6 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Went To Costa Rica
This past week, I spent time in my first Central American country. A few months ago I was browsing the web and the discount airline, Spirit, had 99% off tickets, so I perused their options and settled on Costa Rica and surprised my boyfriend with a trip to take right upon his arrival to New York. Costa Rica had only ever been slightly on my radar of places to go, but I figured I needed to open up my horizons when it comes to traveling (I've only really been to Europe and I can't call myself an adventurer if I don't go anywhere else). The week I spent abroad was an eye-opening experience for me and while I definitely enjoyed my time, here are a few things I wish I knew before I went.
I don't like risks
Apparently I am not one for adrenaline rushes. After thinking to myself, "Oh, zip-lining sounds fun. That's what you do when you go to Costa Rica, right?" my boyfriend and I signed up for a tour in Monteverde which included 14 lines. For some reason I guess I didn't understand what this meant and how high up and long the lines were. The first few lines were fine, but I guess I was gripping the line wrong because I ended up twisting a lot and hurting my arm from trying to pull myself back towards the direction of the line. I had a panic attack as we approached the final line, which was their longest and highest (1 kilometer long over a huge valley) and it took a lot of convincing to get me to actually do it. While some people really seem to thrive on that intensity that comes from doing something extreme, I don't exactly feel comfortable and don't see myself ever doing it again.
Waves can kill you
I almost got taken down by a wave. I've never swam on wave-y beaches before and thought it would be fun to float over some small waves. That was, until a bigger wave than I anticipated, came up over me and I tried to jump up so I wouldn't get overtaken by it, but that might've made it worse, since it took me down with it and I was underwater struggling to get up to the surface for what seemed like forever. In the midst of this I lost both my sunglasses and my bathing suit straps (which meant I had to hold my top up while I walked back to the hostel in shame and pain). Now I know to take the riptide warning seriously and that staying closer to the shore is better than trying to go out far enough where I can no longer touch the seafloor my toes.
You get what you pay for with cheap buses
While getting around Costa Rica by bus is incredibly cheap, this doesn't mean that it's going to be luxurious. On our first bus ride from the capitol of San Jose to La Fortuna, our bus suddenly stopped when we were about halfway there and because everyone else on the bus was speaking Spanish, it was very unclear what was going on. There was construction up ahead so I figured it might be because of that, but then we weren't moving for an hour and the bus driver kept getting off and walking around and I was so confused. Eventually I heard sirens and then an ambulance pulled up in front of us and a guy with a bloody arm walked down the middle aisle and got off the bus. We finally then drove down past the construction and I thought we were on our way, but the driver pulled over and police drove up and spoke to the driver for almost another hour. I'm still not quite sure what happened, but we were 2 hours late to our destination, which isn't terrible, but it goes to show that paying more for a private shuttle means you get speed and less potential for bloody fellow passengers.
I love to swim
This list isn't all negative, I swear. I forgot how much I love the water. I used to swim all the time as a kid, but getting older, my hair became something I didn't want to mess up, so I stopped going in the water. But being on a beautiful beach, with the water so blue and clear and stepping into it and it's not freezing is a wonderful feeling. I totally understand why people go to Hawaii now. Not only were the beaches lovely to swim at, I also went swimming at a big waterfall as well as the most amazing natural hot springs at the base of a volcano.
I need to get fit
I embarrassed myself so much on this trip. When you don't do anything really active for a long time, it adds up and makes your heart want to explode the moment you do anything that's a little bit extra. For me, it was taking a tour that included a hike and then learning when we got there that the hike was up a volcano and that I am seriously the most unfit person in the world. After huffing and puffing and stopping every two minutes to catch my breath as we walked up the "easy" part of the hill, I totally became the dumb, fat American that the others on the tour were definitely judging as I held them up by being last. Thankfully right before we hit the difficult part, the tour guide gave us the option of taking a different tour that didn't involve my heart bursting. In total shame, my boyfriend and I walked down the hill and waited for the next tour to come pick us up. While the other tour was definitely much better for me, I felt bad making my boyfriend have to leave the other one, and to make matters worse, we ran into the other tour group later and I never felt more unhealthy in my life as they all glanced at me in recognition of my failure. It did give me the inspiration to make sure I start working on my fitness so this doesn't happen in the future.
It's not just a jungle
Perhaps it's just my ignorant American view of the rest of the world, but I was incredibly surprised to find out that Costa Rica isn't just an Amazonian-like forest. There are cities and towns everywhere and people live there and thrive and I felt dumb for thinking it wouldn't be like this. While there is a lot of green in this country, it's also quite populated in the metropolitan areas and San Jose even had parts of it that looked much like Los Angeles, with parks and tall office buildings and the rolling hills in the background. It opened my eyes up to realize that I'm ignorant in thinking that only America or Europe could have these things and I need to not go into new countries or places with a set way of thinking, otherwise it will continue the stigma that everywhere other than Westernized countries are third-world, which they aren't.