I woke up the same as I always do, yet something was different this time. I could hear a lot of birds outside. But not just regular birds—exotic sounding birds—right outside my room. That was when it hit me: I am in Costa Rica! The previous day had been filled with long flights, long lines, and long bus rides. And I had crashed in the hotel without really taking in the fact that I was in another part of the world.
Filled with excitement, I jumped out of bed and ran across cold tile toward the sounds of the birds. The bathroom window slats above the shower were partially opened so I could better hear — but not see — the fascinating noises of this strange new world I was now in.
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I wanted to see the birds, so I went to the main window in my hotel room and pulled back the drapes. I was surprised to see that my window was facing a cinder block wall about 2 feet away with a tin roof. That was when I also began to notice the traffic sounds as well. I was in the capital city of Costa Rica — San Jose.
I was part of an educational group of about 50 people (mostly middle and high school students) learning about Costa Rica and experiencing it first hand.
Over the space of 9 days I found myself in 5 different motel rooms (with much better views) in different parts of Costa Rica including the middle of a rain forest, in a windy mountain town, and at a coastal bird watching “resort” (that included a re-creation of on old-fashioned Spanish village).
We toured a coffee plantation, saw how Costa Rican handcarts were built and painted, and taught English at a middle school. We planted trees and learned how we were eating fruit all wrong in the United States. We also had some high adventure fun with zip lines, horseback riding, and kayaking beneath the Arenal volcano.
But the most amazing thing to me continued to be waking up each day before everyone else and just listening to the musical soundscape of birds, monkeys, and cicada beetles. I would often sit out on a balcony with a breathtaking view of wherever we were currently at and just read or meditate for the first hour or so of the day. It was amazing to say the least!
God was clearly showing off when he created Costa Rica.
Something I found interesting though, was how excited several of our Costa Rican guides became when they heard we were from Southern Utah. They had spent their entire lives looking at National Geographic pictures of Bryce Canyon and Zion’s National Park. They told us how lucky we were to live among the beautiful red rock formations that they had only seen in photographs.
Another interesting moment came after we had spent days spotting sloths, crocodiles, and Oropendulas. As we walked to the beach, a large and very captivated group of people were gathered on the trail ahead of us taking pictures and pointing excitedly in the bushes. When we reached them, we could see that the focus of their excitement was a female deer. One young man from our group mumbled under his breath, “I hit one of those with my car.” I smiled as my first thought had been how frequently they used to poop on my lawn at my last home.
I marveled at how what seemed common place to us was so fascinating to them.
Later, I noticed how uninterested the locals were with the howler monkeys as we all pulled out our cameras to record every move they made. I thought of the quote from ‘The Truman Show’ that says, “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.”
The next morning as I rose early and listened to the colorful sounds of the jungle, I thought about how awesome this world is, and all of the beautiful diversity that is spread across the globe in the form of animals, geography, and even people and cultures. Do we take for granted all that surrounds us every day?
I felt grateful to have been able to travel and see things that I had never seen before. But also, it helped me to appreciate my own home state and the sights and sounds that I experience on a daily basis.
What experiences have you had that make you grateful for what you have?
What sights and sounds do you take for granted every day?
We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!