There is something magical about travel. Whether it’s from that feeling you get in a new culture with the endless possibilities of where the trip will take you, or simply the conscious effort to just have fun, the magic is there. You may know what I’m talking about based on stories you’ve heard or your own experiences; but somehow during travel everything works out! For me, travel is a spiritual experience (it’s okay if you throw up in your mouth while reading that sentence). It’s a time when all the things that clutter my life are removed. I can truly get to know myself and be in sync with my faith and the life around me. I just got back from an amazing, week-long trip to Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. The stars seemed to align for me multiple times on the trip, so I want to share my experiences while they are still fresh!
Three planes and one long taxi ride brought me to Costa Rica. I had to take a tiny puddle-jumper plane to get to Santa Teresa. There happened to be a BEAUTIFUL MAN sitting next to me and for whatever reason I noticed he had amazing calves…you need to see to believe, ladies. I thought “Wow this trip is already going phenomenally,” assuming he was heading to Santa Teresa, but he got off at the plane’s first stop…naturally I was devastated. When I finally made it to Selina Hostel, it was about 6 pm and I had been traveling ALL day. I made a reservation for a room ahead of time but needed to modify it as I was unsure of my plans. The girl at the front desk explained I need to change the reservation online so she suggested I go to the hostel bar while I figure it out. I was totally exhausted and just wanted to shower but I was really hungry, so I headed to the bar. After sitting there for about 15 minutes and downing half my beer, a Britsh guy at the bar sat down next to me and struck up conversation. His name is Tom and he was traveling alone too. Tom has amazing taste in music, taught me the length of a ‘fortnight’ (it’s 14 days for those of you like me) and owns an online marketing company. I explained I was figuring out my room situation and he told me how they overbooked his room so he ended up with a 2 room suite and plenty of extra space! We talked a while longer and he offered his extra room to me! I tried to pay him for it, but he insisted I don’t since years ago someone did this for him and told him to pay it forward. Not even an hour into my stay and I already made a buddy and had awesome accommodations!
This was my first truly solo trip. I planned it just for me and had a few ideas in mind for how it would go. I planned on doing a lot of yoga, drinking my weight in beer, surfing and laying on the beach. So Day two started with yoga at the mystical Pranamar Resort (note: if you go to Santa Teresa you MUST check out Pranamar). One of my yogi best friends from home connected me with a girl living in Santa Teresa and she invited me to join her that morning. I showed up at the open air yoga platform surrounded by jungle and called out “Jamie” until someone looked my way. Jamie and I connected immediately as we set up our yoga mats and proceeded with an amazing class that left us DRENCHED. Over post-yoga smoothies Jamie shared how she’s been going to Costa Rica for over 10 years and answered all my questions. She knew exactly who to connect me with when I asked where to take surfing lessons. She referred me to Ismael and said “You’ve got to hear his story, it’s crazy.” After saying bye to Jamie, I met up with Tom for lunch and laying on the beach. He was interested in surf lessons too so I booked Ismael for the next morning at 11.
Tom and I later stopped at an ATM and headed to a beach party which ended up being more like an island party in Thailand – fire dancer and all. We exchanged travel stories and he told me of how we was stranded in Thailand with no money after an ATM ate his card. While demonstrating something from his story he took out his wallet and noticed that his card was missing. HE LEFT IT IN THE ATM. This was so tragic and hilarious because of the timing of his discovery, we left the party and checked the ATM…no card.
Tom and I headed up to Playa Hermosa to rent surf boards and meet Ismael. There was a rental store right next to the beach so we grabbed two long boards and walked 500 meters to the beach; I carried mine on my head. The day was beautiful and sunny and the waves looked incredible. Ismael showed up on the back of his friend’s motorcycle holding his crutches. He is known as the “Lion Surfer” and I understand why from first hand experience. Ismael is a pro surfer who grew up on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Two years ago he was in an awful motorcycle accident that paralyzed him from the waist down. He was determined to surf so he didn’t let his injury stop him. From a wheelchair and surfing with a kayak paddle to crutches and then two weeks ago, he began WALKING! He carried his surf board down the beach himself, it was insane! Tom and I were completely blown away. Ismael is not only a miracle, but very kind and an amazing teacher! The main thing he focused on was making sure we were confident and encouraged throughout learning to surf. He even started out the day saying not to worry, there are no sharks in this water (lie) and I obviously believed him and had a WAY better time!
