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Crossing the border into Costa Rica, it finally hit me. There were nineteen weeks of travel behind me, and only one ahead. This was the end of my Latin American adventures.

I’d chosen to fly out of San Jose for several reasons. First, because there were flight to New Orleans for only 15,000 frequent flyer miles $25 in fees! Second, I wanted to visit with the host families from my first trip to Costa Rica more than seven years before, when I’d been part of a high school student exchange program. And finally, it seemed like a symbolic choice. That trip my senior year of high school was part of what ignited my wanderlust. It seemed appropriately full-circle to end this trip there.

Our week was broken into two parts — four days in the charming seaside town of Puerto Viejo, and three in the capital city of San Jose, where my friends resided. Puerto Viejo was my kind of town. Laid back vibes, tropical temperatures, and the perfect blend of dilapidated and developed. Almost everything about it was perfect — except for the prices. If it weren’t for the protests of my wallet, I might have been content to never leave.

But we found a way to make it work. We stayed at the notorious , a Central America backpacker institution (the fact that I didn’t take a single picture of this wild place is pure proof of how burnt out I was on travel). There, we mostly cooked our own meals — though we balked even at the cost of groceries! — and for entertainment paid $5 a day to rent bikes and beach hop. We did splurge at one restaurant in town more than once, the fabulous (though, they could work on that name).

We also made time for two special activities. One was our magical horse ride, which you’ve already read all about. I stitched together our GoPro footage on my iPhone using the smartphone video editing app , and I’m pretty obsessed with the one-minute movie that resulted.

The second activity was also animal related. One afternoon we rode our bikes to the next town for a visit to the . While there are no jaguars there — clearly, this town could use some assistance in the establishment naming department — there is an impressive array of other animals to see and interact with. You guys know how I feel about zoos and aquariums, but this place passed the sniff test (I mean, not literally… jeez, there were hundreds of animals there.)

The Jaguar Rescue Center is a non-profit organization that works to rescue and rehabilitate animals and ideally facilitate their release back into the wild. And because most of the animals end up at the center due to human encroachment on their habitats, the center has developed an educational program for the community about how to live harmoniously with the region’s endemic species.

Our tour was led by a spirited long-term volunteer from Spain, who introduced us to the center’s resident cast of characters. Sadly, some animals are injured or otherwise handicapped beyond hope of rehabilitation, and so the center becomes their new home.

I was somewhat suspicious of some of the center’s methods — visitors are allowed and encouraged to touch baby monkeys that supposedly are also being prepared for a return to the wild — but, well, I’m no scientist. The center was well maintained and the animals appeared well cared for, and there were many success stories to be celebrated.

My favorite creature of the day was no contest — the sloth. We were even introduced to a newborn baby! The sloths were handled exclusively with gloves or blankets, as humans have oils on their skin that can be damaging to the animal. Whoops… I wish I had known that before I held one like a baby in Peru. Well, keep it in mind in case you ever need to rescue a sloth somewhere.

Before I knew it we were in San Jose. It was amazing to reunite with Dani and Mary, two of the hosts from my high school exchange program. Junior year, they came to stay with us in Albany for two weeks, and senior year, we switched and went to stay with them in San Jose for two weeks. It was a fabulous experience, and one of these days I’m going to have to scan my scrapbook of the trip so it too can be immortalized on Meihoukai in Wanderland.

Over dinner with Dani and a trip to the coast with Mary, we reminisced about skipping school to tour volcanoes, dancing the night away in San Jose nightclubs, and that time their entire exchange group accidentally flew to Albany, Georgia instead of Albany, New York. Yup. That happened.

Otherwise, having seen all the San Jose sights my first time around, Anders and I simply chilled around our hostel. There was a pool to soak in and a mighty fine view over the city from the rooftop bar, and both were excellent locations to sit around and be nostalgic, which was exactly what we were in the mood for doing.

And before I knew it, I was on a plane back to my home country. Like all goodbyes, it was a bittersweet one. I was leaving behind the adventure that had been my life for the past five months, not to mention the guy who had been my copilot for four of them. But there was another journey ahead. Whenever I am struggling with moving onto a new stage in my never-normal life, I remind myself of the quote that has always resonated so deeply with me. As Latin America faded from my plane window, I repeated it to myself once again.

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Goodbye, old adventure. Hello, new one…

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52 Comments...
  • The Guy
    May 2 2014

    I can see why you loved the sloth. That animal sanctuary also sounds like it does some great work irrespective of human interaction.

