Definition of Adventure: Exploring Playa Palada

Hola, mis amigos. Have you been wondering where I’ve been? Possibly not, especially because my track record seems to be one post per month, so June might have seemed very normal. However, let me assure you that I had blog posts planned for twice a week. My intentions were there, but the hours were not. Why did I ever want to be an adult and grow up? Fifty-five hour work weeks are awful. They also manage to keep every ounce of my creativity under lock and key. Anyhow, now that I have a few hours to re-live my time in Costa Rica, please join me on an adventure….


According to dictionaries, the definition of ‘adventure’ is such: an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous experience or activity. Allow me to give you my own Costa Rican definition: Playa Palada. While our study abroad trip was an adventure from the very start–canceled flights, a midnight bus ride over unpaved jungle roads, and a trek across rivers on horseback–my time on Playa Palada introduced me to the true “pura vida”.

To set the stage for this particular story, imagine ten American students who speak extremely broken Spanish wandering (and getting ridiculously lost in) over three miles of broken jungle paths. It was our fifth day in Costa Rica, and our binders were weighted down with homework and vocabulary lists. Thankfully, all we had left was an interview project.

Of course, instead of interviewing locals in the nearby village over dinner, we decided to try to meet up with some new acquaintances who lived up the coast. When we first headed out, we were told it was just a “short walk up the beach” that would take a half hour at the most. That is much easier said than done when streets don’t have names, much less paths.

After two failed attempts that left us lost on trails overgrown with vines and a plant that looked strangely similar to poison ivy, we finally ended up on the edge of a gorgeous beach thanks to a kind gentleman and a combination of broken Spanish and English. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good adventure. Still, after walking a mile or two of jungle paths in a skirt and sandals that rubbed blisters, my mood was a little worse for wear. Taking into account the wrecked lighthouse that gave me some creepy vibes and the fact our new friends would likely be off work (and headed home) by the time we reached the bar, it seems fairly reasonable that I was tense. Our little walk up the beach had turned into a disaster, and I was not happy that things weren’t going as planned.

Even after a wonderful chat with our fellow American friends, who we were thankfully able to catch up with at El Chivo (a really chill restaurant and bar), I was still a tense bundle of nerves. Maybe it’s my personality, but I really hate when things aren’t an organized process. I can still have fun, but there is always a part of me that refuses to just let go and let things be. That makes life rather complicated for me. Really, when was the last time life was a tidy, ordered series of events? Probably never.

However, my tension seemed to lessen the closer we got to the ocean. Sometimes I wonder if my need for control vanishes in awe of the sheer uncontrollable nature of the sea. Other times I think it’s because I feel like the ocean– a storm under the surface, barely contained. Either way, it seems to work miracles for me. While most everyone else started the hour long trek back to the beach house, I lingered on the shore and eyed a string of rocks that led out to sea. They seemed to be calling to a few of us, beckoning us to explore their slick surfaces. My answer?

You guessed it. I answered back by venturing out as far as I could. Of course, before the boys let me go out, I was given the “If you fall and die, I’m not the one telling your parents” speech. Thankfully, I didn’t fall or die despite some close calls. Instead, I walked on water and started to breathe. Standing on the edge of the world makes the “Pura Vida” life so much easier to understand. When the ocean is rushing toward you, swirling around your knees, and threatening to drag you under, there isn’t any reason to worry or think. You only live in the moment, and that makes you appreciate life.

Playa Palada might be a beautiful place to simply enjoy life, but the adventure certainly doesn’t stop there. One of the more “touristy” attractions of the beach is the natural blow hole created by a channel between two rocks. It can be found on the southern side of the beach surrounded by colorful tide pools. You have to wait for the tide to hit just right (pictures were taken in the early evening around 5:00), but the wait is certainly worth it.

Anyhow, hanging around the beach long enough to see it shouldn’t be a problem at all, especially if you have the chance to watch a Playa Palada sunset. Out of the seventeen sunsets I experienced on my trip, I think this one was the most spectacular….

As we walked up the beach to extend our stay, I started to think of another Spanish saying. It’s one that I’d heard from my professor during my first semester, but I hadn’t heard it again until that evening on the beach. A family was sitting next to a driftwood fire, and the phrases “Que sera, sera” drifted with the smoke. In English: “Whatever will be, will be”. Watching the sun go down was a moment that embodied that phrase. We had an hour long walk back through the jungle. We had an exam the next day. Any number of things could go “off” plan during the rest of our stay, but whatever was going to happen would happen, and I found myself smiling at that knowledge.

So there it is, my adventurous exploration of Playa Palada, Costa Rica. It’s hard to believe that getting lost in the jungle, attempting to understand directions with a limited (but slowly growing) Spanish vocabulary, visiting with new friends, walking on water, exploring tide pools, and enjoying a majestic sunset all happened within the course of a few hours. On the other hand, it’s nice to know that I’ll have these memories for a lifetime.

My exploration buddies, who also happen to be some of my best friends, which made the experience a million times better.

Now my travel friends and I have a question for you. What is your definition of adventure?

Until next time,
Pura Vida!


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