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In Costa Rica, dawn comes early, earlier than in any place I have ever been. By 4 am, the sun has already begun its accent and the mountains are ready for a new day.

It has been a while since I saw mountains that weren’t covered in snow. Costa Rica’s mountains are imposing and yet you feel like they have had no choice but to be. I wonder what it would be like to grow up here. To wake up everyday to the sight of a mountain looming, the reassurance it must give…

In Cuba, people were so warm and I thought it was because they have stayed so untouched by the rest of us. In Costa Rica, the people are even warmer as they kiss and hug you, a stranger they just met, in front of McDonalds. Not one person was rude to me during my time in Costa Rica. Not one person did I smile at that didn’t smile back. Not one person caught my eye for longer than a few seconds and didn’t say “Bella” or “lindo’. I felt beautiful in Costa Rica, in ways I didn’t feel in Cuba. In ways I have never felt in the US or Canada. In ways Nigeria…okay we won’t go there.

I tried to see as much as possible in less than a week. It was impossible. Bridges, dams, mountains, valleys, rivers, volcanoes, forests, plantations, beaches, waterfalls…these are a few of the things I was so very blessed to have seen.

It is hard to take a bad photo in Costa Rica. I was laughing so much all the time, I was so relaxed… All the tenseness and cold of NYC a distant memory…

Latino music is the same almost everywhere. I know this because I live in a place that is slowly becoming Latin America country in the US. I walk into grocery stores in ridiculously rich CT and find that I can recognize the tune of that song, the beat of that, bachata¬†salsa… America is changing and it doesn’t even know it.

Costa Rica has hordes of young people and they love Bieber and Rihanna. One day I heard that Rihanna’s Work song like ten times on the radio. That is even more than radio stations in rich white CT play it.

I am too old to be a Bielieber. But one year in Canada means when I hear Justin these days, I miss the home that is Toronto and I am smiling cheesily, strangely proud of the kid.

Who would have thunk it?

It is hard to pick a favorite story from my time in Costa Rica but this one is top three:

On our 4th day, I and my friend went to Arenal Volcano/La Fortuna. While the sight of the active volcano was simply breathtaking, it was La Fortuna that tore me all up inside.

At first glance, I almost dropped to my knees and lifted my hands in worship. A waterfall, so close to the volcano, surrounded by forests so that it seemed like its source would always remain a secret to man, phew I climbed the many steps down to swim in a waterfall for the first time in my life. The water was beautiful, cold at first and then perfect.

We were one of the last ones to leave. With us was this family. Parents and their son and daughter. The girl couldn’t have been more than 5, the boy, maybe 3 or even 2. Yet they could speak three languages – French, Spanish and English. They gave me parenting goals, let me tell you. They ended up giving us a ride to our hotel and telling us their story.

12 years ago, while backpacking separately as young people from different countries, a beautiful French girl met a handsome Mexican boy and they fell in love in the mountains of Costa Rica. 12 years and two babies later, they were returning for the first time to the place where it all started.

Costa Rica is one of the most expensive places in Central/South America to visit. Compared to neighbors like Ecuador, Peru etc, prepare to spend at least twice more. Compared to Cuba, Lol…please lets not even compare the dent Costa Rica made in my pocket to the one I Cuba did that I didn’t even notice.

We made new friends from all over the world; Australia, France, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and of course the Americans. And that for me was the best part and made it worth every penny.

One word to describe Costa Rica then? ‘Eden’, just ‘Eden’

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