Travel Story - Lessons in acceptance 

Vacations can be what you make of them

By Kara-Leah Grant

The true measure of a trip taken is not in the sights seen or the things experienced, but in the lessons learned and the vision gained upon return. At least, that is what I told myself over and over as my partner and I endured a recent trip to Costa Rica. Because, with red tide sweeping the entire Pacific Coast and the rainy season in full force, there was little to see and even less to do. The only journey I could take was internal.

My trip became a game, where no matter what was thrown at me, I practised acceptance of my circumstances. I refused to get mad, I refused to lose my temper and I refused to rail against things I couldn’t change. I laughed as one thing after another went wrong, and instead of wallowing in the folly of my errors, I took these mistakes and turned them around into lessons.

Lesson Number 1 is an embarrassment to even admit. As a journalist, the first thing one does is research. But when we booked our super-cheap tickets to Costa Rica, I didn’t question why the tickets were so cheap. Research would have revealed it was off-season. Which, in Costa Rica, means rainy season. And it doesn’t just rain for a few hours a day, as it had when I was in Mexico for rainy season, it rained 24/7.

Lesson Number 2 was just as obvious – planning. We arrived thoroughly tipsy in San Jose at 10 p.m. after travelling for nearly a day, and made the mistake of taking the first hotel shuttle we saw. But on arrival at The Best Western, they refused to give us a room for five people and we had to pay for two rooms, spending more on one night’s accommodation than we’d budgeted for four. But at 11 p.m., in a foreign country, still drunk and with no knowledge of Spanish, I chose to pay for my mistake rather then head out into the rain and search for another hotel.

Renting a car is the most convenient and, when split between a few people, economical way to travel Costa Rica. Getting directions from a bartender squinting at a tourist map without her glasses guarantees you’ll get lost. And we did. It took us about seven hours to drive 200 km to La Fortuna, nestled at the base of still-active Arenal volcano.

With five people in a smallish car, the drive could have been a nightmare. But with deep breathing and positive thinking, we accepted the journey and wrung every last little bit of joy from the countryside we could. Lesson Number 3 was to forget the destination and enjoy the journey. So we had lunch at a hilltop restaurant overlooking coffee plantations; photos at a bizarre hedge garden; more photos during a spectacular sunset and a celebration dinner at a fine Italian restaurant when we finally arrived.

Photos of Arenal dominated our hotel and we awoke early hoping for glimpses of the volcano. But it was cloudy. We were eager to get to the coast and the ocean, but having driven to Arenal, our immediate goal was seeing the volcano. So we stayed and waited, and waited, and waited. After three days, with nothing but more rain on the horizon, our patience had finally waned and Lesson Number 4 was letting go, as Arenal might never, ever come out from behind its curtain of cloud.

We reached the ocean and spent four glorious days at the tiny beach of Ocotal. It didn’t rain. We could swim in the ocean. We got a fabulous deal on a three bed-room, three-level, beachside house with a private pool, plus two other pools in the complex and wonderful landscaping. The sky was clear at night, allowing panoramic views of the heavens, including the Southern Cross, which instantly conjured images of home. Swimming under the stars with views of the beach, I practised Lesson Number 5, revelling in the now, for I knew this might be the high point of our trip.

We drove down the pacific coast, headed for Mal Pais, where we planned to wile away the days pretending to learn to surf. But there we encountered red tide, an algae bloom that suffocates fish and causes a variety of ailments in people, including death in rare cases. Even the ocean was off limits to us now. With no sun and no surf, it was clear our fun in the sun vacation was not to be, so we swallowed Lesson Number 6, and cut our losses, paying the surcharge to get out of Costa Rica ASAP.

When I arrived back in Whistler, people asked how the vacation was and I replied, it was a lesson in acceptance. I just wish it had been cheaper to learn.

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