Just when you think you have done the best thing yet on the Gap Semester, another amazing opportunity presents itself—and our past weekend in Cahuita is great testament to this. What I found to be most interesting was how Cahuita, which is located on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, compared to where we live in the Central Valley and how each place identifies itself. One thing that I picked up on was the difference in cooking styles. Since my arrival in Costa Rica, I have adapted to the daily consumption of “gallo pinto” which is a simple rice and beans dish with spices such as coriander, garlic, cumin, salt, onions, and a sauce called Salsa Lizano. When in Cahuita, the meal options did not appear to be much different, however when I ordered a typical lunch option at a restaurant of rice and beans con pollo (chicken), not only was I surprised by the name of the plate in English (and it is referred to that way) I was also surprised by the taste! Unlike where I live in San Jose, Cahuita creates a similar rice and beans mixture however uses coconut milk, cinnamon and allspice. Like both places, the rice and beans from the Central Valley and Cahuita were both rich in flavor and had their own twist. Experiencing traditional Caribbean food helped me to realize the different identities and cultures that exist in Costa Rica. After spending several weeks in the Central Valley, it is easy to think that in general, Costa Rica can appear to be a fairly homogenous place due to the food options, the people and the places; yet thanks to our weekend excursions, we are able to have a clearer understanding of how colorful and diverse Costa Rica truly is.
Our hotel in Monteverde gave us our best view of Costa Rica’s diverse natural beauty so far. The mountain’s slope dropped rapidly beneath the last building allowing us to look down the entirety of the valley. The first time I looked out on this view I was amazed by the blue color of the clouds hovering amongst the lower peaks. I thought it was interesting how the last light was rolling across the clouds much like it dances on water. At this point I realized that what I was staring at were not clouds but Puntarenas, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. The following day as we hiked through Monteverde’s cloud forest reserve and zip lined through the jungle I could not help but to be amazed by the diversity of the area. Being surrounded by jungle yet still able to see the ocean was something that I had never had the chance to experience before. The beauty surrounding us in every direction was breathtaking and unlike any other place. Yet, the diversity of Monteverde is similar to the diversity of Costa Rica as whole. No matter where I have found myself in this country, I have been blown away by the range of difference that I have seen. This has been true in not just the nation’s natural beauty. In San Jose, for example, life follows its own rules. A quality sushi bar can be found right next to a Soda, a restaurant serving traditional dishes. Clothing style ranges from business to beach wear, even in the concrete jungle. Having been surrounded by this physical and social diversity for the past two weeks I can confidently say that Costa Rica’s diversity is what makes it unique and beautiful. We, the Gap Pack, often talk amongst ourselves about how quickly our time here is disappearing. I know that I will spend every minute of our next three and a half weeks taking in this culture that I know I will never find in another place.
Costa Rica has served to be a new gateway for our group to expand our horizons linguistically and culturally. It has been one week since our arrival and I can honestly say my Spanish communication skills have increased and my understanding of the accepted culture within the household is now almost perfect. My time with my host father this past Sunday has been one of the better days of my life. My host father took me to a farmers market with what had to be over 300 vendors selling fruits and vegetables that looked almost surreal. I spent two hours with my host father going from stand to stand trying an assortment of exotic tropical fruit. I never had an interest in fruit and vegetables, but this farmers market opened my eyes to a whole new world of food. I now have a taste for guyaba and mamay which are two local fruit that are not sold in the USA, to my knowledge. Overall I am excited to see what other surprises and adventures are in store for me here in beautiful Costa Rica.