Tropical treats

It would be difficult to sum up the two months I spent in a place as rich and eclectic as Costa Rica. And though I travelled around a fair extent of the country, immersing myself in nature and volunteer experiences, I feel, as I often do, that I learned more about myself than the country I was in, particularly what I’m capable of and what’s truly important to me. Of course, I could wax lyrical about Costa Rica’s beautiful scenery and stunning wildlife, but being there so long meant I also experienced much more in terms of ordinary everyday life and the challenges of navigating my way through it.

As a solo traveller, I needed to organize and arrange everything myself in advance, and once there, had to make several adjustments along the way. So the greatest necessity for me was to be adaptable – to be open to whatever I encountered, however much it differed from what I was expecting. Despite all I had read, Costa Rica was more complex – and expensive – than I was prepared for.

Many of my plans went awry and various travel mishaps ensued, and even with the greatest vigilance, several items broke or got lost on the journey. The other major challenge was in adapting to a new culture – and language, and I often had to confront outlooks and values that were quite different to my own. And while I mercifully avoided any major illnesses, I struggled with the extreme tropical heat – sometimes inside as well as out, and water irregularities – such as frequent cold showers or no running water at all.

But it was the constantly having to decide, plan and experience things alone that was the most difficult and emotionally exhausting aspect. I’m proud of how I was able to navigate it solo, venturing well out of my comfort zone and having many incredible adventures. I even managed to make a few local friends along the way.

Volunteering in various places and staying with local people meant I was privileged to be able to look beneath the country’s prevalent tourism façade and to see the conditions in which Ticos live, giving me a deeper, multi-faceted view of the place, flaws and all. For me, so much of the value of travel is going beyond the shiny surface and learning what a place is truly like for those who call it home.

I’m always grateful for my ability to travel the way I do, and my experiences in Costa Rica helped me to strengthen my capacity to face and overcome challenges and to be brave and bold in attempting new and audacious ventures, all of which was very validating. But perhaps most crucially, seeing what I could and couldn’t live without shone a glittering light on the things that are the most important to me in my life. For me, the true wonder of travel is the way in which it necessitates us to be more mindful and introspective, while at the same time reminding us that it’s a big, varied world out there full of intrigue, interaction and possibilities.

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