The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

One thing that keeps on throwing me for a loop is how similar-yet-different Costa Rica is to so many of the other places I have travelled. I’ve been to a good many tropical/semi-tropical countries — Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines — but all long ago, when they were very different countries, and when I was at a very different part of my life. Those travels involved backpacking through busy train stations clutching a worn Lonely Planet guide, and hanging out on the beach selling sunglasses, and staying in rabbit-warren like hostels, and negotiating some very rough parts of very third-world countries. It was a magical time of my life that I am very grateful for; but until I got here I did not realize what a very visceral meaning tropical travel had for me, of negotiating and determining and encountering and being.

Now, half a lifetime later, I am in likely the most beautiful tropical paradise I have ever encountered, and it is a very, very different experience. Yes, a great deal of it is that I am older and can plan trips on the internet and am travelling with a six-year-old and am spending tens if not hundreds more than I did in those sleepless backpacking days.

It's also that, as you may have heard, Costa Rica is completely based on travel, and providing a good experience. The infrastructure of “taxi-boat-taxi” across Arenal Lake may seem chaotic — until you realize it is an organized chaos that cares for you safely and kindly at every step. Businesses happily takes dollars, and credit cards. Every single staffperson of every hotel and restaurant and tour company has spoken good English (and I mean this, down to the gardener eager to practice and get better), while they all have appreciated my meager attempts at broken Spanish. While “pura vida” may mean a sort of Tico “take it easy” mentality, every tour we have arranged has shown up exactly two minutes early to pick us up and eager to ensure we have the best possible trip with them. It is a country very aware that it is based on the goodwill of tourism, and eager not to squander that.

And so many kinds of travellers here. Plenty of families with children Beatrix’s age. Many older people. A few small tours. Some solo travelers, mainly women, often European. A man next to our hotel room last night having a completely drunken rampage at his female companion about how she was making him to return home, because she “didn’t understand how that world was sucking his soul, that he fucking needed to be here, man, part of the jungle and the surf and the fucking mountains, that the rest of the world was just trying to keep him from fucking living, man” (when he staggered by to breakfast this morning I was aghast that he was older than I am). An independent filmmaker making great documentary work about the Somali community, and her charming family. A French man who cheered Beatrix up this morning during magic tricks at breakfast. And still, plenty of backpackers, many on their way up to Nicaragua because that’s the new hot place.

I may or may not have checked to see what Lonely Planet said about Managua today. Because apparently some of that rough-riding travel spirit never dies…


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