First he drew a line in the sand like a surf board so we could work on our form and practice standing up. Next we headed right into the water to try and catch our first waves. This was my first time surfing so I was feeling a mixture of fear and excitement. My whole life I have wanted to be a surfer and thought it was the epitome of cool, I’ve just never had the right opportunity to try. It’s amazing because when I was out in the ocean paddling on the board I felt like I had done it before, it was so surreal. I think I have dreamt about surfing so many times and seen so many movies it didn’t seem like my first time!
Ismael took turns with each of us setting us up for a wave, pushing us off and shouting when to stand up, “Eyes forward and stay low!” he yelled over the waves. It’s a pretty empowering feeling standing up on a surf board, like nothing I’ve ever experienced! At one point Ismael had me paddle way out so I was just sitting on the board behind where the waves break until he was done teaching Tom. I just sat on the (super deep and terrifying) water on my board for about 15 minutes staring at the tropical coastline and watching the water billow: I finally felt free. When Ismael made it out to me we sat and talked for a few minutes before he set me up for a wave when he suddenly yelled “GET OFF YOUR BOARD!” as I looked at the dark wave towering over us ready to crush my fragile soul. As a Florida girl I’ve never been in waves that big and it was pretty terrifying hiding under water from waves wondering when you can breath again. But alas! I survived with only a few gulps of saltwater in me. Then I caught my final wave and stood up for a really long time; I felt so proud! Ismael is the man and bought us coconuts to drink after the lesson. Make sure you take a lesson with him if you’re ever in Santa Teresa!
Tom and I headed to the bank to see if he could get his card back and HE DID! I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced losing your card to an ATM in a foreign country but getting it back is SO rare so I just had to add this tid bit in. Tom left his card in the ATM a second too long AGAIN later in the week and it got eaten. Tooooooo funny.
My dream of getting a tan and relaxing on the beach was pretty short lived as it’s rainy season and a tropical storm was blowing through. I took this time to lay by the pool under an umbrella at Selina and read The Alchemist. I have heard of this book for years and brought it along not knowing how perfect it is to read while traveling. If you haven’t read it, it’s a quick read and the ending comes up before you know it. When I made it to the conclusion, I sat pathetically by the pool with tears in my eyes because of how deeply the ending resonated with me at this time in my life…but I won’t ruin it for you. I highly recommend reading The Alchemist and following your Personal Legend!
I made friends with another cool Brit by the pool who had just sold everything and left his life and relationship in South Africa. One of my favorite things about traveling is that it is so easy to talk to strangers and open up. People share where they’re at in life after knowing you for two minutes and suddenly you have a friend. He had already read The Alchemist so we instantly connected.
Evening of Day Four
The day got away from me and it was already 4 pm. I remembered seeing a yoga class sign across the street so I checked it out and signed up for the 6 pm class. This is the moment in my trip where things went from good to great my friends! The yoga class was on a second floor, open platform with a metal roof. There was monsoon like rain and thunder so you could hear nothing underneath this roof. I was super stoked because I was about to enjoy this yoga class totally immersed in nature…but there was one problem. It was so loud that the already intense yoga teacher had to yell so we could hear him. He was shirtless with long brown hair and (I think) an Italian accent. From this point forward in the story you need to picture this hilarious scene from the movie Couples Retreat.
