Costa Rica was fish tacos and iguanas in the trees and natives who love with no strings attached. That feeling that it’s okay to be you — refreshing to be you — in any form. A freedom to dive head first into thunderous waves and to walk a mile in the pouring rain in nothing but cut-off denim shorts and strappy orange sandals.
Costa Rica is a list of things I fell in love with. Pink hammocks on front porches. Strung turquoise, stone and silver. A handful of soft shells. Toes drifting up and down in the tide. Pictures soft with the blur of ocean mist on the camera’s lens.
I’m back home from a week in Costa Rica, determined to keep the most important souvenir: those deep, weightless breaths that tingle as they hit the base lining of your stomach and make you smile wide even when you’re sitting alone under the cafe’s mango tree. Costa Rica was that in many ways. It was forgetting the small complexities of home. Seeing the struggles I don’t have. Feeling thankful for people my heart really missed. Living in the moment. Seeing the beauty of all things. Having heartfelt conversations with people, even though we didn’t speak the same language.
I feel like there was a mutual love affair between Costa Rica and me. Every hand that held my hand and every hug goodbye at the end of a meal or an evening was uniquely passionate and meaningful. Costa Ricans showed me kindness, respect and their family photos on smartphones. They were loves, and I will see them again.
It was these people and these moments I tried capturing with my cell phone, as I always do. I find that my cell phone — its ease, small size and discreetness — allows me to capture those details better than I sometimes care to try with my big camera.
But in middle of my stay in Costa Rica, I forgot to snap closed the charge port on my waterproof case. Not only did my phone not turn on to recover what I’d already captured, I was unable to use it for the rest of the trip. It forced me to embrace my large Canon in the comfortable and trusted way that I did before iPhone came into my life. But it also made forced me to be present. To keep my hands down and just look. To soak it up. To remember the age spots on the woman’s face who tried selling me bags of Nicaraguan cocoa. To see the juxtaposition of the tangled wires and tropical pink flowers growing side-by-side. To see the contrast in the rainforest between the fluorescent leaves and black shadows. I had to look curiously and deeply, knowing the flashes of my memory would be the only things I’d have to take home.
Except for two things. The 40-something photos I posted to Instagram and Facebook from Costa Rica before my phone went snorkeling, these that I salvaged from the social web and am sharing here.
And, my teeny tiny notebook made of recycled banana. I bought the small notebook at the airport on our flight home. And while I flew over the tip of Costa Rica, deep blue seas, white sandy beaches, Belize, volcanoes and ocean reefs, I filled almost every page of that notebook with thoughts that are now last week’s memories. I wrote down every picture I didn’t take. Every feeling I could put into words. All the little words I hope will spark a vivid memory in 10, 20, 50 years from now.
Here, my friends, are the photos I salvaged and some of the words I wrote in pink ink in that tiny banana notebook:
costa rica is …
** pura vida, simply.
** rain that sprinkles and gushes, and soaks you before you sit down for dinner and drinks.
** it is the steam that rises from active volcanos.
** that first pina colada topped with whipped cream, a plump cherry and a skewer of pineapple on the edge of the sea shore.
** the wet heat that makes everyone look like they’re glowing.
** it is the anthropologist from Italy who teaches you how to moisturize your skin with a mixture of coffee grounds, olive oil and grated coconut.
** the genuine smiles of the local tour guides who love sharing the pride they have for their country.
** the way they talk about their esposas and ninos and share their family photos.
** the conversations with a woman named ale, short for alexandria, who is anxious for a new life in nepal or mammoth — she doesn’t care. she is the woman who has two kids from two different fathers and feels guilty for it. she is the woman who told you not to believe in love, but to believe in powerful friendships.
** it is the birds of paradise that sprout orange and red on the curbs of streets. butterflies painted on light posts. chalk drawings on sidewalks.
