Posted on Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Paraiso is a small town southeast of Cartago city in Costa Rica. Paraiso translates to paradise or heaven, and when you gaze over the central valley you quickly discover why. Before arriving we had a full day of travel; testing our limits, our positivity, our forwardness...We picked up our rental car, the most expensive part of this trip, loaded with the top insurance, all the insurance as the roads are not meant for the weary heart. You need to be a road warrior to survive the dirt roads, potholes, mountains, clouds and rain storms blocking your's quite the test even for the most experienced driver, we passed out of necessity. Once loading up our 4x4 we headed through the busy congestion of San Jose, on route to Paradise. While driving through the city of Cartago I couldn't help but notice the country's obsession with Christmas. Full stores dedicated to selling Christmas decorations, glowing with colourful lights as dusk settled in - there's already a mysticism here, a celebratory feeling of whimsy. 

I felt delirious at that moment from no sleep and too much coffee. And driving! Driving in the jungle in a country where street addresses, road signs, signals, and street names are not very known or visible. Landmarks are how people get around here or in our case developing intuitive maps - something only time and hours of being lost will do. Circling a huge lake and the mountain (really there are only mountains in this country) at night we decided to stop at the only bar we could find at the side of the road. Alison my travel partner and road trip best friend guarded our car, the number one thing everyone warned us about, while I ran into the seedy bar to ask for directions. You learn quickly that in survival mode the ego does not exist, only impulse and bravery have room. I ran up to the bouncer and asked if he spoke english. He pointed into the bar with a sea of ticos. I continued with a hand swaying motion and said "bring me to the english." Somewhere in our hand gestures we understood each other and he brought me over to a table of middle-aged cowboys who looked like they very much belonged despite their cowboy hats. One of the drunk burly men gave me directions and I tried to keep up with his explanation of bridge after bridge, "just keep to the left, always go left." We attempted his directions and another hour rolled by and still this b&b was nowhere to be found. In desperation and trying to avoid sleeping in our car that night we headed back into the city of Cartago, surely there would be someone, anyone that spoke english. And then I saw those golden arches, yes McDonalds (the only one I saw in our entire trip) must have someone that can direct us. I ran in while Alison guarded our car and surveyed the place. And then I spotted them, our soon-to-be new friends Ana Lucia and Daniel. I ran up to their table and asked if they spoke english, with a gracious smile and warm demeanor Ana said yes. She too was confused by the directions and decided to call our host. A brief conversation I could not understand and she hung up her phone and said "follow us, we will take you there!" My heart sang, I could not believe two strangers would be kind enough to help us out. They seemed up for the adventure and I quickly learned that relying on the kindness of strangers is a way of life there, it's a part of their customs. 

We were escorted right to our doorstep, it was night and very dark but as soon as I hopped out of the car on the side of the cliff where the b&b was built into I could hear the waterfall, saw the outline of the jungle and knew we were someplace very special. Our new friends came in for some wine and laughs. They told stories about the area which eerily was called "the brides jump" after a local urban legend. We shared our lives freely as travellers often do, finding a camaraderie in our introduction. I learned so much from their candid banter and grew a strong appreciation for this generation of Costa Ricans. I took note of our shared name and shared spelling, a coincidence that seemed more like a symbol of connection and safety. It is the people you meet and the ones that guide you in foreign countries that teach you the most, that enrich your stories and are people you might spend fleeting moments with but will stay in your travelling heart forever. There were many of those people on this journey and that is the gift you find when you step out of the routine and your comfort zone and head fiercely into the unknown and trust with a faith you didn't know you had inside. 

 Top by Jordan de Ruiter
Photos by myself and Alison Sharp
Location, El Salto Eco Lodge

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