The class was only five of us but I couldn’t seem to follow along with the rain, yelling, accent and slippery mat. I was doing my right side when everyone else was doing left and so on. When we went into Warrior II pose our teacher walked around the class to help everyone with their form like yoga teachers do. Generally it’s a gentle nudge or tap in the right direction, but not with Rico Suave. I watched as he went behind the girl in front of me and mirrored her Warrior II before WRAPPING HIS LEG OVER HER FRONT THIGH TO POSITION IT (sorry if you can’t picture this for non-yogis). No amount of detail can convey how funny this was to me. I was so dumbfounded as I watched I just kind of laughed and made sure my form was right. The intense class slowly came to an end but I knew I’d be laughing about the incident for days. On my way out I struck up conversation with a woman from class. We immediately started joking about how hysterical the class and instructor had been and how it was just like Couples Retreat. I got to talking to Maria more and we exchanged info so we could go out later that night.
I headed home and showered before hitting the hostel bar to start out my night! Turns out the makeshift bridge in town completely washed away. Maria couldn’t get home so she showed up at the bar not an hour after we had met! She shared her dinner with me and told me her wild life stories about Africa, Malaria and romance! Safe to say we immediately fell in friendship.
Day five was 100% relaxation! Many sleepless nights lead up to it and the rainy day helped me to feel no guilt for laying by the pool and napping. That evening I just hung out at the hostel playing pool and getting to know the many travelers. I even got to exchange The Alchemist for The Celestine Prophecy with a guy staying at the hostel. Maria and I had planned to do an early yoga class the following morning and drive to Montezuma Waterfall…so I was off to bed!
It was pouring rain at 9 am when Maria picked up Michael, my friend from the hostel, and I. We headed to the Horizon Yoga Hotel for a yoga session in the mountains overlooking the water. The view from the hotel is absolutely stunning! We made sure to check out their rooms (awesome) for when we visit next! This yoga class wasn’t quite as unusual as the last… but comical nonetheless! Ten students and the yoga instructor squeezed onto the yoga deck for an hour and a half of difficult, yet restorative yoga. The teacher was from Italy and even though he may not have noticed since I was cracking up the whole class, I really enjoyed it. For an extra $5 the class included breakfast after and I was pleasantly surprised! I had the BEST green smoothie I have ever had and I make a green smoothie every morning so it really was the best. The attention to detail in the breakfast was just icing on the cake after how delicious the food was.
From breakfast Maria and I packed up and headed straight for Montezuma! The hour long drive was beautiful since we were driving through farm land, but it was hard to not feel car sick with the awful roads. When we arrived at the waterfall a nice Tico gave us a spot to park for 1000 Colones. The thing is, Maria and I hadn’t done any research on the waterfall. We expected to park, walk up some steps and take a picture. So naturally we were confused when the parking Tico told us to follow him and led us to the top of the road to a hidden trail. Fortunately Maria had two pairs of shoes fit for hiking or I would’ve been relatively miserable. We followed our skilled Tico through the river and along the mountain for a good 40 minutes before reaching the waterfall. We were drenched in sweat by the end and joked about how happy we are we didn’t look into this ahead of time…or we wouldn’t have come. Anyone who knows me well knows I love hiking as much as I hate it, so a surprise is the best way to count me in. Maria is a doctor (I think doctors know everything about everything) so we had a nice conversation about negative ions while sitting by the waterfall sharing a beer…needless to say, I felt enlightened.
We were starving after the hike but felt so gross we decided to go into Montezuma to jump in the ocean. The waves were rough and there was a lot of wood debris on many of the beaches so we didn’t make it to the water until a local surfer led the way. He threw his board in the car and directed us to these little tide pools right next to the roaring ocean! After drying off we did some light shopping in Montezuma and left town to eat at Butterfly Brewing Co.
I was SO hungry and looking forward to enjoying a craft beer with my dinner. We arrived at 4 pm and the server notified us that the kitchen doesn’t open until 5 pm. We were disappointed but figured a beer would hold us over and we could hang out with the chips and salsa they gave us. The chips and salsa were the best I’ve ever had and we insisted they give us 3 helpings. Over the time we sat waiting for the kitchen to open, we struck up conversation with a guy working there, Doug. Picture a very kind, hilarious Costa Rican man (he looks more Israeli) that says “Life is goooood” about ten times a day. After hanging there for over an hour, Doug finally comes out and tells us the kitchen is closed for the day and there’s NO FOOD! We were like “Wtf man?” but it was so funny how he waited to tell us that we hardly cared. We finished our beers and hungout with Doug and the other guy working at the restaurant, Stephen. Stephen is from Oregon and just working and living in Costa Rica for a few months. We really liked both of them so we exchanged info and invited them out that night (not really thinking they’d show).
