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Travel: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I didn’t have much time in between my last two trips to write about the first, to Costa Rica, as a separate entity. But by all means, I should say it certainly deserves to be a post of its own. (This will probably be it.)

And somewhere in the depths of the stark contrast between my visit to Costa Rica and my visit to Europe lies a whole lot of discovery. About the world, yes. About the people who inhabit it. But mostly, thankfully, about myself too.

Aside from the easier smaller things, like not wanting to travel alone anymore or lug around bags from location to location, I learned that I no longer want to travel the same way again. That is, the same way I’ve been traveling for basically my entire life. Not that anything is wrong with it, if you’re into it. And I’m super happy I finally made it to Venice. It’s an incredible place for sure; like nothing I’ve ever seen before. But I probably don’t need to go there again. (Cinque Terre, or basically Italy in general on the other hand.. Plenty more to explore in the future.)

The loneliness of my travels I can deal with. It’s not much different from when I’m at home. But what I’ve truly realised, and come to appreciate about myself after having one of my best trips ever in Costa Rica, is that I don’t care to see ancient cities anymore. I don’t care to walk around in squares and admire basilicas and architecturally marvelous buildings that were carved from the blood and sweat of those less fortunate, or created with the wealth stolen from my ancestors who couldn’t dream of ever inhibiting the same city where it stands. I don’t care to wander around in places littered with tourists and man-made history and hustlers trying to make their living off the eager-to-spend vacationers. No. This isn’t the kind of traveling that makes me feel like a citizen of the world—that makes me feel a part of it. Like more than just another anonymous face in the crowd or spectator watching the world from behind a translucent screen. This kind of traveling is lazy… empty… And incomplete, at best.

From now on I want to see the world through the eyes of those who live with nature. Not above it. I want to travel to the less inhabited areas. I want to visit farms and ashrams and yoga retreats in the middle of nowhere. I want to see the land. I want to pick local fruits off wild trees, and sit under them drunk from the natural sugars and maybe also the sun. I want to create relationships with the “land grazers”—the people who really know the ground they live on; the people who have been there to watch as the trees went from seed to 20 feet high. Who used to climb the coconut tree when they were younger, and now can’t see all the way to the top.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, this is what I did in Costa Rica. (Aside from build a house of course.) I got to know the people. I got to know the land. I made friends. I ate more fruit than I can count. I even introduced new fruit to some of the locals. I had good food. Good company. And a really really good time for an even better cause. I learned. I helped. I ate fruit. I grew. I expanded my linguistic skills. I ate fruit. I became more motivated. I got closer to my truth. I made a difference. I ate fruit.

As cliche as it gets, it is necessary for me to say that I went there expecting to change the lives of those under the radar, which I certainly did. But I left a changed person myself. They may even have helped me more than I helped them.

Even though I built them a home.

And yes I’m very aware of how dramatic that sounds. But I do believe it wholeheartedly. We, my group of six others and I, lucked out with the family we got to help. It sounds bad, considering the circumstances. But they really seemed to already have everything they need, except maybe perspective. And that’s where I come in. No doubt about it, they live in poverty by our standards. But poverty, sometimes, can be a synonym for simply … simple. They had shelter, they had electricity, they had running water, a bathroom, a washing machine. They had each other, they had beautiful togetherness, and they had an abundance of fruit trees and land. I’m sure there are important things they lack as well, but from the outside looking in there was a lot to admire.

And I think it’s important to admire it.

Their land was bountiful. They had coconut trees, banana trees, rows of cacao, June plum, Otaheiti apple, jackfruit, pepper trees, lime trees, oranges, papaya.. And that’s just what I could see from my limited construction area. Their house, too, in its own way, was beautiful. I looked at the sticks of wood, strung together side by side, that created this structure above them and wondered if I could ever build something like that. Sure I was there to build a house. An “actual” house. But if I found land somewhere in the middle of the forest, could I build myself a home? One that stands up to frequent rainfall? One that is separated into a kitchen, bathroom, living room…

Could you?

For our part, we had instructions. We had tools. We had supplies. All thanks to the awesome logistics of the really dedicated and inspiring Costa Rica TECHO team. But what if we didn’t? I think these are important things to consider, especially in this world where we pride ourselves on being “independent” and “successful”. Because the truth is, unless you live like these people, of whom I was now trying to convert, you aren’t independent at all. And not only are you not independent, but you’re enormously dependent on people you don’t even know. They build your house. They build you car. They give you money. They give you food.

What, exactly, have you succeeded at?

And like I said, I know it sounds bad to the average person—me praising the people living in poverty for their way of life. I know they were glad for and deserving of the help, as they have truly been neglected by the outside world. And the experience—sleeping on the floor, getting eaten alive by something that made my ankles/feet swell and become so painful I couldn’t walk, exchanging tears at the end when we handed them the keys—I wouldn’t trade for the world. But it just really got me to thinking: how do we find the balance?

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