I hope this post won't come off as preachy or soapbox-y. I wrote it on the plane as we were flying home from Costa Rica yesterday so it is full of the emotion of travel. Consider it a true window into my heart and mind.
When we embarked on our big Asian Adventure last spring, we expected it to stand alone as our only international travel for at least nine months. But then some friends took a two and a half month trip to Costa Rica and our plans changed. How could we pass up an opportunity to visit them?
Costa Rica was not on our list of places to visit soon. Eventually we knew we'd get there, but after living in Mexico for ten months and visiting there regularly, we figured the world is a big place and we'll miss a lot if we don't get out of Latin America.
And that's true. But when you've got friends living someplace cool and they have space for you to stay with them and you can get an affordable (and direct) flight, you go.
Judging by the abundance of babies, toddlers, and elementary aged kids on our flight, Costa Rica has become a popular family destination. It's easy to see why. It is quick to get to, safe, exceedingly clean (maybe second only to Singapore and Disneyland, at least in my experience), the language barrier is easily overcome, the food is easy for American kids to adapt to, and kid-friendly activities abound.
It seems that Costa Rica is now the vacation spot that Hawaii was when I was a kid. And somehow, maybe because Mexico is our go-to spot, I had no idea.
The older I get, the harder travel is for me. As my awareness of global environmental and social justice issues increases, my ability to globe-trot in a carefree manner decreases. No longer can I visit a place like Costa Rica and simply enjoy the green hills around me. Now I visit and I see agriculture in a place where there should be rain forests, but for the global demand (or more precisely, American demand) for bananas, pineapple, coffee, and cheap beef. In fact, Lonely Planet nearly ruined my vacation when I read that 30% of Costa Rica's rain forests were cleared to make room for beef production to satisfy the demand of American fast food chains. Here's looking at you, Big Mac, the ultimate symbol of American culture and values.
Is it just me? Am I the only person who goes on vacation and can't really let her mind go? Was I ruined by Semester at Sea, the study abroad program that taught me to travel with a discerning eye, to desire to learn not only about the places I visit but also about their interrelatedness with the rest of the world? Or is my nature to be wracked with angst and frustration over the state of the world and our role in it?
Or maybe my reaction is normal. Maybe the more we travel, the more we see and smell and touch, the more eyes we search and smiles we share, the more we realize what a small planet we live on and the more we respect both the planet and the rights of all who live on it.
I cannot string together words that would do justice to the sound of the rainforest at night. The whoosh of bats flying by, the painfully loud and high pitched chirp of frogs no bigger than the end of your pinky, the hooting of a solitary owl, the rustle of an armadillo scurrying through the brush. Did you know that hours after a rainstorm ends, you still hear the echoes of the storm in the rainforest? It drips and drops and clinks and plops as the water makes its way down from the canopy to the forest floor, like a slow motion game of rainforest Plinko. The cool moisture on your skin, the moon obscured by thousands of plants towering above you, the sweet and dewy air that flows into your lungs with each breath...there is no place on earth like it. It induces awe. It forces an appreciation for nature, no matter how you believe the world came to be or where you think it's going.
Without going there, I think it is hard to care about these things, to really feel the weight of them in your soul, to adjust your behavior so that it reflects what is healthier for the world.
And so for the second time in six months I return from an adventure feeling grateful that I could go but also feeling burdened because I want more, want better for the world. I'm feeling hopeful that my kids will remember what it's like to be somewhere else, to know that life everywhere is not the same as life in Colorado Springs. And, most of all, I hope that my kids, my friends, my neighbors, my family, and my generation will be infected by the desire to see the world for themselves. I hope that they can make the sacrifices, work the extra hours, forgo the newest technology or bigger house or fancier car, and clear their schedules so that when the time is right for them they can experience the world too.