    Ah horse riding on the beach. I remember doing this in Ireland but the weather wasn’t as nice and I we only trotted, never galloped.
    The Guy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      I’m still hoping to get to Ireland one of these days! That sounds lovely, despite the weather 🙂

  • omgsh have you seen the video of kristen bell getting a sloth for her birthday? if not you HAVE to youtube “sloth kristen bell” it’s weird but so funny. Cute cute animal!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Ha someone else has mentioned it to me but I haven’t watched yet — will have to check it out!

  • The pictures of the sloths are so cute! And that’s an interesting fact that touching them is harmful to them. It’s always hard to leave behind some place you love, but it’s so we can go on to new adventures! I can’t wait to read about the next chapter of your adventures!
    Anna | slightly astray recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Yeah I was amazed! Sloths often need help from humans, when they fall into the road or into the ocean (seriously, in Bocas one farmer told me he rescues a sloth a week out of the ocean and they often drown) and so the center tries to educate people to only pick them up with towels!

  • Shaun
    May 2 2014

    Great quote! Ending big tours is SO bitter sweet. By see people from so long ago, it couldn’t have ended better. The rush comes back once the next adventure is on the horizon.

    Really enjoyed this series Meihoukai! Thank you!
    Shaun recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Indeed it does. And it’s also lovely to be home as well. I’m really enjoying my little break.

  • Justine
    May 2 2014

    I love the pictures of the little alligators…they’re SO CUTE when they’re little! Costa Rica sounds like it was the perfect place to end your time in Latin America. It’s pretty cool to be able to go full circle and relive all those great memories! Well, I can’t wait to read the next chapter of your travel adventures 🙂
    Justine recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Thanks Justine! The wheels are turning… everything should be confirmed and announced soon for my next international trip, but until then I have plenty of US travel to share!

  • I love the video, Meihoukai! I’m going to test out using Together, for sure. Spent a week in Dominical last summer. Costa Rica sure is expensive, but ugh what a beautiful country with such a lovely culture! I adored the people I met.

    #puravida
    Emily from Let’s Roam Wild recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Yes the people are one of the greatest things about Costa Rica. True hospitality and open-hearts!

  • This is just making me more and more excited to get to Costa Rica next week! Ohmygosh those little baby Sloths are simply the cutest!
    Christie of The Butterfly Editions recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Yay, I’m glad to hear this has you pumped, Christie 🙂 Enjoy your trip!

  • yara Coelho
    May 2 2014

    Wow, amazing photos, the one of the alligators in hilarious!

    Im getting inspired to do some central and south american travel soon 🙂
    yara Coelho recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      It’s an awesome region! I know I for one will be back many times… there is simply too much to see!

  • Rick
    May 2 2014

    Cant believe your back packs! I sure hope you don’t have to carry those too far.

    A tech note: that Together video does not play well. Only a few seconds and then buffer buffer. I’m on a very fast connection with an up to date iMac.

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Hm, I will let the Together team know about that issue — thanks Rick! As for the backpacks… I never seem to learn to pack light!

  • Emily
    May 2 2014

    Wow – I can’t believe it. Your latin American adventures seemed to fly by! (BTW – thank you – because your posts from Ecuador and Peru were major helps for when we hoofed it through there the past couple of months!).
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      I was blogging about them for over seven months… so it’s good to hear you didn’t get sick of them 🙂 And I’m so happy to hear they were helpful in planning your trip! Awesome!

  • This American Girl
    May 2 2014

    Aw you made me so nostalgic for my jungle home!! I love that place so much 🙂 Glad you had some fun times in PV and perhaps you’ll one day get stuck down there like I did!
    This American Girl recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      I can see why someone would get addicted! It really was one of my favorite places on this trip, except I felt sad that I couldn’t afford to eat out or do many activities. Cheaper countries have me spoiled 🙂

  • I love your reasons for ending in Costa Rica and the idea of going full circle! Also, how cool to meet up with your exchange partners. I did a French exchange when I was 14 but lost touch my my French friends eventually (if only we’d had Facebook!). I wonder what they are going now? Also, I couldn’t help but laugh about them flying to the wrong Albany! Lol 🙂
    Joella J (J in Beijing) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      I know, I will never forget that! I remember so clearly our teacher cheerfully going online to check their flight status in class and her face going white and her running out of the room…. well, at least they got to see another part of the US! 🙂

  • Cortney
    May 3 2014

    That video was really great! I didn’t know that human oils can harm sloths. I also didn’t know that slow loris are endangered and heavily trafficked until I went to Cambodia, and found out that infamous tickling video was really a terrified little dude trying to show his elbow poison pads, not stretch adorably 🙁 It’s hard to accidentally find out you’ve harmed animals when you love them, but even when you research sometimes you can inadvertently do harm. That makes the awesome horseback ride even better- happy animals and a happy dude leading y’all along 🙂

    I think this is my favorite On the Road quote about leaving:

    “What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
    ― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

    I never cease to be amazed at the relentless generosity of the universe when it comes to doling out crazy ventures. They truly do keep popping up as long as you keep rolling down the track. Here’s to the next!

