever that leads him. He learned so many valuable lessons in the short year. What a year it was. He has too many people to thank for everything they have done for him. So now, as he prepares to leave, he becomes pensive, writes at his table and hopes that someone will read this. If you are reading it and know me, thank you. I couldn’t be here without you. I will strive to bring all of these lessons with me everywhere I go. I am sad to leave this company, but I am excited to see what will happen next. Again, thank you. You have no idea how much you mean to me.
The best thing about living in Costa Rica: there is so much to do. The worst thing about living in Costa Rica: there is too much to do. No matter how many adventures we go on, there is always another one on the list. This is the definition of a blessing and a curse. Oftentimes, we make plans in order to have them change at the last second. This is exactly how we find some of the lesser-known gems.
My great friend and I had been discussing a hike, but we were both saving money and didn’t have a lot of free time. He told me about a place, close to the city, where we could easily take a short hike and get away from the main pulse of the big city (San Jose) for a short while. He told me that the bus was cheap, and the ride was relatively short (45 minutes – 1 hour). The city is called Puriscal. Shortly before the planned trip, we were informed by another colleague and her boyfriend about a beautiful waterfall hike that they were interested in seeing. So, we put our hike on hold and decided to join them.
Of course, plans changed. The waterfall we had planned to visit was experiencing too much rain and therefore the best parts of the park were closed to the public. We woke, with the anticipation of children at Christmas, and found out the unfortunate information. Disappointed yet still excited, my friend and I were texting the same words, at the same time: “So, do you want to go to Puriscal instead?” We laughed hard, finished readying ourselves, stopped for a quick breakfast, and promptly walked to the bus stop.
The timing of our trip couldn’t have been more perfect. Both he and I were experiencing one of those moments in life where you question everything. We each had our own personal struggles to cope with, suffering from some of the isolation that you inevitably feel when being away from so much of your former life, yet being surrounded by the wonders of your new life.
On the bus, we discussed all of the issues we were having. Although separate, they were very related. It is amazing how when you feel the most alone in life, there is always someone going through something similar. Usually, that person is right next to you. In the words of one of my favorite songs, “no time to look into our pain, or see the same despair in everyone else… Agony is truth, it’s our connection to the living…” (Eyedea & Abilities, Smile).
The views from the bus’s windows quickly resolved any depressive feelings we were having. That was one of the things we came for after all. We began to lighten our hearts, determined to find the release and clarity we sought. As we neared our destination, a random stranger overheard us discussing what we were going to see once we arrived. We had talked about an old, condemned church (Santiago Apostle) that was at the precipice of the humble city. This perfect stranger began to explain its history. He claimed that the church is now condemned because in the 1970s an earthquake split the foundation right down the middle. It was never repaired, and is now too dangerous to renovate, so the city condemned it. (Unfortunately, the author has been unable to find a factual historical record of this information). After this man’s description and information, we knew we must see it.
We arrived and immediately could see the church. It is impressive with beautiful colonial-style towers, shattered stained-glass windows, and crumbling facades. It was perfectly described by the man on the bus. However, being condemned we weren’t allowed a close look. This was probably for the best as my curiosity would have put us in danger.
After making our way around the church, we briefly walked the city streets. We knew we wanted to go see the mountains that are everywhere. I asked my friend, being that he had visited prior, where he would like to start. He pointed off in one direction and said, “there were some good views that way, but I haven’t looked over there,” pointing in a different direction. We chose the unknown path, which in hindsight turned out to be an incredible decision. We figured, let’s both see something new.
We walked off in a random direction, passing multiple stores, a school, and many houses. Eventually, we saw a small road off the main concourse. As we progressed down this small street, we saw the mountains entering our view. There we were, amid a small neighborhood with some of the best views I had ever experienced in my life. We looked for a great spot to view, saw one, and decided against going there because it felt like trespassing. However, simply being on the street, we still had an incredible view.
He and I enjoyed a couple of beers while observing. The scenery was the reason we came. We stayed there for about 30 minutes before making our way through the winding back-roads of this beautiful community. We walked up and down some serious hills and emerged to the main road again. We had spent a short time here, relaxed, exercised a little, and started to head back to the downtown area.
Then, all of a sudden, we noticed a hill off to our left. I searched for signs that it was private property and found none. We walked up a small dirt path to the top of the hill. To our amazement, we found a 360° view of the surrounding mountains. We both froze. It was simply stunning.
