I’ve written before about my penchant for repeat travel. I don’t really understand people who check places off a list, who believe that going anywhere more than once is a waste of time, money, or a chance to bolster a count of some kind. Some travelers – I am clearly one! – happily return to places they have enjoyed (and even places they have not), perhaps to deepen an understanding or maybe to change their minds about a subpar initial experience. (Believe me, there is no value judgment intended here; I want to keep seeing new places as much as anyone else.)
Much of the last two-plus years has been a more painful exercise in repetition, not just in the travel realm, and when I looked back at where I had gone since my last post in July of 2021, I couldn’t help but see many of the same places over and over again. There were good reasons for that – family most of all – but the main one was that we hadn’t been able to really spread our wings in all that time.
Now, I’ve recently returned from my first journey out of the country since February of 2020 and it was, you guessed it, a repeat: my third trip to Costa Rica. It was the least ambitious of my forays there but still a great way to triangulate what I know about this small Central American country. Like many, we have cancelled our fair share of travel plans in the last few years, so when my son and his wife asked if I wanted to join them on a trip in late April, I jumped at the chance. They had their own travel goal: getting one final country stamp in their daughter’s passport before she turned two and had to start paying for a ticket!
Our family’s initial trip to Costa Rica was twenty years ago, a spring break trip with our three kids to the west coast of the country and our first experience with eco-tourism. The hotel had no A/C or TV, was strategically built into a jungly hillside to catch ocean breezes and optimally manage water and waste, and served food from sustainable and organic sources.
At our kids’ ages at the time, it helped that it was also a veritable wildlife refuge, with howler monkeys in the trees outside our room and giant iguanas that roamed the pool deck. A short jaunt down the road was Manuel Antonio National Park, a tiny gem that we spent several days exploring with knowledgeable nature guides.
We returned in 2005 to spend nine days of our Christmas break volunteering in a small village in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. This was not the same cushy vacation we’d had a few years earlier! We stayed in a rustic motel that cost $10/night, where my daughter and I found a spider the size of my fist in the ice-cold shower on day one. We dug trenches for pipes, mixed concrete by hand, moved endless piles of cement blocks, painted, hammered, and cleaned.
Overseas volunteer trips were in their infancy at the time, and we have always been happy we took such a trip before many of these ventures became little more than vanity projects. We felt truly connected with the villagers who worked alongside us for a week and a half, and we were required to take our work cues from them, whether or not we might do it that way at home. It was a valuable lesson in servant leadership. As simplistic and hyperbolic as it may sound, I still believe this trip was the initial driver for our children’s later careers and other life choices.
Last month’s excursion had no such lofty ambitions, unless bonding with my granddaughter and her parents counts (I think it does, actually!). This time, as we did on the first visit, we spent a day near San Jose to recharge after the long trip with a toddler. We were especially happy with that plan after our flight was delayed, our car rental became a series of mishaps, and we reached our hotel after midnight.
The rest of our days – again, on the west coast, this time in Jacó – were pure vacation as we walked the beach, played in the pool, and ambled into and around the small town for groceries, dining, and of course, ice cream. In a full-circle kind of outing on our last day, we took little E to revisit the eco-resort as well as Manuel Antonio National Park, and both were just as delightful as they were when her daddy was 14 years old!
It felt great to break the seal on staying put in the U.S. Now I’m itching for more, so I’ll need to twist J’s arm to get back out there in the near future. Until then, I’m savoring one more repeat stamp, even if I’ve got a couple of new ones in mind for this year!