Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sand in My Snow Boots

We biked along the oceanside road, winding through the groves of tall trees, it teased us with glimpses of the turquoise Caribbean waters. Lazily pedalling past the restaurants, cabanas, yoga retreats and chocolate tours that are tucked behind the luscious bushes, we made our way back to Puerto Viejo. The late afternoon sun filtered through the leafy branches and lit up the salted air, settling on our sun-kissed skin like magical pixie dust.

Puerto viejo is like nowhere else I have been, it is so unique to Costa Rica itself. The Caribbean influence permeates the food, the language, the music and way of life. The majority of the locals are of African descent and speak Patua, which is a rich blend of Spanish, English, Portuguese and East Asian influences. 

Matija (another Cuso Volunteer) and I stumbled into a community fundraiser one evening, the bands were playing the type of music that just makes you want to move, or as more accurately described by Matija, it was Calypso and Afro-Cuban. They closed the evening with a wonderful rendition of 'Feliz Navidad'. 

Puerto Viejo is also influenced by the ex-pats, surfer culture and tourists. It doesn't have any 5-star resorts, in fact, there is no building over 2 stories, there are no cruise ships, Cartier or high-end retailers. However, tourism clearly drives this beach town's economy. There are endless casas, cabanas and hostels to choose from, restaurants that boast international flavours (with quite decent execution) and boutiques and stalls with sarongs, hammocks, jewellery, wood work and bikes for rent.

That particular day we were biking back from Punta Uva, arguably one of the nicest beaches on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, and with a natural coral reef just off shore, it is the best snorkelling in the country. 
Playa Punta Uva

Up until that day I had been wearing my snow boots to the beach. While my body soaked in the rays of sunshine, my eyes watched the waves crash, yet my thoughts were grounded in a winter wonderland. I dragged my boots around in the sand and in the surf until my feet were sufficiently soggy and wet. For the first time on this trip I was dragging my feet in the past, instead of sprinting towards the future. I don't know if it was the food poisoning or my love for a snowy white Christmas, but on Christmas day I was homesick. 

Canadian Christmas Dinner in Costa Rica

Thankfully the food poisoning and the homesickness passed and I was able to unlace my thermal Sorels and fully appreciate having a very sandy Christmas. Without a doubt this Christmas will stand out in a way no others will. There were a lot of firsts for me: not being with my family, having food poisoning on Christmas eve, lying on a beach in 35 degree weather on Christmas day, not eating turkey, biking to the beach instead of walking to the toboggan hill. Although I missed the smell of a Christmas tree and the warmness in my cheeks after a couple of glasses of red wine over the Fleming-McTavish turkey dinner, I wouldn't have traded the beach for the world, because I know when I am home next year and the Christmas carols are playing and the snow is falling, it will be that much sweeter. 

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