Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about why we travel. Of course, seeing the world, getting to know other cultures, escaping winter would only be a few reasons to mention. But on a deeper level? I mean, what are we actually looking for, when we travel? We are looking for excitement, right? For adventure. For something to make our life less ordinary. For euphoria. For the big thrill. For something that makes us feel alive… maybe feel something at all. We are looking for inspiration. For stories to tell. We are collecting countries like seashells. Another plane, another train, another bus, another shuttle, another boat, another tuk tuk, another scooter, another bicycle. Another beach, another pool, another temple, another church, another hike, another waterfall, another monkey, another coconut, another hammock under palm trees, another bed in another hostel. And then that’s where we all meet, share a room and a fridge and a passion. Hostels are places where the music never stops and conversations always go the same way: ‚Where have you been? Where are you going next? How many countries have you visited? Oh, do you mean on this trip or in general?‘ A place where, sometimes, traveling becomes competition…
I’m in country number seven now, by the way. That’s on this trip. Costa Rica. Pura Vida. That’s what they say here. The pure life. I’m in Costa Rica and I’ve been thinking a lot about why we travel lately. Because since I am here, all I felt was lost. Within three weeks, I have slept in 10 different beds in 9 different accomadations in 7 different places on the Pacific coast. San José, Santa Teresa, Montezuma, Jacó, Dominical, Uvita, Pavones. I have been on 14 different busses, shuttles, ferries or in taxis and I have walked a fair amount of kilometers, too, either carrying my luggage from the bus stop to the next hostel or checking out other hostels, or to the atm in the midday heat. Within three weeks, I have only found one place that I liked and felt at home at. One out of nine. And that one was so expensive that I could only stay a couple of days as a special treat to myself. Right now I feel more like I am fleeing from something and not so much like I am traveling. Costa Rica has been one big endless search for a place that might not even exist.
A place where I can walk barefoot on warm sand. Where I can surf without having to compete with a bunch of grown up men who forget their good manners when paddling for waves. A place where the sun paints the sky pink in the evenings and where the stars sparkle at night and shooting stars promise that your wishes will come true one day. A place where dogs are welcome and cats, too. A place where the people come together and have real conversations about things that are meaningful and where you can speak without judging and without being judged. A place with real mattresses and reading lights next to the bed. A place where my soul is nourished and my spirit is free. A place where I am understood and my heart is filled with light.
Most of the places I’ve been to here in Costa Rica (and Nicaragua, too) promised to be places like that when you looked at their online appearance. A little piece of paradise. ‚Off the beaten path‘. Eco-friendly. As close at it gets to Utopia. But every time I arrived, I knew within five minutes that it’s been a trap. That those places are, once you are there, the living example of why Utopia doesn’t exist. They are places where the backpackers start drinking at noon because the volunteers who work there talk them into stupid games. They are places that are dirty and worn down, because I guess backpackers who travel on a budget don’t deserve a nice home. Love doesn’t live here. They are places where you pay too much for bad food. Where you pay too much in general, because that’s what they are all about – about money and profit, just like everything in the society we’re trying to escape, when we travel. But a lot of people totally enjoy these places and I don’t blame them. They want to believe what is being sold to them. They want to believe in Utopia just as much as I do. They want to count their countries and tell about their adventures and don’t actually notice that these are only superficialities. They always want to be happy and euphoric when they travel…. there is no space for reality in their backpacks.
Throughout all of these experiences here I figured, me, personally, when I travel, I am looking for truth. Something real. Nothing more and nothing less.
And the truth is that I can’t stand any of this anymore. Not another dorm with more drunk people. No more loud music that I hate. No more empty stories and empty promises. If I wanted superficialities, I could have stayed right where I was, in Western society.
So, most of the places I’ve been to here in Costa Rica, I have left again after one sleepless night, hoping that the next place would be what I am looking for, getting more and more frustrated every time it didn’t happen. Disenchanted I thought, maybe this is it, maybe I have to go home now. Maybe now is the time that you are meant to get ready, Leo, prepare yourself for the end of this journey, actually realize that you’re not suppossed to find a place to stay here, but that the place you are looking for, a place to really finally arrive to, is your home.
And then, just when I accepted that and just when I stopped looking, I found a place in the last piece of Costa Rica, down South, that is just what I needed. In a small village called Punta Banco, at the end of the bad road, a gate opens up to the Rancho Burica. It’s a place owned by twenty friends from the Netherlands who, 20 years ago, found this piece of land for sale with an empty surfspot out front and were crazy enough to each invest a fair amount of money to buy it. It is still owned by the same twenty people who, believe it or not, don’t actually earn anything with the Rancho, but, in the rare case that it makes any profit, reinvest it in the maintainence of it. How crazy is that? They also only work with locals and support the community’s turtle project. And then they are amazing enough to share this piece of heaven with us…. this is one of the stories that I actually like to tell when I am traveling. This is Utopia. This is the ideal. I am beyond happy that I kept on searching or, actually, that when I stopped searching and was too tired to keep on believing, a higher power thought that I deserve a break after the last weeks.
So here I am now, in South Costa Rica, thinking: If truth is what I am looking for, and if finding some realness in this mad world is why I travel, I was successful. Because even the disappointments were eye opening. And in the end, if you follow the right path, you will end up where you are supposed to be. And if Utopia is not a place, maybe it’s a state of mind. Maybe it exists inside of us. In the way we behave. In the way we treat others. In the way we follow our path, our dreams. In the way we love. In the way we live. And this is something I learned in Costa Rica, this is something that I take home with me.