Evening of Day Six
All day long Maria had been telling me about this unbelievable Italian restaurant in Montezuma that she had eaten at the night before. I remember thinking “uh I’m not exactly looking to eat Italian in Costa Rica” but man am I glad fate led us there! Tierra Y Fuego served us some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had! Their tuna tartar, caprese salad and panna cotta made me want to cry tears of joy. You never know what you can find hiding in the jungle! A thoroughly stuffed Maria and I rolled out of the restaurant and headed home to clean up for the party we had been hearing about. I was shocked when my phone rang with a message from Doug saying he and Stephen were actually heading our way. Now we had friends!
We headed to the crowded beach bar and met up with our new friends. I’m not sure when things changed, but after hours of hanging with Maria, Doug and Stephen, it felt like we had known each other for years! We all huddled on a broken hammock complaining about having no food options at 2 am, played pool at an after-party until the sun came up and finally, watched the sun rise on the beach…in the ocean. Safe to say this night was one of the most magical of all in my life.
Directly after watching the sun rise I had to run up to my room and pack as I had a taxi scheduled to pick me up at 6:30 am for my flight. We were all having so much fun that my new friends insisted it should continue and they take me to the airport. I was hesitant because the drive to Tambor was an hour and I felt bad they would have to drive…but I caved! I quickly texted my taxi driver to stay in bed and the four of us were off!
Of my week in Santa Teresa I had only one truly sunny day, so of course as I’m leaving it’s the most sunny, hot and beautiful morning ever. We had such a nice car ride; all talking about how much fun we had, how we were sad it was ending and of course what food we wanted to eat 🙂 When we arrived at the airport tarmac with a little Tico man confirming passengers, I was incredibly sad to say goodbye. It’s a special feeling arriving in a new place alone and leaving a week later with friends to hug goodbye.
Last Hours in Costa Rica
My plane ended up being late and it took everything in me to keep my eyes open while waiting in the heat—I was completely exhausted. When the plane finally arrived I sat in a single chair and immediately laid my backpack on my lap and passed out. I woke up in a fluster as I was so disoriented from sleep and hoping I didn’t miss my stop! We were still in the air and once I glanced around and saw how full the plane was, I realized I slept through the plane’s first stop. I settled in my seat knowing we were about to land when I noticed a familiar leg sticking out from the seat in front of me. COULD IT BE!??!? Yes! It was the beautiful being from my flight a week prior. Did I think about how weird I am for recognizing the leg of a complete stranger? Yes. Did I care? No!
Once the plane landed this mystery man turned to face me and commented on how I looked so passed out when he walked on the plane, he wasn’t sure if I was sick or just tired. Embarrassing, I know. Like can’t I just pull it together for once? Haha. Fortunately he and I had plenty to talk about. We talked all the way into San Jose airport where we then parted to check into our flights. I was just happy we got to hangout briefly, so when he later found me and invited me to have a cup of coffee I was elated! It’s just so hilarious to me that the random stranger I happened to notice a week before was now sitting next to me asking what I wanted to drink. Life is so strange. I told him I would like iced tea and he wasn’t sure which kind so he brought back two tea bags. By the time his coffee was ready they had set up our tray with two tea mugs, two cups of ice, two of everything! All because he ordered two tea bags—it was so ridiculous having all those dishes for one cup of tea so we laughed about it and enjoyed conversation until I wandered on home.
Overall, Costa Rica gave me amazing moments and took very good care of me! Taking a trip solo is one of the most adventurous things you can do! Thanks for reading my sporadic blog post / journal entry. If anything, I hope it encourages you to step out, be brave and let life happen!