I am writing to you as someone who for the first time in over one and a half months, is traveling completely solo again. It is incredible how easy it becomes to fall back on a traveling companion, effortlessly you take advantage of having someone to grab a bite to eat or to talk to. It takes far more energyto make conversation with strangers and to orient yourself in a new place, without another person to bounce off your itinerary with. And for the first time on my trip, I feel completely unmotivated to do anything. Perhaps it’s a passing phase – one that will last just the night. Or maybe it’s because I’ve entered the phase of long term traveling where I actually have an end date. I know, give or take five days, the exact moment that I will be returning to New York. I haven’t bought my flight yet, but I know that this will be happening quite soon.
And so, I now know that my travels are coming to an end. I am having that feeling of wanting to buy a ticket tomorrow and just leave, because what’s the point otherwise? Or perhaps this is just me, for the first time, actually being comfortable with the idea of going home. I’ve seen so many new places and had so many incredible experiences that I am now feeling content in slowing down, in skipping various “must-see” locations and not feeling as if I am missing out on the next big adventure in a particular place. Ecuador was my last rush to the finish line. Costa Rica (and then finally, Cuba), are my last two countries. It is here that I will slow everything down as I transition back to the completely unknown life I have awaiting me in New York City.
Part of me forgot how to be alone, how to sit in my own thoughts. I can’t do even that, as I have this desire to write here, on this blog, to whomever catches this post. I initially set out to travel completely alone and to feel what that is like for a long period of time. But then, unexpectedly, I wasn’t alone for a time. Then my mother came to Costa Rica the day I flew out of Quito, and I spent a week with her. But yesterday she went back to New York, and I am alone again.
I understand why people fear traveling alone, or why they just prefer traveling with someone else, even if it means constantly making compromises or not having much time to oneself. I can relate to the good and the bad of both types of traveling, and I am not sure what to make of it or of how I feel about one or the other just yet. I’ll need to give it more time, perhaps settle into the solo-traveling spirit once again to see just how traveling with others has changed me (if it has at all).
When I arrived in San José, I met my mother at the airport, as she arrived just a couple of hours after I had. I called to her and cried immediately after seeing her. Maybe it was because I was overwhelmed at the ordeal at the airport in Quito, almost barred from flying out of the country, or it was because I hadn’t seen her in almost half a year. Maybe it was because I knew I finally had a break from the backpacker lifestyle, a reprieve, an opportunity to step into a mini-vacation. In hindsight I think it was a combination of the three.
I was curious before my mother arrived how it would be, the two of us traveling. She is someone with whom I developed my love of traveling to new and exciting places. It was with her that I went to India, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Israel. She taught me the beauty in exploration, to prioritize traveling over material possessions, and to constantly seek out and absorb a place’s culture and language. She supported me when I wanted to study abroad in Paris, and has since supported my desire to visit every single destination I’ve chosen thus far around the world. We hadn’t traveled together in a long time, and so when she suggested she come meet me in Costa Rica for a week, I knew it would be so great to have her join me.
It was immediately clear that the two of us haven’t changed much in the way we interact. She’s definitely my mom, but she’s also a friend. I felt as if I had just seen her a week ago; the amount of time that had passed was irrelevant. I kept weekly communication with her while traveling, which allowed us to continue right where we left off, without many gaps to cover. I was looking forward to not only spending time with her the way I would on normally in New York, but to also give her glimpses into what my life has been like as a budgeting solo-backpacker. I knew we wouldn’t be traveling in a similar way while together, but I intended to show her the “if I was alone” thought process so that she could see what’s been about for me.
Throughout the week I realized that although I had a beautiful time with my mother visiting Costa Rica, I was unaccustomed to our style of travel as it had been a long time since I had taken a real vacation. And I preferred the more rustic, challenging, backpacker way. Maybe it’s because I’m still in my “youth” and able to stand the discomfort for now, or it’s frankly because I haven’t had the choice financially but to travel in this way. It may be both of those things, but I also feel that it’s a difference in mentality. I know that when my mom was my age she did things exactly the same way I had. And so I do not judge or question her motives for traveling differently now. Rather, in the places that we stayed at and where we visited, I was exposed to a far different set of people than I was used to the past couple of months.
