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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Learning About Yourself While Traveling

I thought I would take a break this time from weighty psychological topics and focus on travel and what we can learn about ourselves when we travel.


Learning About Yourself While Traveling
Learning About New People, Places and Cultures While Traveling
Most people who like to travel talk about how much they like meeting new people from different countries, visiting new places, and learning about different cultures. When I have an opportunity to travel and can get away, I also enjoy all of these things. I have a natural curiosity about new people and places. And I'm sure that my curiosity, as well as my desire to help people, contributed to my decision to become a psychotherapist.

Aside from discovering new cultures, I find that traveling is also a good way to learn about yourself--how you react to new people, situations, foreign customs and possible hardships on the trip. Recently, I traveled to Nosara, Costa Rica (http://www.nosasra.com) on the Pacific coast for some rest and relaxation. I've been curious about Costa Rica for a long time, especially after I heard that Costa Ricans, who call themselves Ticos, are supposed to be among the happiest people in the world.

Costa Rica
Learning About Yourself While Traveling
It's always interesting to observe yourself in new situations. Even though I love to travel, there are certain things about traveling that I don't especially relish: the long lines at the airport, travel delays, and going through security at the airport. I think I usually approach these situations with patience and equanimity, but I'm aware that, at times, I feel frustrated. Over the years, I've learned that remembering to take a few deep breaths and closing my eyes to meditate for a few minutes can go a long way when faced with travel challenges.

When our plane boarded on time, my companions and I were pleased. Everything seemed to be going as planned. But then we got stuck on the tarmac, waiting for our turn, in a long line of planes, to take off. The captain, who had a confident and reassuring tone, told us that we would be delayed by about 20 minutes as we waited for our turn to take off. I closed my eyes and, in my mind's eye I saw the beautiful pictures I had seen online of Nosara beaches. Even with a 20 minute delay, I told myself, we could still be on the beach by mid-afternoon.

Then, after about 10 other planes had taken off, it was our turn. As the plane gained momentum and I felt it lifting off, I felt a sense of exhilaration. There's something about take offs that always makes me think that I'm free of whatever cares I might have left behind. I thought to myself: I'm off the ground, heading into the clouds, leaving behind the cold, dreary New York rain, and in four in a half hours, our plane would land in Liberia, two hours away by car from Nosara.

Fortunately for us, our flight was fairly uneventful, and I was able to relax and read my book. When we landed, it was a sunny 85 degrees in Liberia. I could already picture myself on the beach, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the beautiful ocean...but first, we had to go through Costa Rican Immigration. We were directed to the Immigration area, which was a open area in one of the airport buildings that was cooled by a large ceiling fan.

The first thing that I noticed was that five other planes from the US and Canada had arrived around the same time that we had. The second thing that I noticed was that there were no lines--it was just a mass of hundreds of people all trying to get to the four or five Immigration officials who were examining passports. There was no organization at all.

Finally, two and a half hours later, my companions and I were allowed to enter into the country. The next challenge was waiting for a van that would take us to the nearest Avis office since there were no car rental agencies at the airport. Forty-five minutes later, we were in the van on our way to Avis. We were greeted by very pleasant, efficient Avis employees who spoke fluent English and who were very helpful with regard to explaining to us how to get from Liberia to Nosara.

Then, we were off, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Even with all of the delays, we could still be on the beach by the late afternoon, I thought. It was also a relief to be driving on the open highway. We had the guidance of a GPS, which is a must if you're traveling from Liberia to Nosara because the roads can be confusing. We passed through open fields where cattle ranchers were raising cows and goats. We also passed through small, quaint towns along the way. Some of the Ticos waved to us as we went by, and I remember thinking that they really did seem like happy people.

Nosara, Costa Rica
Everything was going fine for the first hour or so. Then, the GPS informed us that we would be coming to unpaved roads. No problem, we thought, we had all driven over unpaved roads before, so we weren't concerned. However, the unpaved roads in Costa Rica are not just unpaved--they are extremely rutted and filled with big stones. So, it wasn't possible to drive more than 40 kilometers per hour.

