Last winter, my family hosted Priscilla, a student from Costa Rica. This summer, her family invited my sister and I to come and visit them, so in July, we traveled to Costa Rica on our first ever international trip! Priscilla and her family were so hospitable and loved sharing their country and culture with us. Although I struggled with culture shock and language barriers from time to time, I think staying with a family made the experience much more authentic than if we had stayed in a resort.
The night we arrived, our host family took us to Denny’s for a late dinner since we didn’t get through immigration and customs until around 10 or 11pm and there wasn’t much else open. I ordered some “panqueques esponjosos” which was funny because I translated too literally and thought that meant “spongy pancakes.” After seeing an English menu I realized it meant “fluffy pancakes.” After ordering, despite the familiarity of Denny’s, I started feeling anxious about food and water safety and being in a different country. This quickly worsened, turning into panic, and I actually started hyperventilating. Priscilla and her family ended up sitting with me outside on the sidewalk for 30 minutes as I breathed into a paper bag. I think they felt really bad, but they tried to help any way they could, and I was thankful for their patience and kindness as I tried to adjust to being in a new place.
So things got off to a rough start, but when we woke up on day two I was feeling ready to get some food in my belly and explore the area! Breakfast was rice and beans, plantains, and a very lean bacon. After trying everything, I decided I could do without the plantains, but the rice and beans, and especially the bacon, were all pretty tasty. After breakfast, Priscilla gave us a walking tour of her town, Santa Clara.
This picture is taken from the “hallway” of the local high school. Many of the homes and buildings there were totally open to the outdoors, without glass or screens on the windows. Look out for mosquitoes!
On Friday (day 3), we visited Priscilla’s grandma in the morning, and went to a hot springs resort in the afternoon. I was promised a piña colada in a pineapple, but they ran out of pineapples. Nonetheless, the hot springs were as close to paradise as I have ever been.
On Saturday we went to Ciudad Quesada where we briefly attended a festival, tried some delicious homemade coconut candy, and drove through the mountains.
On Sunday, we went to a Spanish Catholic mass with Priscilla and then attended her church youth group after. The day we went was special because each of the students had to dress up in costume and present on a saint that they had learned about. One of the boys in the group was very sweet and tried to explain the information about his saint to us in English before the formal presentations began.
Towards the end of the presentations, I started to have chest pain and feel lightheaded so I drank some water, realizing how dehydrated I must have been, but the lightheadedness quickly escalated and I whispered to my sister that I thought I was going to pass out. She asked me if I wanted to step outside. I started to tell her I didn’t think I could make it outside, and the next thing I know I am lying on the cold floor and there are people circled all around me trying to get me to come to. There were a few moments where everything was fuzzy except for the strong scent of alcohol (someone was holding it under my nose to wake me up) which seemed to be the only thing holding me in the realm of consciousness. Slowly I began becoming more aware of my surroundings and realized that my hands, arms, and legs were completely numb and stiff (most likely due to more hyperventilation and panic), which sent me into even more of a panic. The semi-bilingual boy from earlier was right by my side the whole time, trying his best to calm me down and help me relax and stay warm. (He actually took off his saint costume and wrapped it around me.) Despite his efforts, I remained numb, stiff, and panicky, and they ended up calling 911 (or whatever the Costa Rican equivalent is) and I went to the hospital. They did a bunch of tests and thankfully found nothing wrong aside from the dehydration and my softball-sized mosquito bites and sent me home with some itch cream. I ended up skipping out on the evening’s activities (orchestra concert and dinner) to make sure I didn’t overdo it though.
On Monday, I was still feeling a little under-the-weather, but Priscilla’s family had some exciting activities planned so I decided to stick it out. We visited Catarata de La Paz (La Paz Waterfall) first, and then headed to La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park to see the Animal Sanctuary.
This is us at La Paz Waterfall.
This is what we saw when we first walked into the Animal Sanctuary.
Our first stop was the aviary and I am normally not a huge bird person, but I have to say, the toucans were pretty neat.
We actually got to hold them too!
But my favorite part was the big cats.
Don’t you just want to cuddle up with him?
On Tuesday, our short trip came to end and we flew back to the States. The trip was a bit stressful at times with my health concerns and minor anxiety, but I have no regrets (except probably the whole not-staying-hydrated thing) and I was glad to have had the opportunity to travel internationally and experience new foods, and traditions, and culture.