Global Adventures | Why Costa Rica Keeps Calling Me

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, leader Patti Polinsky shares why her trip to Costa Rica was a transformative experience.
Patti Polinsky Patti Polinsky
Global Adventures Leader
January 18, 2020

A trip to Costa Rica is an all-sensory experience. The various fragrances are more pleasing, and different, than any you experience here in the US. The sounds are unique too, with wildlife chattering in preserves and an entertaining hum buzzing through the towns and villages. The sights are raved about, and it’s easy to see why; you’ll find tree-top bridges, great sand beaches, vibrant farms growing flowers shipped to local shops, stunning volcanoes, aromatic coffee farms, and, of course, rainforests teeming with life.

In March 2019, a group of Mountaineers set off to Costa Rica to have this all-sensory experience firsthand. Federico, our guide, came bubbling into the hotel in San Jose that first morning to greet us, and little did we know how much excitement he had in store over the next 11 days. We met our driver too, Shampoo, a middle-aged Costa Rican who was always smiling. Even though he said, “I do not speak English,” he was still generous enough to laugh at all of our jokes. We wondered, why the name Shampoo? He gained that nickname because his pure white hair, cropped short against his head, from a distance looked like he had forgotten to rinse his head after sudsing up with shampoo!

In Costa Rica we learned about the concept of “Pura Vida”, which means being happy and keeping your eyes off your watch. We greatly enjoyed the slow, relaxed, and unhurried pace we found upon arrival. A sense of community was present wherever we went, as you’ll talk with everyone you cross paths with (regardless of the language spoken)! Taking time to enjoy where you are and the people you are with was a lesson we were happy to learn.

Unplanned experiences happened every day. When we arose in the morning, we always wondered where and what Federico would share or if we would find treasures not listed on the itinerary. At one of the lodges where we stayed, nearly everyone had a story about their unique bungalow with open-air showers. Some opened their door to a wonderful tree-lined and wildflower-enclosed outdoor bathroom. Others found a 3-inch scorpion sitting in the middle of their shower and an iguana on the front porch, tail wrapped around a beam. Some heard a group of howler monkeys hooting across the forest, noisily announcing their arrival. Others enjoyed the music of a melodious blackbird as they showered. I’ve never been to another place where you can see so much of Mother Nature by just being there!

When we stopped to see greater-than-life-sized topiary around a church, we heard music from a distance. With time to explore, we were thrilled to discover a local Saturday farmers market! We saw fruit and vegetables, the same ones we’d been enjoying all week but had never seen raw. Stalls featuring local candies and crafts sat nearby. The music only added to the wonderful experience.

Federico offered so many unexpected moments. When he heard or saw anything, we’d change direction immediately not to miss it. One minute we’d be in the midst of a cultural experience and the next we’d be staring at an animal you’d never expect to see. A locally renowned photographer, Federico had an uncanny ability to make birds materialize into the center of his spotting scope for us enjoy. The mantra for our time together became: “Keep your cameras and cellphones at the ready to capture these special, one-time only experiences in Costa Rica.” Federico was an amazing guide, and made this first Mountaineers trip to Costa Rica a lifetime adventure for all of us.


Interested in your own all-sensory experience? We have a number of upcoming Global Adventures trips led by our experienced volunteers to help you explore around the world, including a trip back to Costa Rica where we’ll see turtles nesting and eggs hatching. For more information, visit our website.


This article originally appeared in our Winter 2020 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.


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