Happy New Year and Merry Christmas! I’m bringing in the new year with lots of posts and updates. I am home for the holidays and have been enjoying the short time I have with friends and family, and I miss the home I left behind in Jaco, Costa Rica. Although I’m home in Pennsylvania now, I really feel I need to dedicate some posts just discussing my experiences in Costa Rica and any advice for those considering traveling there. When I traveled from place to place I reconsidered posting my whereabouts as they were happening, so now that I’m no longer abroad I can tell all!
First off, I stayed in a perfect “learning vacation” school called School of the World (Escuela del Mundo) for about 7 out of the 12/13 weeks I was in the country. My original intentions were to only stay there for 5 weeks and then fly back home, but I fell in love way too easily and couldn’t imagine returning when the flight date very quickly came around. I also felt like I hadn’t seen enough of the country and wanted to take advantage of all the beautiful experiences Costa Rica has to offer while I was there. School of the World focusing on the concept of a “learning vacation for travelers”. Located on the Pacific side in Jaco, only 7 minutes down the road from the ocean, it is seen as a retreat for lone backpackers or those who just needed to get away and also want to learn some skills while relaxing and meeting new friends from all over the world. You can take surfing, spanish, yoga, and photography classes. I took photography and surf, and found different passions in both of them. I also found a lot of comfort in being able to come back to a place where practically everyone speaks english, other times outside of the school I felt a bit alone because I can’t speak fluent spanish and I wanted to have a conversation that didn’t require so much effort. The staff is fantastic and unforgettable, the architecture of the building is even better than the pictures and created by the owner, a renown artist, and the rooms were great, with hot water and AC, and clean! But the experience is entirely the people, who have so many stories to share, some about travels around globe with just one backpack, and of course the great times you will have with them in the short or long time you will spend together. Because I was there much longer than most, the staff became my only reliable friends for 7 weeks, but the friendships I formed with those passing through School of the World are unique and unforgettable, and their posts on Facebook (although most in Swiss, German, Spanish, and French) continue to be the most interesting on my timeline. Very happily have homes to crash around the world now:) I strongly recommend this school to anyone who plans on passing through or traveling to Costa Rica, and I’m warning you now, you will not want to leave!
The town, Jaco, is a place I bonded with as well. It really is a second home for me. I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s a very safe beach town that is much, much too easy to get settled down in. The locals are as friendly as can be, as long as you don’t steal any of their waves. The nightlife is unlike anywhere I’ve been in CR, things don’t close at 5 or 6pm like most towns, bars and clubs are open late and can be a blast if you’re with a great crowd. Locals are great dancers, there is a Ladies Night every night at different bars, especially Orange Pub and Los Amigos. Orange Pub and Space Jaco were two of the most fun nights I had at bars, the people and music are always great as long as you’re out late enough; people go out late and come home in the morning in Costa Rica if they party! If you want some great burgers head to Los Amigos and Green Room Cafe, the latter being my favorite restaurant in Jaco! Breakfast served until much after lunch, candles everywhere, tapestries hanging from the ceiling, Jack Johnson playing and unique and trendy food and beverages. Every Wednesday and Friday we would get half price (!!!) sushi from Tsunami Sushi, which is absolutely incredible! Strongly advise the tempura, crab cali, and crunch rolls. Crap, now I’m hungry. Well, Jaco doesn’t have the best name for itself in most other areas of the country because it is thought of as a touristy surf and skateboarding town closest to the capital, San Jose, and next to the famous Playa Hermosa, and for it’s legalization of prostitution (not as bad as you think I promise). But it really can’t and should not be defined by that. It is safe, clean, friendly, fun, and the environment is one you can only experience if you are there.
Like I said, I wanted to see more of Costa Rica. So I packed my bags, with the promise I’d spend my last week in CR at School of the World, and got to see the country all the way to the Caribbean ocean. Just a tip, if your travel plans are flexible…never, ever bring a suitcase. Biggest mistake, although I originally thought I would just stay put for 5 weeks, I should have never brought half the stuff I packed anyway! As I’m packing this week for my next adventure I’m sincerely hoping I learned my lesson on this. Anyway, I took the scenic bus ride with lots of beautiful hanging clouds over the mountains and bridges, to the capital, San Jose, which isn’t very great, to be blunt. I’m not much of a city girl, but I’m always impressed by NYC or even Philadelphia. San Jose doesn’t give you that vibe and impact that a big city with skyscrapers does. But, you have to suffer with it making you feel just as dirty and the crowds and hustle-and-bustle are just as hectic, if not worse. Most travelers I spoke to seemed to feel the same way, and everyone just agreed San Jose is worth maybe a one night stay and a short day trip. I was sent to a homestay about a mile south of the University of Costa Rica. This was by far the hardest part of my trip. The older couple was outstandingly sweet and thoughtful, but could not speak a word of english, and I felt incredibly alone living in their basement in an area of the city I was unfamiliar with and I knew could be dangerous. So for three nights I just sat back and tried to relax and enjoy the washer/drier they had, and especially the amazing home cooked meals. But for the first time during my entire trip I felt homesick. And not homesick for Pennsylvania or my house, but for Jaco and the friendships I built and the comfort I felt staying there. There were times I came really close to just packing up my bags and heading back home, it was only a two hour trip, and I didn’t see the point of sticking with being unhappy if happiness was so nearby. I was not used to being this outside of my comfort zone, but it was a challenge, and I’m proud I got through it with thoughts of future places I would see and many Facetimes and Facebook messages to friends back home and in Jaco. Thanks for putting up with my lonliness guys!
Very soon to be written: Trips to La Fortuna, the town below the Arenal volcano, Monteverde, home of the famous cloud forests, and Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean side, along with a life-changing experience with some monkey friends.