Consular/Travel

Costa Rica Chronicles: My Best Vacation Ever?

Mahanth S. Joishy is Editor of usindiamonitor

Towards the end of summer 2022, I was in desperate need of a getaway. A different kind of travel experience from the substantial travels I’d been doing in 2022 so far- you could insert cliche phrases such as my desires for “flying solo,” a “health and wellness retreat,” “unplugging,” or “going off the grid,” or, one of my favorites, “trying to escape the Matrix.”

I am fortunate in many ways, one of which is that I’d already visited 25 awesome countries prior to this Costa Rica PURA VIDA tour. Yes, just in 2022 thus far I was blessed to have had the vacation time and resources for outstanding travel adventures in Abu Dhabi/Dubai with close relatives as I wrote about in these pages; an amazing reunion of friends in Portugal at the nicest resort I’ve ever stayed at during my entire life in Douro Valley wine country; a stellar 10 days in Paris with family to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.

Through 2022 I’ve also been traveling the country for public speaking engagements to discuss vehicle sustainability and safety this year, as part of my job, which has been very fulfilling especially when it comes to standing ovations in front of large crowds, and total strangers coming up to me to thank me for my work or for inspiring them. Las Vegas, Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, New York City, and more locally in Madison: these events have been great and I’m glad to have been part of them.

However, the common thread that ties together all of the above pleasure and business trips, domestic and foreign is that they have been hectic, where it seemed I was in perpetual motion from one appointment to another whether it was a guided tour, dinner reservations, a speech,, social obligations, bus rides, boat rides, train rides, car pickups, etc. And traveling itself has been a constant nightmare due to flight delays and itinerary changes nearly every time.

So what was I looking for and where could I find it? First and foremost a “skincation” to relieve my body’s largest organ, which has been in shambolic condition since I was a kid. I have eczema and the itching can be so bad that about once a week I cannot sleep at all for the entire night, as the itching can turn into a special and diabolical torture where it moves from one part of my body to the next for hours on end. Scratching, the only relief available, only makes it worse. I am on a regimen of injections, creams, and ointments which have kept it under control but not completely. So I was looking for volcanic mud baths, which had offered me spectacular relief 10 years ago in Rotorua, New Zealand for months afterwards. I was also looking for a yoga and meditation retreat on top of that, for both mind and body.

Upon consulting friends and the Internet it became crystal clear like the warm turquoise waters of its beaches that Costa Rica had every single thing I was looking for. Costa Rica also had me at “no standing army!” So let me tell you about my:

PURA VIDA NAMASTE SKINCATION!

Foolishly, I was seeking perfection on this trip, where my skin would dramatically heal, the potential for logistical issues would be minimal, and I could unplug most or all of the time from my job and my personal network. Of course, trouble follows me around and these dreams weren’t entirely meant to be; but while researching options and making the plans in mid-July I put together something that I really hoped would get me close to the promised land.

The universe seemed to be on my side back then, at least to start with. I found a window of convenient time and informed everyone who needed to know. The itinerary came together pretty quickly and easily. Thanks to August 25-September 10 being in the monsoon season, aka off-season, prices were more reasonable than in the drier months when us gringos came down from the US and Canada en masse. But as an Indian-American whose family hails from the magical Udupi/Manipal region of South India, I knew that monsoons meant lush green tropical rainforest lapping up against miles of sandy beaches. The rains, lightning, and thunder announced their own mighty beauty to behold, and I also knew that monsoon season meant daily bouts of both rain and sun dancing around each other every day. In other words no day would ever be completely dry or wet. And speaking of the pouring rain it really felt good on my skin (cation) on the occasions I got caught in a deluge. So what- I was usually wearing my swimsuit and nothing else anyway.

First up on the itinerary was a long weekend in the capital city of San Jose, with the sole goal of aimless wandering around for miles and for hours as I enjoy doing in every single large metropolis I visit around the world- eating and drinking new and hopefully strange flavors along the way. I had just come off a slow, random 4 hour walkabout through Paris by myself along the Seine River that really rejuvenated me. San Jose was to be followed by 5 days at the Blue River Resort and Hot Springs to do nothing but soak in the volcanic mud baths and hot springs, get massages, and go on some jungle adventures. Next up, the meat and potatoes of the skincation: a 6 day yoga retreat at El Sabanero Eco Lodge near Tamarindo on the Pacific coast. Finally rounding out the trip would be 4 days of being a beach bum in the resort town of Jaco further down the same coast.