** an unmade bed every day.
** and ruffling the sheets before you crawl in, just in case a critter was planning to join you for the evening.
** it is the native gallopinto — a mix of beans and rice — at almost every meal.
** it is the feeling of success when you conquered the timeshare owner. and the way the salesman ditched his speal and instead told you of his texas roots, his father’s costa rican coffee farm and showed you pictures of his young son covered in black sand on the beach.
** the subtle sweetness of fresh-cut mango. the mushiness that sometimes sneaks up on me.
** the way you ask for wifi passwords any time you stop to eat or drink.
** the millipedes that crawl across the kitchen floor and the pinky lizard that hunts for buggies in your closet.
** it is having a conversation with the taxi driver even though you don’t speak each others’ languages.
** the thickness of local fruit juice at breakfast. the way it never seems quite cold, but it is always refreshing.
** it is the cold section of the grocery store where all of the coke bottles have emmanuel’s name on them.
** the fluttering of two blue butterflies, magestic creatures who are rare and only live where the air is pure.
** the freedom to wear a swimsuit on the beach — or anywhere — even if you don’t look like a model surfer.
** the olive-colored eyes of crocodiles hunched in muddy waters.
** coconutz, the sports bar on the main strip where the seats are swings and where 90s music from america plays on nights when futbol hasn’t brought in a packed house.
** the long black fingers of monkeys who hopped onto the roof of your boat and were lured inside with banana chunks on blonde kids’ heads.
** stick shifts and grinding gears todo los dias.
** moving to the back of the van de tourismo so you could make it all the all the way to the top of the mountain after it stalled on a rocky road.
** making a genuine connection with locals who are relieved to meet open-minded tourists.
** forgetting your english and how to form sentences.
** surprised to hear yourself speaking new words in spanish, words you thought were left in your ninth grade spanish class.
** it is a place where you feel safe to walk late at night. there are regular long walks to town and back and learning you don’t really need a taxi.
** 24/7 spanish tv, but the occassional “modern family” in english.
** it is china white iced coffee with whipped cream ordered at the internet cafe on the corner and the tall barista who walked around with strappy sandles and her vintage leather purse.
** lone palms grow in bright green fields.
** it is pre-downloaded amazon prime tv shows on your kindle to watch in bed.
** frozen bottles of water that melt before noon.
** the loud holler of cicadas when you drive with the windows open.
** the sacrificial beach towel that didn’t fit in your suitcase for the flight home because you bought too many hammocks and bags of costa rican coffee.
** it is sneaking to the courtyard with the wifi to send brief emails, emojis and post photos to facebook. and later being glad you shared because all was lost.
** buying a large bag of brown rice to house your iphone in, and praying for a miracle.
** walking by laura’s place, the dive shop sign, the smelly trash bin, the lady who sang while she cleaned.
** the way you wonder how bananas grow upside down like that.
** looking for monkeys. always with the monkeys.
** black monkeys hovering on branches as you lounge at the farthest end of playa hermosa.
** the guardian angel in the pond.
** pink and white paper lanterns than dangle above the chase loungers at cafe de playa.
** outdoor showers.
** the soft tips of the sugar cane plants; the subtle sweet aroma that so faintly filled the van.
** horses and cows tied to fence posts and left to graze between the road and property lines.
** a 70-year-old surfer from oceanside, california. they way he calls everyone amigo.
** that feeling of home on the mountaintop. thinking you want to share it with your family because it seemed like a place they would like to live. secluded. beautiful. majestic.
** fresh, fresh food.
** it is the waterfall that rushed into the lagoon where you swam with french canadians, and you all felt lucky because it’s the only place left to swim in a waterfall.
** it is being glad you took $100 in singles because you tipped for rides and help at the airport and housekeeping and drinks and tours and breathing.
** packets of starbucks instant peppermint mochas in the morning when local coffee wasn’t brewed yet.
** a quaint drive through gunanacaste with the girl who inspires you with her travels to so many islands and kenya and cuba and europe.
