“The town mouse rather turned up his long nose at this country fare, and said, ‘I cannot understand, cousin, how you can put up with such poor food as this, but of course you cannot expect anything better in the country; come you with me and I will show you how to live. When you have been in town a week you will wonder how you could ever have stood a country life.'”
You can just call me Juañita! But four years of High School Spanish fades fast, and the Duolingo app on my iPhone can only refresh my skills so much. . .
International travel can be disorienting, exhilarating, and enlightening. It might be found, by some, to be rather intimidating. When abroad, all this can happen all at once, on the same trip to a country where you know just enough of the language to make a feeble attempt at speaking it.
When I’ve found myself outside the US, I can’t help but reference my past travel experiences. I make comparisons, and give context to what I encounter by remembering what it was like on my other international trips, layovers, travel guide reading, etc. I might even make comparisons to this other travel more often than I do with my everyday “home” experiences.
Perhaps with extended travel one might become jaded, sour, and unappreciative of international travel experiences . . . or quite the opposite! Exposed to so much diversity, an experienced traveler might have her eyes opened wider and wider, with more appreciation for the breadth of lifestyles, customs & practices across the world, and even across the US. The surfer lives at a different pace than the tourist, and one tourist signs up for daily surf lessons before hang gliding, while the next donates her vacation time to do charity work or simply never leaves poolside bar!
I remember my first trip overseas, as an exchange student in the 6th grade, when I was seeing everything with the eyes of an inexperienced traveler. I had 3 weeks in France, and I spoke very little French. I was mostly interested in the delicious food, the array of foreign fashions & music, and making tentative friendships with people I might never see again. Basically, I was experiencing the ordinary life of a Preteen, just outside of Parisian culture. But isn’t the more mundane, sometimes unsettling, experience of simply seeing, touching, tasting and feeling something different what draws me to travel? Isn’t that where the Wanderlust originates?
The first-hand experience of a new country, or region, is very personal. It’s impacted by an odd mixture of the places you have already been (and with whom), how life, family, school and friendship have shaped your current perspective, and the heavy load of expectations you bring along with you.
This blended influence informs how you pick the cities you choose to visit. It casts a tint on the restaurants you end a long day of travel in, how you get from place to place, what you choose to do and see while you are there, and the nature of your interaction with the people that make up the landscape of the country.
What the wanderer brings to the travel experience is vital to what she will take away from it. Bags packed, I found myself in Costa Rica for the first time this month. I split my time between walking down the urban streets of San Jose, staying in a downtown chain hotel in the country’s capital city, and cycling the beaches of Jaco, a colorful tourist beach town, where the hotel doesn’t see a need to lock up the rental bikes.
With so much of this country to experience for the first time, I was reminded of Aesop’s Fable – “The City Mouse & The Country Mouse”? In the middle of the trip, somewhere along the road from San Jose to Jaco, I couldn’t stop thinking of this simple story. The characters come from disparate backgrounds, so unalike that it is difficult to draw comparisons, or put their experiences into context. They are thrust in to each other’s worlds, not quite sure how things will turn out. They are certainly outside of their comfort zones, a bit startled by what they find, and longing for the familiarity of home.
Not only was I exposed to two very different parts of Costa Rica, but the other tourists I met, and those I spoke with while planning my trip, came from wildly different backgrounds. They approached the country with wildly different expectations. This shaped their travel schedules as much as their reactions to the country. My travel partner was not new to travel, but it was his first international vacation. I tried to imagine seeing it through his eyes and his camera lens. That was difficult to do, because of the impossibility of shaking off my past travel influences.
What I did see was that it is possible to take in this country as a series of contrasts, of city life and “country” life. I saw city streets and rural fruit stands, tourist attractions and authentic restaurants that only the locals ate at. I saw hard working people supporting one another, to allow the tourism industry to flourish and support the local economy. I saw waste and excess in a country that makes environmentalism and conservation a priority every day. I’ll let the images speak for themselves! What I found beautiful (street art and the bustling marketplace) others may find dirty and dangerous.
In Jaco I was distracted by the beautiful beaches, focused on the wildlife and the opportunity to ride bikes through the sand at sunrise. Having just left the city streets of San Jose, the beach town seemed tame, relaxed and just about everyone there spoke English. A tourist couple on our shuttle to the airport tentatively asked if we’d felt safe in Jaco. They had heard rumors of pickpocketing and prostitution at the night clubs. They must not have heard about locals and tourists alike flocking to the beach at sunset, to be present as beautiful colors streaked across the sky. With their fears in mind, I would not encourage them to visit the side streets of San Jose.
In Spanish, “The City Mouse & The Country Mouse” is “El Ratón de Ciudad y El Ratón del País”. I mentioned that my Spanish name in High School classes was “Juanita”. Please, do not search Google for “Urban Dictionary and Juanita”. Really, just don’t.
“The Town Mouse & the Country Mouse” ~ Aesop
“Now you must know that a town mouse once upon a time went on a visit to his cousin in the country. He was rough and ready, this cousin, but he loved his town friend and made him heartily welcome. Beans and bacon, cheese and bread, were all he had to offer, but he offered them freely.
The town mouse rather turned up his long nose at this country fare, and said, “I cannot understand, cousin, how you can put up with such poor food as this, but of course you cannot expect anything better in the country; come you with me and I will show you how to live. When you have been in town a week you will wonder how you could ever have stood a country life.”
No sooner said than done: The two mice set off for the town and arrived at the town mouse’s residence late at night.
“You will want some refreshment after our long journey,” said the polite town mouse, and took his friend into the grand dining room. There they found the remains of a fine feast, and soon the two mice were eating up jellies and cakes and all that was nice. Suddenly they heard growling and barking.
“What is that?” said the country mouse.
“It is only the dogs of the house,” answered the other.
“Only,” said the country mouse, “I do not like that music at my dinner!” Just at that moment the door flew open; in came two huge mastiffs; and the two mice had to scamper down and run off.
“Good-bye, cousin,” said the country mouse.
“What! Going so soon?” said the other.
“Yes,” he replied. “Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”
Visiting Costa Rica was an amazing experience, and I’ll have more stories and photos to share. (You might even see a guest blog down the road.) But my first impression is what a vivid and vibrantly colorful country it is, whether it is the city or the beach you find yourself in. San Jose was painted with murals and graffiti, hearty food and cramped markets, while Jaco was painted with the fading light of sunset and dark volcanic sand under foot. Both were full of color, texture and flavor! Each had their own source of “heat”, and I’m glad to have experienced both!
Join me on my next adventure!
The Fables of Aesop: https://books.google.com/books?id=5llsEPwcG2wC&pg=PR5&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false