With bookings completed for resorts, hotels, rental car, and yoga, I sat back and started doing in-depth research on Costa Rica, mostly on YouTube. Immediately it became apparent that the roads were so bad and dangerous in country that I should upgrade to an SUV from the mid-size sedan, the extra expenditure being worth it for safety reasons. Big trouble began there, weeks before my trip, with a huge red flag. After hours of trying to reach Priceline, through which I booked the car, and Avis, the rental company, I got nowhere but the Catch-22 death-spiral loop: Priceline told me to work with Avis to spend more money for an upgrade if they’d let me; and Avis told me to go through Priceline. Neither company lifted a finger to help me, and my anxiety began right there in July, long before my trip began.

FYI: Priceline is a corrupt and highly unethical company that F***ED me on all 3 bookings I did with them: they screwed up my flights completely, they screwed up my hotel booking, and the rental car experience was a completely shambolic and even dangerous nightmare. They did nothing to assist me when I called customer service, as clearly the agency is proud of having severely ripped me off. PRICELINE, YOU COULD NOT HAVE SCREWED UP MY VACATION MORE EVEN IF YOU HAD TRIED. More on this on my next piece, a Ripoff Alert on Priceline, Avis, and Allianz Insurance which shall be sent to all 3 CEOs, all of my social media and contacts, and as many relevant government agencies as I can find. Yes, the worst part of my Costa Rica trip was the three American companies I overpaid to take care of my needs, and instead they happily cheated me out of my hard-earned money. Oh, and let me add my Chase credit cards to the mix: Chase, who I have banked with for 25 years, refused to let me dispute the charges. Goodbye to all 4 corrupt American companies forever!

Back to the trip. American Airlines, in the hours before takeoff from Madison airport after I’d checked in, informed the passengers of the flight to Dallas that there was a mechanical issue with the plane, with no estimated time on when it would be fixed. Right then I began to sweat, as my connecting flight to San Jose was 1.5 hours after landing in Dallas on the original schedule. I looked out at the airplane through an airport terminal window and of course, saw nobody doing nothing for about 45 minutes. Fast approaching the scheduled takeoff time with no status update, I went to an airline agent and informed her I had paid for my hotel in Costa Rica already and really needed to get there by that night; her first response was that there was nothing that she could do for me but ask me to wait. She even admitted I was probably going to miss my connecting flight. First I asked if American could get me to San Jose any other way. She gamely checked her computer for about 10 tense minutes before saying no, American had no other options for me that day.

That was the trigger. Starting to get into my angry managerial Hulk mode, I demanded that she find another airline to get me to San Jose that day. At first she said no; I demanded that she ask her Supervisor. She made a few calls, and nobody answered. But I wasn’t going anywhere. No way was I going to lose a vacation day and hundreds of dollars from a mechanical failure, which is entirely the airline’s fault. No way was my Pura Vida Namaste Skincation going to start sideways! I also knew I had rights as a passenger. Finally when she got hold of a honcho at American she was informed that yes, they were obligated to get me to San Jose on any airline possible. There was a United itinerary involving 3 connecting flights that would get me there at 11:30pm, 8 hours later than my AA itinerary. Seeing no options and getting no update on the mechanical problem, in a heightened state of stress before even starting my vacation, I was about to pull the trigger on the United flights when all of a sudden, the mechanical problem was resolved. Apparently there was no mechanical problem- someone just couldn’t find a piece of paperwork (not sure if that makes you feel better or not).

Just in time for me to make the connecting flight in Dallas, the agent told me. She was nice, if not very knowledgeable. And indeed things worked out for me after a sprint between terminals in Dallas, to reach San Jose on schedule. Whew! I got the sense that day that the universe was flirting with me, not f***ing with me… but I hadn’t quite decided yet. This one did seem like an ultimately harmless, if tense, flirt.

SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA

Lunch at Barcelo: lobster stuffed with shrimp, crab, calamari, mussels, and scallops in a tasty local sauce

San Jose at least as of late summer 2022 was an unpleasant and disorganized, poorly run city. I have worked in city government for 21 years and know how to read signals from third world megalopolises. The cab driver who picked me up at the airport sincerely warned me not to walk outside my hotel by myself even in broad daylight. I mean, I have walked some pretty mean streets in New York City, Cairo, Beijing, Mumbai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, etc. by myself and could handle my business. I figured to be OK in San Jose too if I was careful. But I threw in the towel on my first day in Costa Rica. From the safety of locked cars I saw miles of homeless migrants, litter-filled dirt roads, thug life, and smells of rotting stuff that held no appeal to me whatsoever. That first day I went out for a lunch and an Imperial beer by Uber, and returned by Uber, my eagerness for aimless wandering completely squashed. But I still made the most of the weekend thanks to staying at the fantastic Hotel Barcelo in Alajuela, a beautiful resort with great restaurants, well-manicured tropical gardens to walk through, a swimming pool and bar, and a high-end spa. Three days and nights in this Alajuela haven eased me into vacation mode just like I wanted- and I didn’t miss the bustling mess outside the resort walls. My main activities? Sunbathing and swimming in the pool, sampling fantastic and fresh local foods, and focusing on my skin as it eagerly lapped up the equatorial Vitamin D for hours at a time. “I’m going to be taking real, real good care of you over the next two weeks, good buddy,” I kept telling my skin.

BLUE RIVER RESORT & HOT SPRINGS

For this I came: the skincation soak for 4 days was a main priority, and I just could not wait to get the Hell out of Dodge, I mean San Jose, for the long drive to Blue River Resort which was to the North and West in this tiny country. What followed was the most harrowing driving experience of my life- all because Priceline and Avis both ripped me off LOVELY starting with my rental car pickup on Sunday morning after three relaxing days at Hotel Barcelo.

Not only could I not upgrade to an SUV before or on that day… for good money…. the staff brought out a beat-up, old and crappy sub-compact sedan, not even the midsize sedan I paid for. When I brought this up the epically rude staff at the Avis counter they gruffly asked me to “take it or leave it- this is the only car available, and too bad.” They knew I was stranded without options in a foreign country. Then my credit card was rudely demanded for an extra insurance and local tax charge of ***$316*** on top of the large amount of money I’d already paid Priceline for the car, plus $169 for insurance through Priceline affiliate Allianz. The Priceline reservation wasn’t cheap and I entirely expected it to include all fees and taxes… why wouldn’t it? Avis counter staff bizarrely claimed that the Allianz insurance I paid for on the Priceline website was not valid on their car. As it turned out, even allowing customers to rent such a small car on Costa Rica’s poorly maintained roads is a dangerous and unethical scam in itself- and I am certain what I paid to rent the car for 10 days was close to the entire value of the damn car! (more on the many ripoffs later)

Without options, I took the car and decided to fight corporate America later. I also knew that driving at night was so dangerous that I’d never do it in country. Driving in Costa Rica even in daytime was my biggest mistake. I would have spent less if I hired a luxury car and driver for every damn leg of my trip. The stress level from my trip would have been reduced by a whopping 10x. The mountainous jungle roads and highways were beautiful, but extremely dangerous- and roadway safety is my area of expertise, people! It took every ounce of skill and courage I had gained driving through 16 years of gnarly traffic in New York City, PLUS the awesome lessons in constantly changing gears in steep mountain driving provided by my dad in New Zealand in 2012, for me to even make it out alive in one piece.

Barely…. in the middle of nowhere, with no cell service on extremely steep unpaved wet mud roads with more pothole than actual roadway, in pouring thunderstorms and mountain fog reducing visibility to near zero and sharp rocks every two feet… the two right tires of my jalopy rental blew out. At the same time. Great. I decided my best option as to try to slow crawl the car over the mud, stones, and potholes, pray I didn’t get stuck or damage the car further, and somehow make it to the resort where I could get help. Which I did.

My $169 Allianz insurance contract included roadside assistance, so I gave them a call. The agent on the phone was extremely rude and told me tires were not covered by the policy. I was shocked that they weren’t going to assist me during a disastrous moment in a foreign country by myself. Why did I pay for two insurances- to Avis for another $316? Avis would not even pick up my calls. I’m not sure which of the two is worse.

What followed was hours of work with the friendly staff at Blue River Resort to get an auto mechanic over. That took 48 hours and lots of conversations and coordination- forcing me to miss pre-planned activities including a massage and a jungle hike as I used my Spanish skills to go back and forth to figure things out. During that time of course I could not drive anywhere. However, the resort itself was amazing and worth every penny. Fantastic food was served daily at the restaurant featuring fresh seafood, fresh fruits, fresh salad, cooked vegetable dishes, and outstanding coffee. I soaked in the mud and springs and tried not to stress about the car for those two days, which was no easy task. I needed to keep moving to the next resort soon! I cursed corporate America up and down for ripping me off on this of all trips. But by this point I had decided that the universe was poking me playfully and flirtatiously- and that everything would ultimately be OK. If you’re gonna break down, either literally or figuratively, may I offer you to do so in paradise itself, LOL?

