Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Perfectly Pura Vida?

I’ve just returned from a weeklong press trip to Costa Rica and, while I’m grateful for the amazing experiences that it afforded me, I must admit that I’ve never been happier to be home from a press trip. I even had a hard time keeping it together after spotting the 405 while I flew into LAX. This, I think, has a lot more to do with how the press trip was organized by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT), or Costa Rica Tourism Board—not with how Costa Rica itself, as a destination, really is.

Shady accommodations (with the exception of The Springs Resort & Spa and Trogon Lodge), 5 a.m. wake-up calls, painfully long bus rides, 6 p.m. lunches and 9 p.m. dinners preceded by long-winded PowerPoint presentations were the main culprits. (I’m not alone in my assessment, either; Christopher P. Baker, a fellow journalist on my press trip and the author of many, many Costa Rica guidebooks also agreed.)

But even though this trip may have had a disproportionate amount of downs compared to ups, I didn't exactly see it that way. I’m still glad I went on it and grateful for the opportunities that I had to see so much of Costa Rica. I also know that the ICT really had good intentions; they just didn't execute them in the best way sometimes. In fact, I’d still want to go back to Costa Rica in a heartbeat: I love its rich culture, its super-friendly people, its deliciously wholesome and hearty food and its breathtaking nature and wildlife.

And, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right? Or it just gives you a really bad chest cold like the one I have right now. Luckily, blog writing doesn’t require me to get up out of bed at all—or actually try to use my voice.

Another bonus from this trip? I got to know an amazing group of fellow travel writers, photographers and videographers from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and even Uruguay. Together, we muddled through somehow and I know that those shared memories are ones that we’ll always look back on with fondness and laughter.

Those memories and the lessons that I learned from this trip are truly invaluable to me now. More than the bags of Caffé Britt coffee or bottles of Salsa Lizano that I lugged home, these are the things that I will treasure most. Not to sound cliché, but it’s true: we might travel for many reasons but no matter where or why we go, we always learn something from the experience, especially so when things aren't necessarily perfect. So, in no particular order, here are the things I learned from my Costa Rica trip:

1. The ability to sleep on long bus rides is crucial when you have days that start at 5 a.m. and end at midnight. Lucky for me, I can fall asleep on any bus ride, even more so when it’s for three of four hours at a time on unpaved roads.

2. You’re never too old—or young—to play in the mud.

3. Off! Light & Fresh scented towelettes might smell better than the Deep Woods ones, but the Deep Woods ones work 10 times better. Trust me.

4. For that matter, bring a spray-on bug spray, too, and don’t forget to douse the bed sheets with it.

5. If the bathroom reeks of raw sewage and you’re being attacked by crickets while you sleep, resort to a makeshift shower of Charmin wipes, followed by the aforementioned Off! Deep Woods towelettes.

6. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to make zipline gear look remotely fashionable.

7. Before you take a sip of your vodka tonic, check to make sure there’s no cockroach at the bottom of the glass. To paraphrase Mr. Baker: "If Mexico is known for its tequila worm, does that mean that Costa Rica should be known for its vodka cucaracha?"

8. If I wanted to build my tropical dream house, I’d hire the owners of Monte Azul to do it for me.

9. I’m a sucker for handicrafts…

10. …and baby animals.

11. I really need to upgrade my camera and get a better lens. This was my best shot of the quetzal we spotted in the forests of San Gerardo de Dota. It's pretty awful.

 12. This is a postcard of what the quetzal actually looks like.

13. I know some people detest it, but I love papaya.

14. Hummingbirds never cease to amaze me.

 More to come later…

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