When you say “gracias” to a Tico, they don’t reply with “de nada”, but instead with “con gusto”, with pleasure. That exactly sums up the hospitality of this beautiful country.
It was everywhere I went, from the Monteverde campus of the University of Georgia, to the beautiful beach town of Nosara, where hustling tourists in the scorching heat bound to make someone grumpy and wishing for a nap more than anything else.
And it was in the phrase: “We invited you here, you ARE one of us.”
The invitation, unsurprisingly for those who know me well enough, was a geocache page. About a 30-minute bus ride away from we live in the heart of the rainforest in San Luis Valley, Puntarenas, is a quaint town called Santa Elena. There are exactly three geocaches in Santa Elena. Two of which are located within short walking distance from where the bus drops us off, so I snatched them up quickly. The third one, however, was a bit of a challenge. It required a short trek on muddy, unpaved road, where vans and trucks jetted by and occasionally a hostile looking dog would scare off me and my geocaching partner-in-crime, Tiana. It was also located in a park aptly named EcoPaz, and parks, like many establishments, have opening and closing hours, which can be very unpredictable in rural Costa Rica.
The first time we ventured to look for the cache was on Valentine’s Day. It was a Saturday, so the park must be open, I checked the hours online. But as luck would have it, we arrived to closed gates. Brief moment of contemplation “should we or should we not climb the fence?” followed by “are we even at the right place?”, which was confirmed by us backtracking and asking a local mechanic for directions.
Tiana: Maybe they’re closed for Valentine’s Day.
Me: What? That’s ridiculous. It’s not even a proper holiday.
Tiana: It is if you run a park in the middle of nowhere Costa Rica.
Me: Or it’s because it’s raining today.
Strike one. And we were late coming back to the bus to head back to UGA.
Let’s get something straight: I am a stubborn person. Extremely, even annoyingly hard-headed and single-mindedly fixated on what I want until I get it. My mom always said I got that from my dad. I disagree. Mom is a stubborn woman in her own right. One of her most admirable traits.
So Tiana and I found ourselves making the trek again two weeks later. It wasn’t raining, so no mud this time. Instead it was so dusty I could feel tiny pieces of rock blown up by the wind hitting my glasses. Again, we were greeted with closed gates.
Me: *frantically fumbling with my phone trying to figure out a way to contact the owner of the cache*
Tiana: I think this is a lost cause.
Me: *pulls up the EcoPaz Facebook page* There isn’t any closure announcement. God why is this happening!?
Tiana: I think we should go back, Chau.
Me: Oh hell no. We’ve come this far, and you will never hear the end of it if I don’t find this cache. *finds a phone number*
One of Tiana’s most admirable traits? She’s from Ecuador, so she speaks fluent Spanish. We called the park owners.
Tiana: They are opening at 10.
We waited for twenty minutes. A Land Rover pulled up. A man (Sergio) and his son (Ricardo) greeted us. We introduced ourselves as the one who called earlier. They opened the gates. The usual pleasantries were exchanged, and we talked about our traveling school by ways of explaining how an Ecuadorian-Lichtensteinian knew a Vietnamese. Sergio told us that he opened this park in the middle of nowhere for the people of Monteverde, for the children to have a place to play and connect with nature. He said he didn’t want it to be any kind of for-profit tourist service.
Me: And then sometimes people like us come and ruin that.
Sergio: Oh no no, we invited you here on the geocaching website, you are one of us.
I climbed the strangler fig to get the cache, business as usual. And then we went grass-sledding.
As we excused ourselves because we needed to run back to the bus, we thanked them. “Con gusto”, said Ricardo.
Yes, it was a pleasure, Costa Rica. Hasta la próxima vez.