After another hour of the bumpiest ride that I've ever experienced in my life, the sun began to go down. (Did I mention that the roads are unlit at night and that, other than our car lights, the only light came from the stars and a sliver of waxing moon?) At that point, we were on high, narrow, windy roads with two-way traffic and hairpin turns. As we made the turns, there were blind spots where we couldn't see the oncoming traffic until it was nearly on top of us which, in a few instances, was rather harrowing.

There were several instances where we had to drive over bridges where there were signs that said, "Peligroso," which means dangerous in Spanish. So, we were forewarned about the danger, except that we didn't know what that meant. Only one car could go over these bridges at a time, so we usually yielded to other cars and motorcycles coming from the other direction. At one point, we were about to go over another bridge and, luckily, we noticed before we drove further that there was no bridge. The only indicator that there was no bridge was a pile of rocks in front of where the bridge used to be (before it was washed away?). Beyond that, there was a big drop.

Four hours later, after getting lost several times, we arrived at Villa del Sol, a gated community of low-rise condos in Nosara. We were very glad to have reached our destination. The manager, Daniel, greeted us warmly. I wondered if I would have to try to muddle through in my imperfect Spanish, but Daniel spoke perfect English, "I'm surprised that you drove from Liberia to Nosara at night. I usually tell people to rent a hotel in Liberia and wait until morning, rather than drive at night, because the roads in Nosara are treacherous at night." If only we had asked him...

Once we were settled in for the night, exhausted, we wondered aloud if we had made a mistake in traveling to a place with such dangerous roads. After all, this was supposed to be a vacation for rest and relaxation. But by the morning, we were refreshed and we were ready to explore Nosara. And being able to see during the day was a big improvement over driving on the rutted roads in the pitch black of the evening. But we still had to proceed very slowly and cautiously over the roads and we got lost quite a bit because many road signs were missing.

As we were driving along, I noticed that the Ticos did not seem at all bothered by the roads. They were riding in all types of vehicles--everything from 4 Wheel Drive vehicles to rickety bicycles. We saw mothers carrying their little children on bicycles, waving to us, looking very content.

It was then that I had a small epiphany about my own and my companions' attitudes: There we were, middle class Americans who had the luxury of traveling to beautiful Costa Rica, complaining to ourselves about the roads. And here were these Ticos, many of whom lived in small humble homes, who had much less than we had monetarily. They were traveling along these same bumpy roads but, rather than complaining, they were smiling and waving at us. (I was amazed at how adapt the cyclists were, both bicyclists and motorcyclists, at navigating around as their bikes occasionally went up in the air when they hit a big rut or a stone in the road.)

Wild Life in Nosara, Costa Rica
For the rest of our vacation, I was much more aware of my thoughts, feelings and attitudes about any inconveniences that came up. I think we were all much more aware of how lucky we were, and how much we had to be grateful for in our lives. And we realized that a few bumps in the road, literally, should not throw us off.

For me, it was a wonderful example of how much we can all learn about ourselves when we find ourselves in unfamiliar situations: Do we approach these challenges with a calm and patient attitude or do we become discontent or fearful of the unfamiliar?

As for Nosara, I would highly recommend it. Pelada beach was just steps from our condo. It's a beautiful beach. We saw all kinds of birds on the beach, including diving pelicans and white egrets. There were also many howler monkeys in the trees close to our condo. They seemed as curious about us as we were about them. And the sunsets on Pelada are magnificent. If you go to Nosara, go to Olga's restaurant, which is a small, unassuming restaurant right on the beach, and eat the most delicious shrimp that you've ever tasted while watching the sunset.

Beautiful Beaches in Nosara, Costa Rica
I never did find out exactly why Costa Ricans are among the happiest people in the world. I suspect that it has a lot to do with the fact that their government places a strong emphasis on education and health. Almost everywhere you go, you hear or see the words "Pura Vida," which means pure life. They also place a high value on family, community, and preserving their environment. I think we could all learn a lot from Ticos, and I hope to return to Costa Rica to see the many wonderful sights that I did not have time to see during this trip.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.




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