I guess you could say I fell in love again. Only not with a person, but with a place. I didn’t quite know what to expect when I decided to study abroad, but I didn’t expect to become so attached to this country. In fact, I didn’t know much about Costa Rica until I started researching countries to study abroad, and immediately was drawn to it as I learned more about it. I spent so much time anticipating and planning for this trip, but I didn’t think about how I would feel as it started to come to an end. I thought it would be exciting to see such a beautiful country and I had ideas about what it would be, but I didn’t realize it would become so much more, and that it would forever become a part of who I am.

As I was finishing up my last couple weeks of classes, most of the other international students that I talked to seemed to be excited about going home. It seemed as each day passed I felt more saddened about leaving Costa Rica and this beautiful experience. For once, I’m not stuck in anticipation for the future, but actually am happy staying exactly where I am. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely excited to see my friends and my family and get that homey feeling. But I don’t feel quite ready to say goodbye to this place just yet. I’ve become so present here.

Costa Rica, my first true travel experience, my first country outside of the US, the country that has turned my dreams turn into reality, the country that I fell in love with. I guess I could have anticipated this, the beginning of my wanderlust. I’m already planning my next trips, but Costa Rica will always be my first.

So I’ll just recount one of my favorite final trips in Costa Rica: About a month before leaving Costa Rica, I spent my last weekend at the beach in a beautiful beach town with a hippie vibe, where I got to enjoy sunshine and blue skies all weekend along the beautiful beaches. I spent the first day at the beach swimming in the sparkling blue waters, and the evening relaxing in hammocks. This same evening, I was able to witness a mother sea turtle crawling back out to sea after laying her eggs. It was so unexpected, as I had been talking about wanting to see sea turtles before leaving Costa Rica and had not planned on seeing them there. As I watched the sea turtle slowly drift toward the ocean, I was overcome by the beauty. It was one of those perfect moments, being at the right place and right time. I witnessed nature happening right in front of my eyes. I couldn’t stop watching in fascination as the turtle slowly made its way toward the sea, eventually disappearing into the dark ocean only slightly illuminated by the full moon above. To finish off the night, my friends and I enjoyed wine and roasted marshmallows around a bonfire along the beach.

The next morning, I woke up at 4:50 to see the sunrise on the beach. Surprisingly, this was actually the first time I had woken up to see the sunrise on the beach since arriving in Costa Rica, but it seemed to be the perfect beach and the perfect spot to see the sunrise. It was “muy tranquilo” this time of morning, but there were several others up bright and early enjoying the sunrise as well. Just as the sun was coming up, I saw a couple run out of nowhere into the ocean for a swim with their two dogs running out right behind them. They turned out to be a couple of the people who worked at the hostel I was staying. I watched in amazement as they swam in the sunrise, while their dogs waited for them and played along the beach as they swam. A perfect example of pura vida, these moments where I could truly enjoy the simple beauty of nature are the moments that make me happy to be alive.

The next day, I decided to take a bus to a nature reserve which was about 20 minutes away. I spent the next few hours hiking through the jungles (typical day in Costa Rica) and enjoying the untamed nature that surrounded me. Although I didn’t see much wildlife on this trip, I listened to peaceful sounds of birds, howler monkeys, and whatever other creatures may have been lurking all around me. Upon returning to my hostel, I enjoyed a delicious pineapple passion fruit smoothie (something I’m always craving in Costa Rica) with a great view for bird-watching in a tree where I was able to spot a couple of toucans. After spending some time exploring the town and the beach some more, I enjoyed a delicious typical Costa Rican dinner: rice, beans, vegetables, and chicken, followed by an evening of relaxing. It was a pretty perfect weekend, and I got to enjoy all of my favorite things about Costa Rica: the beach, the jungle, the wildlife, and the pura vida lifestyle.

Upon leaving from this trip, I started to feel this sense of sadness, knowing there is a good possibility I may never be in this country again. There is a possibility I will never see the beaches of Costa Rica again. Although I do hope to return here to visit in my future, I know there is a possibility I won’t, and a certainty that even if I do it will never feel this same way again. It’s not just the place, its the people, and the experiences, and the moments I’ve had in this place. That’s what’s made this journey what it is. This beautifully perfect experience cannot be rewritten. I know there are so many more amazing moments and memories to be created in my future, equally amazing and unique, but it’s still bittersweet leaving this part of my life which has meant so much to me, this experience which has taught me so much.

So, Costa Rica, one final thank you for all you have given me. Thank you for allowing me to grow and change more and more each day into the person I’m meant to be. Thank you for letting me see, smell, taste, feel, and listen to your beautiful untamed nature. Thank you for letting me explore your incredibly beautiful beaches and feel the warmth of your blue waters along two coasts. Thank you for opening my eyes to a new world, new people, and a new culture for the first time. Thank you for allowing me to experience and understand other cultures and people and the bigger world that exists around me. Thank you for making me more aware. Thank you for taking me out of my comfort zone. Thank you for allowing me to meet so many beautifully unique people. Thank you for allowing me to grow into a stronger, more confident person. Thank you for accepting me exactly as I am. Thank you for helping me decide who I want to be in my future. Thank you for teaching me how to live simply, how to truly live in the moment, and truly love life. As my tico dad said the other day “I like this life. It’s a good life.” I would have to agree.

Costa Rica, you have become so much more than just a travel destination, I can truly say you have become my second home. I may still need to explore the world first, but I’ll never forget you. Until we meet again…

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