The tires were finally repaired for $45 which I paid out of pocket. I also hired a resort staffer to escort me on the two hour dirt road mountain ride- the only way out- till I got to the paved Highway Uno. This ran me another $75. All in, I had spent over $850 to rent this cursed jalopy from Priceline/Avis and have zero fun driving it. As an added poke from the universe, the car had the worst stereo of any car I’ve been in since the year 1990. Although Costa Ricans live the “Pura Vida” or “Pure Life” spirit in most aspects of their lives, it goes completely absent on the roads as they drive like maniacs in the most inconsiderate of fashions possible toward their fellow humans. One of the weird contradictions of the place.

The spacious Blue River Resort wood cabin I stayed in, like all of them, was surrounded by highly diverse and colorful arrays of flora and fauna, which on a deep primal level, reminded me of where I spent a great deal of my childhood in the Udupi/Manipal hills basking in the love of my grandparents and other relatives. I felt here in Guanacaste like I was home somehow, even though I’d just arrived. Happily, I joined forces with a very friendly crew of American friends in their 30s who arrived from Seattle and Charlotte; hours of soaking, eating together, sharing a bottle of wine, and conversations ensued for a few days. And as with any resort where people check in and check out on different days, I stayed a few days after they left and every morning new friendly and interesting well-travelled folks from around the world came in and out of the resort. Therefore I never felt lonesome though I was flying solo- and anyone inclined to be even slightly social never needs to feel that way, as in Costa Rica everyone is as relaxed as any place you’ve been to.

My cabina

My second major mistake after deciding to drive in country (never, ever again!!!) was to sign up for tubing. In Wisconsin, tubing is a lazy, relaxed affair where you float down mostly gentle rivers slowly in a comfortable tube, and the hardest activity needed over 3+ hours is to reach into the cooler for a bottle of Spotted Cow or a snack, without tipping over. The Blue River Resort version in Costa Rica was the exact opposite of relaxing: strenuous downhill rapids after rapids after rapids, with few breaks to catch your breath in between. While we were protected with helmets, knee pads, and elbow pads I spent the entire experience in fear as we all, including the pro instructors who had done it a thousand times, kept falling off the tube within inches of hard rocks and tree branches, controlling the tube nearly impossible to achieve for more than 5 seconds as it bounced around the whitewater rapids. And the water was freezing that day which made me more miserable. Mistakes were made. But I can’t blame the resort, as I know many folks get a thrill from whitewater rapids plus real danger and would have loved this excursion that simply was not my cup of tea.

The other Blue River excursion I rode out was far more enjoyable- a horseback ride around the villages, forests, and fields surrounding the resort. This was a great time, and we were able to see sloths, hawks and eagles, different types of hummingbirds, amazing waterfalls, and endless breathtaking views of lush green mountains and hills in this volcanic region. The horses were gorgeous and very gentle. I also got two afternoon massages at the resort spa, both of which were top-shelf during heavy rain pounding on the roof. Both times I got so damn relaxed the masseuse pretty much put me to sleep.

Of course the main event was to soak. There is a protocol to maximize the effects of the many magic skin elixirs to be found in the mineral-rich and stinking volcanic mud baths. I did this routine daily for 4 days, with truly astounding results. For 15 minutes one must first sit in the natural hot spring sauna, sweating and enduring the sulfurous rotten egg smell that permeates the little round enclosed facility. After that, now that the skin pores are wide open, comes the grossest part: covering as much of the body as possible in an even worse-smelling wet gray mud, and letting it dry completely. This drying process of the stinky, chalky paste took about 1/2 an hour and is an uncomfortable affair for a while as the substances tingle on your skin, the whole thing requiring monk-like patience. It is not a popular activity. My American friends joined me on the first day, were entirely grossed out within minutes, did not complete the protocol, and never went back. On the final 3 days where I spent the time to do the mud bath, I was the only one there, which suited me just fine. I stank to high heaven and looked like a menacing aboriginal warrior. Finally, you shower and then soak in the hot springs lastly to complete the cycle.

