Learning Spanish in Costa Rica
A few weeks ago I promised myself that before this year ends, I would publish a post that I have been meaning to write for a very long time. I don't know why it has taken me this long to write about the amazing six-weeks that we spent in Costa Rica at the end of 2015 (perhaps some experiences are just so good that you can't really put them into words!) but in order to end 2016 off on a positive note (and to finish all the things that I promised myself that I would do this year) I am happy to share a brief account of our whirlwind adventures in the land of Pura Vida (the good life)!
The Purpose of our Trip
Whenever we share snippets of our Costa Rican adventures with friends and family, people are slightly surprised to hear that we actually travelled to this Central American eco-paradise in order to learn Spanish! We visisted Costa Rica around the same time when we were involved in our relocation from Singapore to the United States in 2015, and after packing up our lives in Southeast Asia we decided to take some well-deserved time off in a place where we not only could soak up the beautiful natural surroundings, but also immerse ourselves in its culture. Given Costa Rica's abundant and famed natural beauty, its peaceful island-vibes and its colourful culture, it was the perfect place where we could live out our six-week adventures!
Arriving in Costa Rica
Having always loved languages and diving into new cultures, I was thrilled as we arrived in San José - the country's largest city and capital - where we would spend the night before heading off to the province of Guanacaste, on the Northwestern coast of the country, where we had enrolled for a Spanish immersion course at a local language school . As we soaked up the laid-back vibes and breezy, tropical scenery on our journey to Playa Flamingo the following morning, I could see why Costa Rica is often listed as one of the most diversely rich destinations for eco-tourism. Besides spotting a few colourful Scarlet Macaws during our drive (causally perched on trees above a cafe at our rest-stop!) it was evident, from the surrounding lush and tropical greenery, that the country was brimming with exotic wildlife .
Finding our feet in Playa Flamingo
While I freely admit that there are very few challenges about living in a lush, tropical paradise such as Costa Rica (particularly in the sleepy-beach town of Flamingo that was to be our home for the next few weeks), settling into a new cultural setting is never easy - no matter how long or short the stay. Knowing that getting around Flamingo (a small rustic town with very little public transport) would be one of our biggest challenges during our six week stay, our first order of business was to find a car that would be our mode of transport for the rest of our stay. After settling into our comfortable " home-away-from-home" at the Casas Del Toro guesthouse near the small town centre, we were able to find a car hire company where we procured a lovely little Suzuki Jimney - our key transportation for gettting to and from the language school and for exploring the region to our heart's content!
Life at Language School
Besides being a life-saver for short weekend trips and excursions, our beloved little Jimney turned out to be the best decision we made in terms of settling into life at the language school. Each morning, after a hearty breakfast of typical Costa Rican staples such as grilled tortillas with a black bean paste and fried plantains (yum!), we hopped into our Jimney and made our (less than 10-minute) drive to the language school, nestled across a quiet beach on the main road. After attending four hours of intense Spanish classes in a small, intimate setting (about four learners per class) we would break at mid-day for lunch (once again, delicious Costa Rican favourites prepared and delivered by the guesthouse) and thereafter, we would either return to class for another four hours of Spanish lessons (they don't call it an intense course for nothing!) or on some shorter days, we would kick our shoes off and head for the beach across the road! As the weeks passed by we slowly established a routine that involved juggling our intense Spanish lessons with a game of beach ping-pong, exploring the rocky cliffs of the surrounding neighbourhoods and delving into the local cuisine!
With our school-life on track (and with the occassional task of having to tackle Spanish homework during the week!) our weekends were reserved for fun trips and little escapades to surrounding towns in the area. Besides visiting local markets and beach towns, some of the highlights of our weekend adventures included zip-lining through a mini rainforest (with a family of Howler monkeys watching and cheering us along!), attempting surfing lessons at one of Costa Rica's top surf spots, taking in views of the sprawling coastline and ofcourse.. sampling local cuisine!
Appreciating the Local Culture
After a few weeks of Spanish lessons, weekend jaunts and excusrions had passed, it began to feel like we had successfully started to carve out our own little life in Costa Rica. Not only did we slowly adapt to the unhurried pace of life in our small beach community, but we started to enjoy a more simple way of life and the benefits that come with a life lived far away from a reliable internet connection and a world that operates 24/7. From enjoying the quiet that came after a rainstorm while sitting at a beachside cafe, recognising (and being recognised!) by some familiar faces in community (like the local restaurant owner who began to dutifully correct our fumbles each time we ordered our meals in Spanish in her restaurant) and getting to know our lovely neighbours - it felt like we were getting closer to understanding (and living) life the Costa Rican way.
Finding Pura Vida
If there was a phrase to sum up our time in Costa Rica it would be equivalent to the country's unofficial motto of " Pura Vida " . While there is no direct translation for this wonderful phrase, each time we wandered into a local shop or cafe it would often be uttered as a greeting or sign of goodwill. At its core, Pura Vida and (the Costa Rican way of life) suggests a life of peace, well-being and taking it easy. Surrounded by the breathtaking mountains, beaches and rainforests, along with the good nature of the people that we encountered in Costa Rica, I can truly say that we got a taste of Pura Vida. How wonderful it is that by choosing to delve into a culture (and langauge) outside of our comfort zone we got a little slice of paradise in return!