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      OH MY GOSH I have that quote in a post draft for Monday! I really need to reread that book again, so many gems. PS — I didn’t know that about the slow loris either, but I’m not surprised… it seems almost every animal on the planet is in serious danger somehow.

  • Aaw, such a cute picture of the baby sloth! I’d love to hold one some day <3

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Just make sure you do so with a towel 🙂

  • Jo
    May 3 2014

    OMG baby sloths, baby sloths, baby sloths.
    Jo recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2014

      Ha, seems to be the popular topic of the comments section today 🙂

  • Taylor
    May 3 2014

    I enjoyed following your travels through Latin America. I will most def be participating in some of the activities you pointed out in your posts. Costa Rica has been my favorite country I’ve visited. It’s gorgeous 🙂
    Taylor recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 6 2014

      It really is — some of the most abundant wildlife I’ve seen anywhere, as well!

  • tammyonthemove
    May 3 2014

    I absolutely loved following your South & Central America adventure. Can’t believe it has been five months already. By the way-that baby sloth. OMG! I want one!!!
    tammyonthemove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 6 2014

      And actually I’ve been writing about it for about seven! Not sure if it feels like more or less…

  • Hannah
    May 4 2014

    I love that quote, Jack Kerouacs quotes are so poignant when you’re on the road; doesn’t matter how many years have slipped by since he first put pen to paper we still feel those exact feelings. I love that about traveling.

    Those sloths are ridiculously beautiful, I had no idea that we could harm them, just by touching them. I love those animals, I was amazed to hear that they can swim really well and can hold their breath for 40 minutes under water.
    Hannah recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 6 2014

      I am surprised to hear that too because on the islands in Bocas the locals were telling us how they are always drowning! I assumed they are bad swimmers but maybe it’s the currents or something. So sad though!

  • wes
    May 4 2014

    Q: Isn’t anyone going to remark on the bikini on a bike?
    A: Yes. Me. It is remarkable that anyone would ride a bike in a bikini. That is all.

    • Meihoukai
      May 6 2014

      I think your judgement is clouded by your current journey… I wear a bikini when I ride a bike short distances! Is that bad?

  • MCVK
    May 4 2014

    Congrats to you for continuing to keep on keeping on. There is beauty everywhere in the world. My Panamanian friends don’t understand how I can live in Vermont 8 miles south of the Canadian border, but … they have no idea how lovely it is here. I repeat: there is beauty everywhere in the world.

    • Meihoukai
      May 6 2014

      I couldn’t agree more, especially as I am currently visiting home and trying to be a tourist in my hometown 🙂

  • Amy
    May 5 2014

    I love that Kerouac quote. Sounds like a great end to this adventure and I look forward to seeing what comes next. The sloth pictures are amazing by the way, they are the weirdest animals ever 🙂
    Amy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 6 2014

      They are magical! I loved how sloth-filled this particular journey was for me 🙂

  • becky hutner
    May 6 2014

    i can’t think of a more fitting ending to your latin odyssey than a baby sloth & a jack kerouac quote. thanks for taking us on another epic adventure, alex! x
    becky hutner recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 6 2014

      Be sure to stick around for the next one 🙂

  • Camels & Chocolate
    May 17 2014

    For some reason all of your iPhone videos just buffer for me (and I’m on the fastest of fast Internet connections) and I only get a few seconds of them =/
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 19 2014

      Argh! You’re not the only one to complain of that — I’m emailing the app founders now!

  • Ashley
    November 3 2014

    Hey Meihoukai, sorry if I missed the name in this post, but I was just wondering where you stayed in San Jose? Or if you can recommend any accommodations in San Jose? Thanks!
    Ashley recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      November 4 2014

      Hey Ashley! It was Hostel Pangea 🙂 The room wasn’t great but the deck was nice.

  • Rayna
    April 19 2016

    Loving this entire post! We took a trip to Costa Rica in November and one of my goals (life goals) is to hold a baby sloth. Now I’m kind of glad I didn’t. Thanks for sharing all your awesome experiences here!

    • Meihoukai
      April 27 2016

      Thanks for reading Rayna! Baby sloths are insanely adorable… I suppose they’ll just have to be so from a distance (I feel your pain!)

  • Jen
    March 27 2017

    One of my favourite places in the world. I could sit on these beaches all day!

    • Meihoukai
      March 28 2017

      From one ocean lover to another, tell me about it! 🙂