Someone Gotta Soak

Word of warning. Many showers and washes later and the smell remains. I threw away my swimsuit at the end and bought a new one for I knew from New Zealand that the sulfur smell on the garment was to be permanent; meanwhile, my skin smelled like sulfur for a week after leaving the resort. However, and this is the big fact to trump all others: my skin felt like a million bucks after 4 days, the patches of itchy eczema gradually dissipating. Woohoo! Success! Skintastic skincation! Sufferers of eczema, unite and take note.

The biggest problem I faced at Blue River Resort was also my biggest fear, and I knew I’d need to deal with it on this skincation: bugs! Insects of all types are everywhere in Costa Rica and particularly in this volcanic region which has some of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. Ants, wasps, bees, mosquitoes, gnats, roaches, dragonflies, and all kinds of other nasty chiggers were constantly on the attack all day, every day. By the way, my phobia of these things is completely justified. A mosquito bite in India when I was 10 years old resulted in an infection on my right calf muscle so big and painful, I couldn’t walk for 3 weeks; the calf had doubled in size and was filled with fluid and apparently the only treatment was to wait it out. 13 of my cousins from around the world were also in town in Udupi for my uncle’s wedding that summer, staying at my grandfather’s house, and the bedroom where I was convalescing became the center of activity, but not in a good way as I watched from the window as all of them but me went outside to play. Just last year, a mosquito bite on my right hand started a very painful infection with swelling all the way up to my elbow, and I had to go to urgent care for immediate treatment. Ah, the joys of bad skin.

And here came the universe yet again to either flirt with me, or do something else more evil. The very day before flying to Costa Rica, a mosquito bit me in my backyard in Madison on the forehead. A massive bump about half the size of my forehead emerged, in all its itchy and ugly red glory. But this was just a sneak preview of things to come. I was relentlessly attacked from the minute I landed in Costa Rica till the minute I left, mostly by ants and mosquitoes. Yes, I sprayed on plenty of bug spray, which added a vexing Catch-22 to the mix: the sprays even though non-DEET irritated my sensitive skin; and the bugs bit me with a vengeance through the spray layer anyway! How cruel, universe? Which (literal) poison to pick? Answer, how about both?

To top it all off, this skincation featured several more itchy infections from mosquito bites on my head, arms and legs, a subset of about 30 total bites and stings I got, though thankfully none requiring hospitalization or laying in bed for 3 weeks at a major family reunion. Perspective is important. I am proud to say I took all of this in stride, though it would have been easier to give in and let the bugs or Priceline ruin my vacation. NOTHING was going to ruin my vacation, dammit! Thank goodness the mud bath protocols at Blue River trumped the endless bug bites, which as usual seemed to affect me more than anyone else around.

EL SABANERO ECO LODGE: YOGA AND GIRL TIME!

The yoga retreat near Tamarindo was next. The drive out was a bit less harrowing as I followed the resort staffer who escorted me in his SUV and I felt more confident in how to navigate the shittiest roads I’d ever driven on, my gear-shifting almost starting to come naturally, my body and mind feeling the roadways and potholes on a deeper level, getting a sense of their rhythms and nuances. Roadways after all are a metaphor for life and the universe too, and I was melding.

El Sabanero Eco Lodge

The most delightful leg of my trip was easily the next 6 days at the yoga retreat hosted at El Sabanero Eco Lodge. Once again, comfy little cabins surrounded by natural beauty on top of a hill with amazing views of greenery: like Blue River Resort this property (for sale apparently) is another little green slice of heaven. I felt completely at home here, and was beginning to feel very relaxed despite my bug bites and Priceline trying their very best to ruin my trip. I had made it safely to my next destination in my crappy rental car, which I knew was a blessing in itself. I was about to get ready for my very first yoga class of the whole vacation that afternoon, when it happened…

