How I Found Myself Again in Costa Rica

This is what travel is about. We strain to renew our capacity for wonder, to shock ourselves into astonishment once again. ~Shana Alexander

Linda died on May 6th. Twenty days later I was on a plane going home to my folks to recover; returning to my parents who in their own right had given me two deadly scares. In October my mother’s appendix burst. Due to unforeseen negligence, 3 surgeries later, and 17 days in the hospital, she finally came home, but not before seeing Angels at the end of her bed. My dad, perhaps not wanting to be outdone, fell over on the golf course. For ten seconds his heart stopped. But being my dad, he refused the hospital and continued his game. He had a pacemaker put in that next Thursday. Suffice it to say, this year has been slightly stressful.

During this time of rest, I was invited to a press tour in Costa Rica. Now I had done press junkets all over California and Arizona, and my children had already logged in 13 state visits in their short lives, but I hadn’t gone international since I changed my last name.

This is ironic (and partly sad) because before I was married I had been to over twenty countries just in my twenties. Prior to when we actually went to war, I wanted to be an overseas war correspondent. Travel made me alive. I felt more at home in a hostel or a hut than I did in my flat in San Francisco. I felt myself.

But kids came. And with my kids, I did what I do with everything I am passionate about: I threw myself in whole-heartedly. I became a SAHM and I had no regrets. But to keep my toe in the passion pool of travel, I wrote and edited for an online travel site. When the kids went to bed, I tapped into the joy of telling stories about seeing new places.

For my trip to Costa Rica, I was returning to a land I had once explored. After calling off my wedding, I escaped to the jungle for a month to surf, to roam, and to find out who I was.

Now, sixteen years later, I was looking for her again. I had only left my kids for longer than an overnight once (when my mother was in the hospital), but I have raised my kids to be pretty independent. My 9-year-old was to be at his first week-long camp, and my 12-year-old was having special time with her Oma, so I had nothing to worry about. They were in good hands.

At the airport, I set my bag on the ground. I was determined to only go to Costa Rica with a carry-on, just like the first time. Of course, now being post 9/11, I wouldn’t be carrying a knife ON ME like I did that trip. Music in my ears and paperback in my hands, I rested my head on my bag and closed my eyes. I was free. Free to do what I like.

My grey streaks that I had just recently stopped covering, glistened in the airport window. They were a stark reminder that I wasn’t my 20-year-old self. But this 40-year-old, with her battle scars and earned merits of bravery and honor from all life had thrown at her, stared boldly into this new adventure.Arriving in Costa Rica, I was caressed with the same smells and breezes I had known before. The afternoon rain still lingered in the air. A charming guide brought me to my inn and I set my bag down and breathed out, “I’m home.”

The true fruit of travel is perhaps the feeling of being nearly everywhere at home. ~Freya Stark

That night I met up with the five other ladies I’d be adventuring with. When it’s your job to explore, you kind of assume you’re going to like other women who choose it as a job as well. And that I did. We had single moms, and entrepreneurs, one making a major professional change, and a 25-year-old. I describe her just by her age because that was me…then. Twenty-five and with the world open with unlimited possibilities.

We all knew how to tell a story. And we all knew how to have an adventure.So for the next five days, we white water rafted, swam under waterfalls, zip lined high above the jungle, and rappelled down stepping into thin air. Our nights consisted of long dinners and strong drinks. We talked loudly and sometimes crassly, like modern day female Hemingway’s. We exchanged travel stories like war stories. I was with my people.

I have learned this strange thing too about travel: One may return to a place and quite unexpectedly meet oneself still lingering from the last time. ~Helen Bevington

And I did find myself still lingering there in this country I loved so much. Each day I grew stronger and each jump off a boulder into the river was a reversed baptism of my old self coming back.In one waterfall pool, I found myself floating, staring up at the tress, repeating, “I’m so happy, I’m so happy.” I hadn’t felt that in a long time.

Every one of my senses was alive in Costa Rica. I felt, I breathed, I dreamed. I wondered how I could take this home with me.

It’s a trip of a lifetime when you get the chance to stay at one of National Geographic’s “Unique Lodges of the World” (Pacuare Lodge). But it’s a LIFETIME trip when you rediscover yourself there.

Fighting hard to keep remembering this feeling. Looking to where I’m going next…

Trips don’t end when we return home-in a sense it’s when they usually begin. ~Agenes E. Benedict

Author: stellarneller37

Stellar Neller is a name given to me in high school, and became my production company’s name in college when I tattooed the logo on my back. (Hey, we all do stupid things in our 20’s.) I’m a woman in travel who’s rediscovering what travel is in a new season, re-entering my career field, and looking at a possible move in the next year.

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