For the last 5 years my heart has been stuck (and still partially remains) in Asia. I taught and lived in Korea, studied yoga in Thailand, taught it in Cambodia and traveled extensively around the reason. Friends kept asking why I kept going back to Asia, “go somewhere new” they would urge. Finally, last year I took some time to jump around Europe, although that trip was cut short by my return to Korea where I put in another year teaching. The whole year of which was filled with distant thoughts of South American, a place I planned to explore soon. I finished, crossed one more SE Asia destination off my list, and returned home, ready to plan my South American travels. Only that didn’t actually happen, instead I started searching yoga retreats, which led to airline tickets and before long I had myself headed to Costa Rica on New Year’s Eve. I opted for the one-way ticket, pretty normal in my book, thinking that I could always turn this into the beginning of a trip South. What I dismissed though was my love-affair with the East, and just how strong it was.
I eventually gave in to these longings; a few days before leaving I snagged a great deal to Bangkok, departing the end of February. It was only at this point, having a one way flight from Chicago to Costa Rica, and another from Chicago to Bangkok that I decided to make up my mind on when and how I was getting back to Chicago (after all I had a flight to catch). I’m not sure if it was the American influence (travel seems impossibly hard for many there), my own laziness, or my empathy for not wanting my mom to have a heart attack worrying me, but likely a combo of all three that led me to simply buying a flight back to Chicago from San Jose, one month later. I dabbled with ideas of traveling south to Colombia, just to check it out, or north to Nicaragua because why not, but nope I was boring and would ‘only’ be staying in Costa Rica - shame I know.
Being the holiday season I was on the ball with trying to arrange (some) accommodation, and hit the lottery when Joel, from San Jose accepted my request for New Year’s Weekend. I knew I didn’t want to show up at a random hostel and hope for cool friends to celebrate NYE with, so I decided instead to entrust myself to a random stranger via Couchsuring. Through a series of back and forth Whatsapp messages it was determined that I’d be joining Joel, his wife and two friends for an overnight trip to Monteverde, a city I was planning to visit anyway. A small part of me was hesitant with the idea of being picked up at the airport by 3 complete strangers, jumping in their car and driving 2.5 hours out of the city into a cloud forest, but having previously put myself in similar situations I ran with it. I decided to follow my heart, remembering all the amazing people I’ve met on my travels and hope that these three would soon be added to that list, and thankfully I was right.
Joel, Mauricio, Helen and Irene picked me up at the airport full of welcoming hello’s a car full of food and games for the weekend and even a spare burrito for me, should I be hungry during our drive. The ride was a mix of taking in the scenery, exchanging some ‘get-to-know-you’s’ and nodding off a few times. After roughly two hours of driving we were winding our way through the hilly, winding roads of Monteverde where we spotted a beautiful rainbow, followed by a magnificent sunset. Although it was only 5:30 on New Year’s Eve, I was perfectly content with the way 2016 was coming to a close.
Not much longer and we were pulling into the driveway of an adorable house, just outside the downtown area of Santa Elena and Monteverde. I came to find out the house is owned by one of Helen’s friends who was traveling elsewhere for the holiday weekend and was often willing to let friends stay at her place in the clouds. As soon as we unpacked the cooking started, I knew beforehand my travel companions are all vegan, and being the flexible - I’ll eat anything, especially while traveling - person that I am, was eager to see what they’d prepare. I talked Kdramas with Irene while cutting veggies, both of us happy to have found someone who understands our obsession. Eventually we sat down to a feast of grilled veggies, potato salad, faux chicken patties, and Welch's sparkling grape juice, the later of which was nostalgic for me as it was our drink of choice every year for all years I spent celebrating New Year’s at home with my family. This was another of the (many) instances in my travel memories where, despite having met these people only a few hours prior, I felt welcomed and one of the group.
We followed dinner with coffee, cookies and games, a low-key New Year’s Eve, but somehow oh so perfect. I remember Joel apologizing there was no big party, but the fact that they invited me to join their celebration and make me feel included was infinitely more important to me. We spent the entire next day together exploring Monteverde, but instead of joining them for the ride back to San Jose I decided to stay and explore some more. When they dropped me off at my hostel it was “See you soon” rather than “Goodbye” because I’ll definitely be getting in touch with them when I head to the city next week. Given how hospitable they were out of their element I’d be happy to meet them on their own soil, now it’s just my challenge to try and figure out how to show my appreciation and repay them.
Packed with Adventure and Adrenaline, a diverse landscape from mountains to cloudforests, oceans, beaches and waterfalls. It's known for being touristy, safe and expensive, but was for me, a great introduction to Central America.