I got a shocking and horrible phone call at that very moment from a colleague back home, about an issue which I realized within mere seconds could turn out to be one of the most serious problems of my entire 21 year career. And that is exactly how it has gone down. This was the moment I knew in my heart that the universe was indeed communicating to me. The timing was too perfect. The problem would have been contained if I had been in the office the previous week, but instead a uniquely and perfectly f***ed up shit storm was unfolding. This timing was too on the nose. The issue was just a little too complicated to resolve easily. The universe right then conveyed to me some lessons I knew I needed to learn even if didn’t want to: I can get to you anywhere or anytime I want to, boy! Spending my hard-earned money for a lavish retreat was to offer no total escape. There is no such thing as unplugging, or going off the grid, whether from life or from work; there is no such thing as a perfect vacation or perfection in general and seeking that is a fool’s errand; other people besides me were going to live their best lives and their actions would affect me, sometimes out of my control, and I had to accept this from now on even though I am a control freak; and, most importantly, yes the universe was flirting with me and it was just nothing more nefarious than that, and it was time instead of lamenting things and feeling sorry for myself as I’d been doing for most of the previous 3 years, to not let anything prevent me from living my best life during my ever-shortening time on this Earth.

Tamarindo Beach is awesome

It’s likely that the yoga may have saved my vacation. I will never make fun of yoga again, as I have done for decades, especially in the contexts of cultural appropriation by white people of brown culture, and funny pose names like “downward dog.” Yoga is hard, but if you keep at it there is a reward for most people. For the first two days, over a total of 5 classes starting early in the morning, I struggled to keep up as the least experienced student and only male to boot among groups of supple and confident women. On the other hand I was overjoyed at the level of support, encouragement and nurturing being provided by my female classmates and gurus, not just during the classes but in between, during meals or hanging out at the beach or pool. On days 3 and 4, it started coming together. I came to be at peace with what was going on back home, in Costa Rica, with other people I knew, with various challenges in my life. I just began to experience real and deep peace and relaxation that lasted all day and all night. I was getting stellar sleep and was raring to go by 5:30am most mornings, which was not like me. The yoga, while still unpleasantly pushing my limits physically, was unquestionably making me stronger both physically and mentally, especially at the end of each session. By the end of the retreat I knew I was getting close to being in the best shape of my entire life, coupled with some of the most superior mind space of my life. I was finally getting good with the universe, though it had to be forged in fire.

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy 6 days alone with mostly women except the morning yoga instructor who was male. I shouldn’t have worried. I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the group of interesting and successful women of all ages from around the world interact. I mostly kept my mouth shut, and listened. With yoga as the common thread binding us together, I believe it made everyone more caring, sharing, and completely open with each other. Almost all the students at the retreat came by themselves like me. They probably saw me as non-threatening. Discussions veered into extended, shockingly free and open talk about vaginas, orgasms, yeast infections, and C-sections pretty much up to as much as I cared to learn about. The sex talk was not about conquest or machismo like males typically engage in, but more about feelings. In a good way. Tales of tragedy, drug addictions, deep phobias, and physical abuse were openly discussed and tears for one another were shed. The women braided each others’ hair and shared cosmetic products, revealing how intimate contact comes naturally to them even as total strangers in a way that it does not for us men. I do wish men could be as natural, open and nurturing with one another as these women I met at El Sabanero Eco Lodge. It was a blessing to be in this environment for 6 days- as far away as possible from the toxic masculinity and machismo coursing through the walls of my workplace. I freely talked about my skin problems and my workplace falling apart, and was given plenty of support and advice about letting go of toxicity in order to heal. The icing on the cake was Ana- the resident masseuse who gave me the two best massages I have ever had in my life- which many others also felt. The elderly, wise and experienced Ana had magic hands, and found all the points in my body that needed pressure. Along with yoga and a special reiki healing session on my final day, I decided to go on a full-on assault against my skin conditions on this skincation. Boom-boom-boom, 1-2-3!

Interestingly, there was only one (very different) experience in my life that structurally compared to this awesome yoga retreat. That was 6th grade at Asir Academy American school in Saudi Arabia, where for several months I was the only boy in class, with 7 or 8 girls from around the world and a female teacher. Some of the boys had left the country with their families due to the war, Desert Storm. Unfortunately, in a cruel twist of fate from the universe, I didn’t like girls at the time although at least several of them were on my case, having physically developed faster than I had. Side note: if it had been 7th grade instead of 6th… I would have gone through puberty and perhaps that would have been the best year of my life…forever. But it was not meant to be.

My overarching goal for the retreat was to get to the point where I enjoyed yoga enough to keep going. I 100% will. Whether overcoming the difficult circumstances or powerful female energy contributed to my love of yoga or not, I am looking for a yoga studio in Madison as we speak.