And it got me realizing that I just plain didn´t want to become the classically western American/European traveler when I grew older. Costa Rica has had more American tourists thus far than anywhere else I have visited, and it´s obvious the changes that the country has made to accommodate the comfortable traveler. That is not to say that traveling comfortably is bad– it´s just different. It was also difficult for me to transition into not thinking so much about cooking a meal at a hostel, or budgeting my food expenses for the day, after I had done so for five months. I felt like I was cheating on myself, not being true to my intentions of the budgeting backpacker. And it got me thinking, have I missed out on certain experiences just by not having the means to go to a certain place or see it in a certain way? Or have I seen and done more roughing it? I am not sure the answer to this yet. I think I’ll leave that to another time.
For obvious reasons my mother’s primary intention in Costa Rica was to spend time with me, so she didn’t entirely mind what we saw in the country. And so we purposefully took advantage of the rental car by going to areas that would have been more difficult for me as a solo-backpacker.
We drove 1200 kilometers in one week, and I felt a bit guilty for not driving a single kilometer. But having a car in Costa Rica turned out to be far more convenient than not having one, and I was happy to have that luxury while my mother visited. Our first stop was on the Nicoya Peninsula, where we took a ferry at a town called Puntarenas and from there, drove to the Pacific coast to the town of Santa Teresa. An ATV or 4×4 is needed to navigate these roads, which made for some bumpy, yet fun driving. This region is difficult to access by most, and so the beaches are pristine and lack many tourists. You’ll find a more hippie backpacker vibe here along with yoga enthusiasts and most of all, surfers. The waves are a heaven for them! A trip to the beach around sunset is a must. Near to Santa Teresa are various beaches, and an hour drive along the peninsula is Montezuma, another hippie town with a lovely waterfall hike. Playa Santa Teresa, however, topped my list as one of the most authentically beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica.
We then went back on the ferry out of Nicoya and drove north to the Guanacaste region to explore the beaches on the north Pacific coast. This area certainly had more of the touristy atmosphere that I had expected from Costa Rica. Tamarindo had everything your average tourist needed to make for a comfortable vacation. We did some yoga together at a studio, and our Argentinian instructor I would add to my top five yoga teachers I’ve ever had. We also drove to some well known beaches in the region, Playa Flamingo and Playa Conchal. Playa Conchal is named because instead of sand, the beach is covered with crushed seashells.
After Tamarindo we drove to La Fortuna, home of the active Arenal Volcano, whose last eruption was in 2010. The drive along Arenal lake was beautiful.
The volcanoes peppered within the country leave lush countryside for coffee plantations, waterfalls, canopy adventures, plenty of wildlife, and best of all, thermal hot springs. My mother and I spent an evening at Ecotermales, the only baths in the region whose water comes naturally from a hotspring and that is not pumped through. The baths are set beneath pristine jungle, and we enjoyed listening to the sounds of howler monkeys at their bedtime.
On our way to San Jose
from La Fortuna, on an admittedly dizzying and singular winding road, we stopped at a coffee plantation for a tour of the coffee making process. The Doka Estate Coffee Farm,
at the base of the Poas Volcano, although geared towards the more traditional, vacation tourist, was really informative and interesting. After all, no tour of Costa Rica would be complete without learning about it’s famed coffee. The farm had its own butterfly garden, where I was reminded of the visit to the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly House in Iquitos, learning of the incredible effort and care it takes to cultivate these species of butterflies and of their short-lived yet humbling life cycles.
We completed our tour of Costa Rica with one day in downtown San José, which is admittedly not a very pretty city. Much of the historical architecture is gone. We did visit the Gold Museum and a fabulous free museum called MAC (Museo de Arte Costarricense), the city’s old international airport terminal from the 1930s that now contains art from the 19th century to present. Our mutually favorite Costa Rican artist Francisco Züniga had some of his sculptures there, and I was delighted to finish off our time together enjoying an art visit, which we would do on a regular basis in New York.
Traveling with my mother made me realize that, for now, I wanted to continue to travel the way that I enjoy the most, as a backpacker. And I see that I can’t ask for the same of her when we travel together. But it’s also not so bad to do it the way we had, and I look forward to many more adventures with her. I do think we continue to rub off of each other in both our travel styles, which has always made for far more interesting travel destinations and experienced. And I know that we’ll continue our untraditional travel adventures in the future.