The Many Worlds Theory of Travel: A Week in Costa Rica


In March of 2011 I traveled to Costa Rica to escape the chaos of Dallas and swim in the warm, green waters of the Pacific Ocean, peer into steaming volcanoes and immerse myself in one of the friendliest cultures in all of the Americas.   I planned to travel alone, but what began as a solo trip quickly morphed into a social adventure.   Saturday morning, during a layover at Miami International Airport, I met a Harvard MBA student named Faith who, like me, was traveling alone to Costa Rica.  We agreed to visit a volcano together the next day, and Faith invited me to join her and the rest of her friends when they arrived later in the week. 

Manuel Antonio

Meeting Faith set in motion a chain of events that introduced me to a platoon of boisterous Harvard MBA students, occasioned a whitewater rafting trip on the Chirripó River in the Costa Rican rainforest, and made possible an overnight stay in Manuel Antonio, a small town on the Pacific coast where the rainforest stands tall and Capuchin monkeys leap about high in the canopy before swinging to the ground eager to observe people observing them.  Here, in Manuel Antonio, cliffs loom high over the Pacific, rocks thrust out of the green water like fins of ancient sea monsters frozen in time, and waves crash against the rocks and cliffs in their perennial quest to prove the dictum that nature is both patient and persistent in its pursuits, and that nothing, not even the hardest stone, outlasts eternity. 

Manuel Antonio, Pacific Ocean


I enjoyed the three days I spent with the Harvard crew.  Their numbers included six men and three women.  Seven came originally from India; one, Faith, from the Philippines; and one from St. Louis.  I laughed with them.  I joined in conversation about health care, auto insurance, education, love, power, fame, and ambition.  With Gaurav, paddling on the Chirripó River, I felt like I forged the sort of bond that only shared physical exertion affords.  I’ve never been around such raucous laughter and fluid conversation, in which some set of unspoken rules governs the group’s collective behavior.  Everyone gets a hearing.  Everyone understands that most, though not all, of the topics of conversation fall in the category of banter and so merit a degree of lightness and jocularity befitting banter. 

El Volcán Arenal

Yet at times I felt like the outsider I in fact was.  I’m a school teacher, not a Harvard MBA, by which I don’t mean to signal any sort of elitism on the part of my companions.  They were kind people, and they graciously included me in their group.  They simply exist in a different world.  They strive after different goals.  Drive and discipline as much as intelligence explain the trajectory of their lives.  As a group they share circumstances and experiences that only members of their group would understand. 

Manuel Antonio

When the loner in me took over, I left the group and wandered the beach at sunset.  I talked with local restaurant owners and beach bums.  Enrique, an extreme biking aficionado who bore all over his body the scars of his pastime, compared relationships to “la guerra” and marveled at the power women have over men.  Late in the evening, still in Manuel Antonio, I sat alone on the beach and sipped a bottle of Imperial beer.  I breathed in the heavy salt air and stared at the surf rolling in.  The whites of the breaking waves glowed phosphorescent in the moonlight.  Palm trees cast shadows across the white moonlit sand and boats winked their lights at me from the sea. 

The Central Highlands Near San José

In Costa Rica I wove in and out of different worlds: physical worlds, social worlds, internal and external worlds.  In a span of three days I was a loner wandering aimlessly in a foreign country; I was a school teacher laughing and singing American rock classics with Harvard MBA students; I was a foreigner talking in Spanish with a local about the travails of relationships, or with a restaurant owner about his road trip seventeen years ago through the western United States.  I was also a nobody sitting on a moonlit beach with eyes closed, listening to the ocean whose roar cancels out everything else in existence and becomes the one true thing in this world.

