favorite travel memories | n°2

Sámara, Costa Rica - summer of 2011. 

It's the quintessential beach at sunset photo. It's a classic, but for good reason. I'm a beach girl - and I remember the very moment I realized it. I was on a bus in Ecuador with 30 other college Spanish students. For some reason, my closest friends on the trip had all paired off during the trip to the beach, and I was left alone with a window seat and my iPod. Kenny Chesney's Be As You Are album was humming in my ears. I looked down at my feet, and realized two of the things I was most looking forward to were flip-flop tan lines and my freckles coming out. Daydreams of wearing my hair in its natural wavy state with flowing sundresses and bare feet filled my imagination. I couldn't wait to frolic in the ocean waves, lay in the warm sand, and read a book with the surf as background music. I had a strong sense that the beach was where I needed to be. Emilia de la Playa was born.

Fast forward to 2011. I was teaching Spanish part time at a small private school in Minnesota, and decided I needed to take my students on an immersion program. I ended up rounding up 5 families for the opportunity to learn Spanish on the beach and live with a host family at Intercultura Language School in Costa Rica. I'm fairly certain that I was more excited about the trip than those kids were, mostly because I'm a super nerd about Spanish, and because I was ready to be Emilia de la Playa again. 

I grew a lot during those 2 weeks in Costa Rica. I was the only "adult" (I was 23 years old) chaperone of 5 students, so the group would have to depend on my Spanish if something went wrong. It was up to me to make sure everyone was awake on time, met up for transportation, and made it to and from school safely. 

The way I grew the most, though, was in killing an enormous arachnid in the room where I stayed while my host family slept. No way was I going to fall asleep with this Beast biding its time to crawl on my face as I slept. With my pounding heart and sweating palms, I slipped on the most solid shoes I had packed - Keens. The Beast sensed something was amiss, and scurried to safety under the bed. The minutes dragged on as I waited for him to get careless. And around midnight, it happened. I had to act fast, or I would surely be awake until dawn waiting for him to appear again. I summoned all my courage, closed my eyes, and sent my left foot crashing down to crush his hairy exoskeleton. I emerged the next morning a new woman.

As a confident victor, I faced the rest of our time on the beach with tranquility and joy, relaxing in hammocks, writing essays in Spanish, kayaking, dancing, hiking. When I look at this photo, it brings back memories of the responsibility of being an example and guide for this kids, but also a newfound freedom and tenacity - not just because of the spider, but also because I had dreamed up, planned, and executed this entire trip. My ultimate goal as a Spanish teacher was never to have my students graduate high school with the irregular preterite verbs memorized (although that would be nice). It was always to inspire them to travel and push outside their comfort zone using Spanish as their tool. 

This photo was taken the second or third evening of our trip. We had spent our one afternoon without an organized activity on the beach. As the air cooled and the sun began to set, we all pulled out our cameras to capture the beautiful colors. Later that night we met at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant central to all three of our host families to play cards, tell stories, and laugh. That evening alone made up for the stressful hours of booking flights, parent meetings, frantic email exchanges, and trying to get teenagers psyched to practice Spanish immersion style. When I look at this photo, I remember that we were young. We were free. It was Pura Vida. 

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