I can’t believe that I’ve already been in Costa Rica for three weeks. That is half of my stay here. I have seen, experienced, and learned so much. And it’s not just by being a tourist – I try to be a part of the culture and life of the country. However, the nature and biodiversity is so beautiful that it is impossible not to visit the parks and places of interest while we are here. And to travel and visit, you need a mode of transport, whether it’s by van, car, train, bus, or simply walking. But every type offers another way of connecting with people, if you take the opportunity.
The simplest way to travel is by walking. We walk to the university, around central Heredia, and from one place to another during the day. But when you walk, you have to have a good sense of direction to get where you’re going. And that is not easy when you don’t have a good sense of direction, like me. The walk to the university is very direct, thankfully, but in other cases, it is not that easy. Sometimes, the best way to orient yourself is to get lost. That’s what happened when Phaedra and I went around Heredia for the first time alone. We used a map for the city but we couldn’t find our house when we came back. We asked a man for directions, but his accent was so difficult to understand that that didn’t help us at all. It turns out that we were very close to our house when we finally found it. After walking around Heredia a few more times, we have oriented ourselves a little better.
However, there is always the problem of traffic. When you are a pedestrian, you have to cross the street many times. In many cases, it’s easy to decide when to cross, but in other places it is not and you have to run so you don’t get run over by the cars – or by the buses! I can’t count the number of times that we were almost run over by the vehicles – one time my Tica family and I were very very close to a bus when we crossed the street. But we are still alive – and that is great!
The other option is to be a part of the traffic – whether it’s the train, the bus, or a car. First, let’s start with the car. I have traveled by way of my Tica family’s car to the Saturday market in Heredia, the movie theater, and to church. Also, our extended Tica family takes us to their house for the intercambio. And in these instances, the traffic doesn’t seem that bad. It almost seems normal, and we feel as though we are part of the family. However, I have also traveled by taxi and by Uber. When I went to the circus, I had to call a taxi because the other girls who were going didn’t live close to me. I was a little nervous to do it alone. And, because the trip was during peak traffic hours, the price rose very quickly, more than I thought it would. But, when i returned from the circus, the driver waited until I was in the house before leaving. And I appreciated that. Traveling in Uber is similar to the taxis, but it’s not an official form of travel. We go in groups with different drivers. Sometimes, we have a good conversation and other times we don’t. I like when we have the conversations because we can practice Spanish and learn something new about culture, the language, or places of interest.
Traveling by car is good when you have to travel at night or go to a very specific place, but if you want to go further away or to a city in general, it’s better to take the train or the bus. If you are with a group, you can travel in a private van – that’s what we did with our SOL group for our excursions. And you have to be prepared for the roads: in the city there is the traffic that can make the trip very very long. And in the countryside, the roads are very curvy due to the mountains. Even so, the van rides were very enjoyable, because of the nature views and for the naps that I took. Whether you are in a group or alone, you can take a train or a bus. I have only taken the train one time, and it was full of people. We had to stand and we didn’t have any idea about when the train was going to stop in San Jose. Thankfully, it wasn’t too much time because we had to use our leg muscles and lean against each other to stay balanced when we couldn’t grab onto something else to balance.
However, one of my favorite ways to travel is by bus. It’s cheaper and you can also meet other people. You should definitely travel in groups, but it is better to travel with an open mind and ready to talk to other people. Sometimes, they don’t want to talk, but sometimes they do. I don’t like introducing myself to other people, but when we are seated together, the opportunity arises. And I take it. When we took the bus for the children’s museum, I was seated beside a man who I talked to. We talked about my studies his work, and much more. Not only that, but a few days later, we went to Monteverde by bus (with assigned seats), and it’s thanks to God that Phaedra and I were able to get the last two seats on the bus. Everyone else who paid after us had to stand or sit on the floor – for a few hours at that. Despite having my backpack at my feet, the trip was comfortable and I had the opportunity to talk to a Costa Rican guy about many things – his recommendations for when we are in Monteverde (where he works, he was returning from visiting San Jose), our studies and goals, etc.
So, I feel that traveling is about more than seeing the natural scenery and touristic attractions. It’s about knowing the people that live in a country. Because a country is not a country without its people. And traveling, in whichever manner, is an excellent way to get to know a place a little better. But – if you don’t take the opportunities that come, you’re going to miss them. And you are going to miss the enriching of your life.