The Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica is said to be the most biodiverse place on the planet. It has held onto this esteemed title because it has been remote and difficult to access since time immemorial. Last week proved no different. The final leg of our journey found us on a small bus crossing from east to west across the peninsula, from Golfo Dulce to Drake Bay. This was a bus that was beholden to no schedule; mystery and whimsy dictated its comings and goings. And this was a driver that was beholden to no safety regulations or sense of decency when it came to cramming people into a small space; sardine factory owners across the globe yearned for a man like this. And this was a set of shocks and brakes that were not long for this world.
Mark and I sat, nay squatted, on the floor, while Grandma stood and Finn got a semblance of a seat atop a cardboard box full of sundries. A pro traveler as always, he fell asleep in a pool of sweat to the sweet serenade of rattles and bumps and river crossings on this beautiful dirt road in Mark’s arms on the floor. Just another day in paradise.
When we open the door to the casita that we will call home for the next week, we find our accommodations are far from advertised. Instead of a private, remote location this is more of a ‘home stay’ in the side yard of Christian, Virginia, and their son Yafeth. We share space, meals and most aspects of daily life not only with our host family, but also the surrounding village of extended family. We never quite sorted out who was who, but they all accepted us as part of that big family. The walking paths among the compound were a constant din of chickens, dogs, leaf cutter ants and little kids. With no other choice, we immediately entangled ourselves into the mix, a few words of Spanish and a few fist bumps later, and we were in.
For those who know me well, this phrase doesn’t escape my lips often: I was out of my comfort zone. The pack of children running wild through the yard was the best thing in the world for Finn, and one of the main elements we were hoping to find on this trip to Costa Rica. But it was also an intense presence to live with mere steps from the front door. Our privacy was minimal, the only semblance of a ‘workspace’ being the bed. (Sidenote, if anyone knows of a good chiropractor, please message us directly). Even then, the parade of children looking through the window to wave and smile was fairly constant between the breaks from the rambunctious futbol games right outside the door. If I left the door ajar, hoping for a hint of breeze in that steamy jungle to cool things back down to double digits, it served as an invite for the children to come in and point, giggle and awe at the maps on my screen.
The owners’ son, Yafeth, was a constant companion to us. As much as we wished for a few moments of family space, his sincerity, curiosity and good-natured spirit were absolutely endearing. He and Finn spent hours playing on the swing and floating toy cars down the creek, while Mark sat by helping to translate and watching for deadly Terciopelos. They both reveled in teaching each other new words in their native tongues and mimicking animal noises to each other (okay, truth be told that was mostly Mark and Yafeth). This was one of the experiences we had longed for – one that we hoped would shape Finn’s view of the world and the people out there that don’t look or sound like us.
During our stay we got to see the first day of school and every time when we passed by on the way to the beach, the kids would holler, “Hola Finn!!!” and insist on bringing candy to him. We were shocked to see that these same kids that were mostly shoeless and shirtless when rambling around the village wore starched uniforms and polished black shoes daily to school! Perhaps the theory is that if they are comatose from heat stroke, they can’t sass the teachers as much.
As much as I wanted to embrace this full immersion into the community, people, lifestyle and food, the pursuit to run a small business from the depths of the jungle took its toll. That week, a particular client wanted us to attend a streaming conference call with high level executives. In most of our homes in Costa Rica, our privacy, our workspaces, and the internet have been exceptional, and this could normally be accommodated. This week though, I had to delicately explain that we were ‘limited in our availability.’ Working from remote locations has its challenges, and most of these challenges we’ve been able to overcome. Soccer games in the yard with 10 screaming kids – that was a different story.
It’s been weeks since we left the Osa and Yafeth and his family. When I had the space and time to reflect on this week of our travels, I realized how conflicted I had been. I loved the connection to the people and place. I loved the community, the kids, and the feeling of being so accepted and welcomed, especially towards Finn. But I struggled with the constant lack of privacy, the noise and the action of a vibrant community center and working with constant distractions.
I learned it’s hard to have both. We can’t have the privacy and solitude that Mark and I naturally crave and migrate towards, and also foster an intense connection with a community. This stay was not comfortable, nor was it easy. But reflecting on prior life travels, the most powerful and transformative experiences have never been the easy ones. I have no doubt that Finn will remember this experience for a lifetime. He and I both. And after it all, I wouldn’t change one single thing (I didn’t really want to talk to those big wigs anyway!)
On the way to board our taxi boat to our next camp, we walked past the school one last time, and Finn gave his new best friend one last hug. Then we walked with the owners to the beach. I had tears in my eyes while I hugged Virginia, holding on entirely too long.