A Day in Paradise

by Kristin Mitchell

Just yesterday, I was in the humid, lush green rainforest in Monteverde, Costa Rica.  This morning, I am enjoying a delicious breakfast of gallo pinto—the traditional Costa Rican dish consisting of black beans and rice—with juicy, sweet pineapple, steaming hot coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice.  My Spanish teacher wanders over to our table and greets my breakfast companions and me with a lively “Buenos dias, chicas!”  He is decked out in a floppy hat, t-shirt, cargo shorts and his trademark Birkenstocks and woolen socks—not exactly the epitome of high fashion.  Despite his embarrassing, dorky attire, we are all in high spirits.  After all, why wouldn’t we be?  We’re in Costa Rica, having the time of our lives!  After breakfast, we’ll be on our way to the beach, which everyone has been anticipating since we landed in Alajuela near the country’s capital just a week ago.

I start my day by wandering down the street near the beach.  I stick out like a sore thumb with my pale white skin, but no one seems to mind.  The residents of Costa Rica, or Ticos, put us Minnesotans to shame when it comes to friendliness.  Every tanned face I encounter has a smile plastered across it, which puts a spring in my step and brightens my mood.  Every direction I turn, there are shops full of beautiful handmade goods, such as brilliantly colored woven blankets, and a plethora of jewelry shines up at me from the storefronts.

Just past the merchant booths, the sandy beach beckons.  The hot sand scratches my feet as I stroll toward the deep blue ocean.  The color of the water amazes me; I’ve never seen such brilliant hues of blue.  The sky looks almost dull in comparison.  The beach is lined with trees, where monkeys fool around and chatter.  Occasionally, I see a monkey scurry down from the tree to snatch someone’s belongings from the beach.

After some lounging in the sand and burning my fair skin to a crisp in the sun’s sweltering rays, I join some of the members of my group on a nature walk.  We venture into the trees behind the beach to explore.  The trees surrounding us are infinite shades of green, and we hike up the tough dirt path, working up a sweat in search of wild animals.  We spy furry, slow-moving sloths hanging from the trees, spot creepy, scaly iguanas roving the ground, and hear the calls of countless birds.  It’s a tough hike, but when we reach our destination, a spectacular lookout point, I forget about how tired I am. The cerulean water below me is peaceful and calm, disturbed only by large black rocks jutting out of the sea near the rocky, tree-lined coast.  I feel as if I can see for miles, and it completely takes my breath away.

I traipse back to the beach, walk across the scorching sand, lie down on my warm towel and turn on my iPod, making sure to hide it from those mischievous monkeys who will steal anything that looks remotely shiny and interesting.  I hear Juanes’s voice singing “Tengo la camisa negra…” which has become the unofficial anthem of our trip.  I find myself thinking in Spanish as a result of being completely immersed in the language for a week.  It just comes naturally when you’re forced to speak  and hear nothing but Spanish for a significant period of time.  I close my eyes, breathe deeply, smell the salty ocean air and the tropical coconut smell of tanning oil, and think about how lucky I am to be experiencing such a beautiful day in this tropical paradise.  I had to put in a lot of work flipping burgers at McDonald’s and coming home stinking of grease and salt in order to make it here, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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