The words on this page do no justice to the view we received by pure happenstance. As we soaked in the true magnificent beauty, we realized that we could see all the way to the ocean from one of the angles of view. When we realized this, we took a seat and let it the natural wonder of this country wash away all of our concerns. We could have stayed there for hours. We did spend about an hour and a half in this location. It was magic. Just when you think you have seen some really impressive places, something unexpected finds you.
After we realized how hungry we became, we walked back to town, had a delicious lunch, and made our way back to the bus to return to our routine. However, this trip refreshed us in so many ways. The surprises that this country has, can really bring you back to your senses. It couldn’t have been better. As I said, it was magic.
– Peter Gioia
On October 5, tropical storm Nate hit the Costa Rica shoreline and devastated the entire nation. There were multiple deaths, massive amounts of infrastructural damage, and a state of emergency was declared closing government offices and schools throughout the nation.
In the wake of such a massively destructive storm, many families were left without homes, food, clothing, electricity, and water. Even though the country was distraught and wracked with grief, many communities quickly rallied to aid the families that were in need.
One such contributor was Timothy Garren, an Idioma Internacional teacher. He organized and promoted a clothing drive that benefitted families in the coastal town of Quepos. He asked the other teachers and our friends to donate any clothing that was still functional but no longer used. It was a simple request, but one that was needed regardless. The results were better than even he could have foreseen. He was able to collect a rather extraordinary number of articles in a very short time. There were dress shirts, jeans, leggings, socks and underwear, casual clothing, and much more. These were then delivered to organizers in Quepos where they were sorted and distributed to the families in need.
Having someone show such care to people he has never met has been inspirational at the least and extremely heart-warming as a standard. This is the sense of community that we feel on a daily basis at Idioma Internacional. We have become part of this country, this culture, these communities, and this beautiful world.
Upon receiving the exciting news that my friend and his father from the states were coming to visit me here in Costa Rica, I began searching for interesting things to do. My friend and his father had only requested, “beach, snorkeling, chill.” Fortunately, Costa Rica is abundant with activities that fall into those specified categories.
My research paid off big time when I found out about Cahuita. It had everything that the boys wanted. So I booked the hostel and waited impatiently for my friends’ arrival. They got to San Jose late in the evening, but I made my way to their hotel to celebrate their arrival and have a few toasts.
We left 2 days later for the paradise by the Caribbean Sea. Our drive took us through some of the most twisted, and beautiful mountain views I had ever seen. As we neared our destination, we could see the ocean, a mere 20 meters from the road. Our excitement was palatable, a static energy you could feel at every pore. We rolled the windows down and breathed in the salty air.
The town of Cahuita is small, barely 5 city blocks worth of actual town, but it is densely packed with restaurants, bars, knick-knack shops, tourist companies, and mini markets. We made our way to the hostel, Cabinas Caribe Luna, and saw just what peaceful Caribbean life really looks like. We met with the owners Enrica and David. They had the sweetest and most welcoming demeanor. They were the essence of “Pura Vida.” Their property is tucked neatly back into the wilderness, but still close enough to walk to the beach, the town, the national park. The cabins are individually set back in a romantic garden that is well maintained by Enrica and David. David has even begun marking each plant and tree with their names. There is a small stone sitting circle that I dubbed the “philosophy classroom.” It’s a perfect place for meditation, relaxation, and the mental reset we all need at one time or another.
After setting up our gear in the hostel cabin, we left to get supplies and head down to the beach. The town itself is quaint, quiet, and beautiful. We picked up some snacks and beers and made our way to the closest beach (which was about 300 meters from our hostel). Our first day was spent lounging by the beach with beers in hand. The views are as incredible as you can imagine. The water is clear, the sand soft and warm, the misting sea salt air embraces your lungs.
That night we had a simple dinner at one of the local watering holes, where we enjoyed some beers and the company. We spent the rest of the night playing cards on our peaceful patio. The sounds of the night crept up on us and we all slowly drifted off to sleep.
I woke, sweating (it’s rather warm on the Caribbean coast), but I was delighted to get started on our day. We all had a meager breakfast of cereal bars and orange juice. The night before, we had booked our snorkeling and jungle tour. We were only an hour away from swimming in the largest coral reef in Costa Rica.
My companions and I walked the ten minutes to the tour company that we had booked with. We met our guide, received the simple instructions, fitted our gear, and followed Alex, our tour guide, to the boat. After a few minutes of getting everyone settled in the small boat, we made our way out onto the open water. We were never too far off shore, but the breeze caressing my skin felt like a lover’s hand stroking my beard as I drift to sleep. In other words, pure bliss.
