The world, I’ve learned, wants to be seen. But it also wants to be cared for. Humans are rather similar in that way: we crave attention just as much as we crave the feeling of being loved. Therefore the earth around us, in all of its mystery and glory, is merely just a reflection of ourselves. I suppose that’s why so many people flee to go backpacking in Europe or stay in some other remote location in the world looking to find themselves.
The answers to who we are and why we’re here all lie in the ridges of great mountains, the depths of blue oceans, the folds of never ending green hills and ancient castles, in european coffee shops, and small happy villages underneath palm trees. The answers lie in the unknown, the yet-to-be discovered, and the curious, eager mind of my 17 year old self.
I decided to travel to Costa Rica by myself. Well, not totally by myself. I embarked on a service trip with the organization Rustic Pathways along with other travel-hungry high schoolers from around the world. The service aspect of our trip was centered around sea turtle conservation, a growing concern that receives minimal attention, along with many other marine animal conservation efforts. I knew that if I was going to travel and see the world I had to have a purpose doing so other than to say I’ve been there and to snap a couple of instagram pictures.
I remember the bus ride through the jungle to the base house we stayed at being nothing short of extraordinary. Palm trees, over one hundred feet tall, devoured the view up above. Baby monkeys riding on their mother’s backs peered curiously at the foreign machine trudging its way across half-broken bridges and mud filled hills.
We young, uncultured, fresh eyed kids peered curiously back, intrigued by the reality of seeing something so natural and innocent in the middle of an otherwise terrifying environment.
It only took two days for us to realize that one should never walk outside barefoot unless you want to step on an insect with a lethal stinger, or feed the iguanas unless you want to wake up to them in your bed.
Nonetheless, life on the outskirts of Costa Rica was simple. “Pura Vida”, they call it, meaning “pure life.” It’s what our program leaders, all who were Costa Rican natives, would greet each other with. Eventually we all adopted this new phrase, waking up every morning in front of the ocean already sweating from the humidity, realizing that life really is pure.
During my 9 day stay in the remote outskirts of the rainforest with little electricity, no cellular service, limited water, and nothing but a mosquito net hanging above my mattress to seperate myself from the dense, portentous jungle at night, I discovered, or more so was reminded, of just how insignificant my being was. Now that is not to say that I have no purpose nor importance. However I was quite literally in the animal kingdom, a place so foreign to me that I was an intruder.
I awoke every morning in the same routine, to pad down the stairs and brush my teeth using the outdoor sink and then get dressed and ready to go to breakfast in the kitchen. Not a day went by that did not start without an iguana perched next to my pillow, or a monkey swinging through a nearby tree to watch the strange brown-haired girl walking around their forest.
When I thought of how I got up in the morning at home, so casually and comfortably, with a pot of coffee freshly brewed downstairs and a bathrobe hugging my body, I remembered that this is why I must travel. To be uncomfortable. To fall out of familiarity, and into the unknown where yes, snakes and crocodiles and incredibly large bugs share the same footsteps as you, but nonetheless, where we experience life in its most bare, naked glory. In experiences, and growth, and laughter, and memories, and learning. That is what makes traveling so imperative in this life.
Because I have learned that you can read all of the books, and listen to all of the lectures, but there is no person out there who has all of the answers to the world until they have seen it.
On our last night at the base house, all of the students were called into the kitchen for our final meeting together. The sun had just gone down, leaving the sky to reflect off the deep water, a gentle, dark blanket above us, flecked with tiny stars. The lights were turned off as we put flashlights into our empty water bottles. It was our own cosmic arena of tiny stars that we placed on the ground around us, allowing a soft yellow glow to bounce off of the walls. We arranged ourselves into a circle, not knowing exactly what we were doing, but everyone seemed to sense that this was it. The final goodbye.
Here we were, a group of kids ranging from 12 to 17 years old, strangers that knew nothing about each other 10 days ago, but would be friends for a lifetime. We were each given a ribbon that resembled the Costa Rican flag, and tied it onto the wrist of the person sitting to our left, sharing a story or memory we had with them while on the trip.
There were tears, there were laughs, and there was an understanding from each of us, though thousands of miles away from where where we came from, that we had found some sort of a home on the edge of this country. And it resided deep within one hundred foot palm trees, beyond any sign of civilization, nestled between rocks and the waves that crashed on top of them, and hidden in the stars that lit up the ocean. It was our little corner of the world that we would take everywhere with us for the rest of our lives.
When I got home from my trip, overtired and grateful for the feeling of a hot shower, a few more pieces of this puzzle called life fell into place. I did not have all of the answers to the world yet, but I did have a better understanding of why I had to see the rest of if to find them.
I believe in many ways we are put on this earth to be amazed. To be inspired and indulgent in our own pursuits. And yes, there is a whole lot out there that we just don’t know about and may never get a chance to, but that’s okay.
Because I can tell you right now, what’s out there is beautiful and magnificent and wonderful. It’s life. Hidden behind the nooks of small, wooden houses on the beach, and faded passport stamps, it’s all of the answers to everything you’ve ever wondered. So go out and get a little lost only to find exactly what you were looking for. It just might be the best thing to ever happen to you.
Cover image via Odyssey
Also published on Medium.