The Harvard Crew

In case there was any danger of my remaining in the trance I had fallen into on the Rich Coast, soon after I returned to DFW reality served up a dose of the harsh truths that govern our day-to-day lives, the truths that society determines and perpetuates.  At school on the Monday after my trip, in the course of a conversation about careers and goals, one of my most thoughtful and perceptive students asked, “What profession could be lower than teaching?”  The ocean may roar in Costa Rica, but whatever truth it contains remains hidden from view here in the big city.  It’s around here somewhere, but you have to look pretty hard to find it. 

San José

Central Highlands, near San JoséSerene park inside the ruins of the the cathedralBird of Prey near el Volcán Arenal

Ruins of a Cathedral in Cartago, near San José

Serene park inside the ruins of the the cathedral

Bird of Prey near el Volcán Arenal

About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

14 Responses to The Many Worlds Theory of Travel: A Week in Costa Rica

  1. eof737 says:

    What a fantastic post and such mesmerizing pictures to boot. I cringed when I read the comment from your student but it isn’t surprising at all… The mentality persists that those who can, do and those who can’t, teach… Ugh! I taught college for 14 years and even some of my best students believed that the trajectory of my life was not well served in such a profession… but, it is the most honorable of professions I would protest to no avail.
    Until teachers make more money and are valued for the life changing work they/we do, the idea that it is a lowly profession will persist. 😦
    Thanks again for stopping by my blog!

  2. The answer to your student’s question, of course, is, “Everything I’ve ever done that *wasn’t* teaching.” Those who look down on teachers will never know what teaching is. They can’t know. They haven’t earned the right to know. And because they don’t know, their opinions don’t matter; they are silly, insubstantial things that evaporate and disappear when exposed to the laughter, hugs, and everyday triumphs and tragedies that constitute the bulk of a teacher’s paycheck.

  3. Michelle Cotter-MacDonald says:

    Hello, I really enjoyed this post, having never been to Costa Rica I felt it come alive in my imagination while I read.


    What profession could be higher than teaching? It’s disregarded because it is primary to every achievement in our lives. Hang in there, the challenges can be overwhelming but it’s the most rewarding and valuable job in the world and I wish I was still doing it!

    • Thank you so much! I’m definitely in need of encouragement these days 🙂 Teaching can be a real rollercoaster (as you know, of course). Working through the low points can be tough, but as you suggested, when you see the positive impact you have it all becomes worth it. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. mgbmdri says:

    Amazing post and beautiful photos. It really made me want to be there. I think I might have to put Costa Rica on my list of places to travel to 🙂 The comment from your student was rather shocking but not surprising just as Elizabeth said. I was never the best student but I’ve got to hand it to teachers. Teachers do so much more than just teach and a lot of people don’t realize it. When you have a great teacher it can make all the difference in the world.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and I’m going to be making yours a regular read 🙂

  5. Thank you! All of these responses to the student’s comment have lifted my spirits. That student, by the way, is a great kid. Unfortunately, a lot of kids don’t understand the value and impact of their teachers until it’s too late to thank them or acknowledge it. I don’t mean to say I’m a superhuman teacher, either. I make mistakes, but I sure hope I’ve changed a few lives for the better.

  6. Penny says:

    Beautiful photos. I have always wanted to visit Costa Rica. After viewing these awesome photos, my desire to go is more intense. BEAUTIFUL !!!!!!!!!!

    • Costa Rica is a place that does a lot of your work for you when you photograph it 🙂 The people and culture are also something to behold. I fell in love with the place.

  7. i am looking forward to indulging more in your words and visuals…
    remember, those who can, teach.

  8. kirstenh says:

    Wow, your photos are stunning! They brought me back to my most recent trip there two January’s ago, thank-you for helping me bring up such wonderful and happy memories 🙂

    • Thank you! What a wonderful country it is, right? And I found the people to be as charming as the flora and fauna. Costa Rica feels so different to me from other Latin American countries I’ve visited. Thanks foor the comment!

  9. Pingback: Tuesday Photos: Oceans Soothe the Soul; Giant Iguana Attacks Caribbean Bathers

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