When we reached the first reef stop, we were again reminded of the rules: no standing, no touching the corals, stay close to the boat, etc. We then plunged ourselves into a fantasy. The moment I was in the water with mask and snorkel at the ready, I was immediately in view of an underwater universe I had yet to experience in my life. There were fish of every color. We saw a nurse shark, held a sea cucumber, watched a school of fish whose numbers reached in the thousands. There was every variety of coral, alive and intoxicating to see. We eventually went to another stop a little closer to shore where the scene was just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the first.
After about two hours of snorkeling, the group was ready to return to shore and begin our jungle hike part of the adventure. I felt like we were waiting forever, but in reality it was probably about 45 minutes. It is amazing how much anticipation can alter our sense of time.
When we finally embarked on the easy hike, it seemed as if there were too many people to see anything very interesting. I feared we would be too loud and keep the animals away. However, within ten minutes of the journey, I was corrected. Alex, our tour guide had already spotted the first sloth. Perched just a few meters out of reach, a mother and her cub were cuddled together gazing at the humans uninterestedly. This was how the hike went: about every ten to fifteen minutes, Alex would spot something else of interest for us inexperienced tourists. We were able to see golden spiders, white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, basilisks (both green and brown), a variety of snakes (both venomous and non), pelicans in the bay, tarantulas, and many types of butterfly. There may have been more as well, but it was a lot to see in one short afternoon in the jungle. There is no better way to describe it other than magnificent.
The rest of the day we ate lunch, relaxed at the hostel, and then enjoyed a bit more time on the beaches. The next day was more of the same. The adventure was complete, we never wanted to leave. We had found paradise.
The sun warmed the tent. I opened my eyes to the beauty of the day. Birds sang the morning chorus to remind me not to stall, not to dawdle. There was so much to see. I began by making coffee. My companion and I ate a high energy breakfast, prepared our lunch, and packed the bag. Tying up my boots, my heart began to race wildly at the thought of what this hike was going to bring.
Once upon the first trail, we walked through the ruins of the former agricultural town, Hacienda La Marta, that used to operate a lively market for coffee, bananas, sugar, and milk in this park. Barely 3 meters away from the ruins, down the main trail into the rain forest, the scene drastically changed. I already felt like I was in the middle of the ever-changing natural environment. My companion and I were not even 30 minutes into our tour, yet I already had an excitement that only natural glory can bring.
The trails themselves were micro-climates that were different in so many ways. Trees canopied the entire path, shrouding the forest in a sense of wonder and mystery. The earth smelled fresh, wet, and alive. I could sense the life all around me. Like a small child, I touched everything, needing the new experience to be as full as possible. My companion laughed at my childish wonder. However, the mosses were all new and felt as such, the leaves looked as fake as they do in plastic offices, the flowers were practically glowing and perfume-strength fragrant. I was a child again.
After about an hour, the path took a steep climb to a precipice where we encountered our first mirador (look-out). The park had erected a sheltered tower upon this peak to give hikers the best possible view of the valley and distant mountains. It was magnificent. With no human construction in site, other than what I was standing upon, I looked out with awe. My companion, who had already been here, was just laughing at my look of pure love. We left this mirador to head to another which we thought would take us a while to reach. We paused briefly (I paused briefly, my companion only slowing once she noticed my lagging). I was in awe of a type of fungus I had never seen. I continued my child-like touching of everything new, which was everything.
By the time we reached the second mirador, the humidity had escalated to full. My shirt was as wet as if I had jumped into the river. My companion and I really felt what it meant to be in a tropical rain forest. We rested and I attempted to dry out my gear in the sun. Here, the railing keeping us from falling into the abyss, was the only thing that was placed by man. The sun beat down, but the breeze was cool. The distances seen were incredible. We felt like the only two humans for miles. We rested, ate a small snack of fruit and nuts, and reflected peacefully in each other’s company.
The next trail we took was an idyllic path through some of thickest forest I have ever seen. Without a watch, I would not have been able to guess the time. The sun was blocked entirely by the epic canopy that shaded and cooled the trail but also wrapped me in humidity like a thick blanket. The silence. My companion and I stopped just to hear the silence. It was eerie in a mystifying and beautiful way. It was here that I felt the most isolated from the world and destructiveness of man. I breathed in the serenity.
We continued winding through the beautiful trails, encountering all sorts of flora and fauna: white-faced monkeys, beetles the size of my fist, every type of moss imaginable, labios de mujeres (a flower that looks like puckered lips), trees the size of skyscrapers, lizards of all varieties, hundreds of colorful butterflies.