The last four days’ plan was simply to be a beach bum in Jaco. Jaco is a fun resort town with tons of good restaurants, shopping, gambling, resorts, bars, and beach activities. I stayed at Los Ranchos for the final four nights in Costa Rica- and had another unwelcome adventure, this time entirely of my own bone-headed making. Since my room lacked a safe, I did an extra thorough job of hiding my wallet that first night. Too thorough of a job. The next morning, I could not find it after frantically searching for several hours. I had completely forgotten that it was hidden in my toilet kit in what seemed like a wise move at the time. After nearly two weeks of successfully traveling without losing a single item, I panicked and decided to cancel my credit cards and ATM card begrudgingly. I thought maybe my wallet had been lost or stolen. Of course, I found my wallet right after that. Now I had to figure out how to survive for four days using Apple Pay on my phone.

Jaco Beach

But the universe provides. Yes, I was cut off from my bank accounts and credit cards, but a handful of Jaco establishments would accept Apple Pay as payment, so I was still able to eat amazing meals on the beach and buy a few trinkets. My guess is that around 1/3 of the businesses in Jaco would accept Apple Pay but I needed to ask up front. My favorite activity those last few days was to just sit on the beach and order massive amounts of fresh seafood, with nothing else to do and nowhere else to go except to slowly consume what the waiters brought me.

In conclusion, I fell in love with Costa Rica. I am 100% interested in buying property down there and retiring down there. I loved the climate, and the people (when they weren’t driving), and the natural beauty, the colorful birds, the fresh and delicious food everywhere, and the Pacific Ocean. I loved how it reminded me of South India every single day in various subtle ways, including gecko lizards on the walls.

Some challenges came my way but thankfully they did not ruin my vacation. Most of my biggest problems were related to America: unethical US corporations who gleefully robbed me off left and right; trouble at work; being cut off from most of my financial resources, which was actually my fault but that doesn’t make one feel better, and for a while it was a bit scary. The relentless attack of insects against my skin was tiring and threatened to become an all-encompassing problem, but I became very good at enduring it, for better or for worse.

Pura Vida or “Pure Life” is a real thing; along with my workable Spanish I used the phrase with all the locals I met and it unfailingly brought a smile to their faces and a response of Pura Vida back at me. Additional highlights included:

Grilled lobster, mahi-mahi, shrimp, and veggies; plus a pineapple shrimp curry. Life is tough!
  1. In Tamarindo Beach there is a restaurant overlooking the ocean sand called La Palapa. There, I had the best seafood meal I’ve had in the Western hemisphere, second only to the unbeatable seafood feast I had in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the legendary Lagoon restaurant at Cinnamon Grand Hotel.
  2. Near Tamarindo there is also a micro-batch chocolate factory making 100% pure chocolate products sourced only from local farmers. Reina’s was launched by an American who chose to settle down in Costa Rica, like I plan on doing. The many morsels of different products we were able to try during a tasting flight made it clear to me and most of my yoga partners: this was by far the best chocolate of our lives. In fact, the top 10 chocolate samples I had there were easily the 10 best bites of chocolate I’d ever had. No contest.
  3. The local people are free-spirited, very friendly, proud of their country, attractive, helpful, and welcoming. They loved the fact that this Indian-American was good at Spanish. I was able to conduct all the business I needed to in Spanish. It’s another reason why this place feels like home to me.
  4. Coffee! If you like coffee, this is a haven for you. It’s good no matter where you get it, and I can say without exaggeration that this is the best coffee I’ve ever consumed outside of India, and that comparison too is a result of my bias for Indian methods.
  5. I have been inspired by my yoga experience. Everyone, including you, should be doing yoga right now! It is good for mental health as well as physical. I am sure it helped my skin and other aspects of my well-being. I am also interested in exploring further the use of yoga and meditation, two of the greatest exports from India to the rest of the world, in local institutions such as schools and prisons for the betterment of American society. And my own department as well. This is a potential new mission the universe has tasked me with, and some of my fellow yoga students I met in Costa Rica, and others, are already engaging in this type of great work.

Yes, I decided this was the best vacation I’ve ever gone on upon returning from it. I fell in love with the country. Fell in love with Pura Vida. Can’t wait to go back. The concept of “best” is entirely in the individual subjective mind, and I know in my mind this was the perfectly right time for such a Pura Vida Namaste Skincation where nothing the universe threw my way was going to get in my way. And I’ve never felt this way before. It took me 43 years of life to finally reach this stage in my self-growth, and it wouldn’t have happened without Pura Vida.

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