** the iguana banging its head into the glass door because it couldn’t get inside.
** emails from home.
** that super fresh pico de gallo with the pineapple chunks that you dump on top of your coconut-crusted white fish.
** coca in a glass bottle.
** the way they smile when you say your name is lorena de las mariposas.
** the rooster and goose guarding the kayaks at la vida loca.
** the water’s wamth.
** knees shredded on tiny sea shells as waves thrust you to the sea shore. worth it.
** coffee on the balcony as you listen to screeching birds and howler monkeys in trees growing on the outskirts of the neighborhood.
** new friends who say the rainforest and waterfalls were better because you were there.
** it is the crushed leaves from orange and lemon trees that smell stronger than they do in california.
** the way the lizard man whispered “i like you, i really like you” over and over.
** the obsession with all sports that involve balls.
** ecotourismo and a country that gets its energy by volcanic power.
** catching a man smiling at you as you look up from photographing a tree’s roots and his words, ‘its’ refreshing to see a real photographer from time to time.’
** ale’s white tanks and beige khakis. always.
** that pink glow as the sun sets, even when you can’t see the sun.
** four stamps in your passport in one day.
** the tall american travel agent with a costa rican mother who always wore her blonde hair in white scarves.
** pink sunsets over the gulf of papagayo, telling you its going to be a beautiful day.
** five dollar bottles of water at dinner, chilled tableside like champagne.
** the local girl who made bracelets with knotted flowers. she wasn’t pushy like the rest, and called your eyes verde. she talked about her baby who turned one just five days earlier. you return the next day to buy her turquoise and she’s not there.
** a mingling of wires and foliage.
** the costa rican flag hanging from the windshield and a woman’s tiny hair clip on the string.
** david, the tour guide, talking about how he loves his wife.
** guava juice.
** promising to learn spanish when you get home.
** it is never knowing how to covert money into $2 taxi rides or $70 leather purses.
** the way their eyebrows raise and their smiles widen when they find out you’re a california girl.
** paying a few colones more for pineapple and melon off the back of a truck than at the grocery store.
** finding a snorkel and mask at the automercado for $10 u.s.
** leaves the color of neon green and much bigger than your head.
** the italian in the condo by the stairs who wears tortoise-shell glasses and always said ‘alo’ with a cigarette in his hand.
** the sway of the trees in the rainforest and the light that trickles in. the way ferns glow like they do in pixar movies.
** learning to close the port on your waterproof iphone case — forced unplugging.
** a few pages of lena dunham’s “i’m not that kind of girl.”
** sharing cheese crackers with the tour guide who lives by the river and is excited with every nature shot you show him on the camera.
** thinking of your favorites at home and wishing you could share all of it with them.
** costa rica is hammocks hanging from front doors and homes painted the color of avocado, mango and the ocean sky on a clear day.
** it is crowds of people playing futbol in the beach-side field.
** it is the way in which you don’t care if your skin is sticky all of the time.
** flickers and shadows in the forest.
** it is polka-dotted ankles after tiny black mosquitos bite into your skin.
** the holler of locals calling you and pointing for you to see what’s in the tree above: an iguana the size of a goat perched on a high branch, they say they’ve never seen one so large.
** a bow to the condo builders who built around the mango tree that houses the family of howler monkeys.
** cardboard floor mats on taxis’ floorboards.
** it is buying eggs and chorizo and tortillas and making our own breakfast together.
** a casino (?)
** floating in a deep blue pool in middle of the night, and not feeling a single chill when you get out.
** weekday roadtrips with new friends from all over the world.
** raindrops on windshield and the greenest of green countrysides.
** pizza that is no bueno. and breadsticks like biscotti.
** the brush of thin sundresses at your ankles.
** the dogs that roam free even though they all have collars, and the cats who purr when you walk by.
** feeling like you want to go back even before you’ve left.
Thank you for visiting, friends. I have many, many more Costa Rican posts to share as I work on getting back to reality. Come back soon.