My companion and I were nearing the pozas (swimming holes). We saw a sign for a waterfall and quickly took the detour. We walked down some huge carved stairs, turned a corner around a rock face, and there it was right before my eyes. Before I even knew what I was doing, I had my shirt off, my bag thrown carelessly to the side, my hat and sunglasses resting upon it. I had to shimmy around a giant boulder but then I was standing next to the waterfall. It was not huge, but it was beautiful. The water cascading down the side of this mountain was breathtaking. I dunked my head into the pouring stream.
It was clear, clean, refreshing. I had to take a drink just to say that I have drank from a waterfall in Costa Rica. After I played in the waterfall for a minute, it was my companion’s turn. She was just as pleased about this as I was. We relaxed for a minute next to the waterfall on the boulder before heading off for the final leg of the hike.
Our last stretch of trail was littered with pozas. It seemed that every 200 meters there was another place to sit by the raging river, or if you were lucky there were some calmer places to take a dip. It was pure serenity. My companion and I chose a secluded poza to take our final rest before heading back to camp. Here we relaxed and took in the scenery of the majestic river. We talked lightly and briefly about all we had seen. It was the most amazing day in my recent memory. I will have to make another trip to this magnificent rainforest where it seemed that the magic of nature was at its most perfect state.
After leaving the mountain, things began to improve. The cloud we occupied did not follow us down the mountain. We were able to pull over for some the best views I have seen since arriving to Costa Rica. It was also significantly warmer as we made our way down.
Then, my boss and driver had a brilliant idea. He knew of another national park with a large lake that was formed after they installed a hydro-electric power plant. Also, his kids wanted badly to go to said park for a “really awesome” swing that they have there. (It was really awesome). This heavenly place is known as Charrarra.
This park was incredible. The greens were so vibrant and the place swarmed with life. Immediately after arriving we saw a duck with her ducklings, a snake (not dangerous), herons, and other waterfowl. There were amazingly colorful and large eucalyptus trees throughout. The lake was covered in a thick-batch layer of lilies. Some of the ones close to the shore were in full bloom. They had such a majesty.
The group all enjoyed some cold beers together and then we made our way around exploring the park. We wandered down some horse paths and decided it was too risky to dodge the apple grenades. After we had climbed into a model airplane designed for 4 to 6 year-olds, used a 4 person gravity spinning swing, and played some quick toss frisbee, we made our way to a low point lookout that was stunning. Unlike the peak of the volcano, were able to see straight across all of the lake.
After a few gallivanting hours, we were all feeling hungry. We went to a local hotspot for chicharrones and enjoyed a lovely and reasonably priced meal before we made our way back to the city. The moral of the story: even a “bad” start to the day here, can end in wonder and amazement.
“Be sure to bundle up,” they said. “It’s colder than you would think,” they said. “Bring snacks,” they said.
Bundle up? Cold? Okay, snacks. That makes sense. We are talking about Costa Rica, right? Home of the most beautiful beaches, rainforests, and mountains in the world? Same Costa Rica? Yes. THE Costa Rica. We were heading to one of the iconic volcanoes that give the breath-taking views that Costa Rica is known for: Irazú Volcano. I couldn’t imagine anything cold. I don’t think most people would.
We awoke to a partly cloudy sky in the central valley. Birds were singing to celebrate the morning as they always do. Early mornings on the only collective day off for the staff is always a little sketchy. Not that everyone is opposed to getting up early, just apprehensive. However, all members of the party showed up on time. We were excited to see the dormant volcano.
The drive up was no peach. It rained, the fog was terrible, and there were no signs of it improving. Well, there was one time where we saw a slight opening to the cloud cover. It was a tease. We got to the peak, where the gift shop and parking lot are located, and stepped into a cloud. Literally. You could barely see 10 meters in front of you. It was windy. It was cold. It was atypical to the image of Costa Rica.
We huddled into the gift shop to escape the rain. They offered hot coffee or cocoa at tourism prices. Some of us paid. My fingers were very much going numb standing in the wet, windy cloud. We resisted the walk to the crater observation, hoping the conditions would improve. They didn’t. Eventually, we made the short walk anyway. The landscape screamed of a horror movie. Bleak, desolate, low-visibility. Perfect for mischief. (None occurred.) We peered over the edge, where one would normally find the crater, and saw more of the same mass of cloud we were standing in. Disappointment abounded.
After snapping a few pictures of our other-worldly landscape, we headed back to the warmth and safety of the cars. The volcano will have to be visited another time. Stay tuned.