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Cultural Immersion

Planning a trip to a foreign country where the native language is not your first tongue can be a particularly daunting task! At least that is what I thought when I booked my flight… A little bit of background on me and why I made the decision to finally go to Costa Rica – I am the General Manager of Chicago’s only CostaRican restaurant and the benefit of me actually immersing myself in the beautiful culture is invaluable. It was one of those situations where I could promote the restaurant, the food, the culture and the people to a certain point, but ultimately I fell short of speaking from a firsthand experience from outside the restaurant. With this in mind, my boss (a Tico himself who visits his family’s homeland often) and I decided it was high-time that I go to Costa Rica – for one month nonetheless!

Most visitors to the tropical paradise that is Costa Rica do not go for the same reason that I went. They go for a maximum of a week and solely for the purpose of adventure. While this is a perfectly acceptable way to travel (we’ve all been there!), my needs were slightly different. I needed to immerse. And this is where a longtime business partner/friend of my restaurant comes in to the picture… Mr. Jose Rojas has been a customer of ours for as long as I can remember and has a very cordial relationship with the ownership and the staff for years. He was the perfect liaison for me to fill my days with immersion, adventure, culture, and everything in between!

I literally moved to Costa Rica for a month. Jose found a quaint space for me in the village at the foot of the Arenal volcano. I would live in my own studio apartment that adjoined the house where a family of five lived. Every morning, the richest of Costa Rican coffee was brewed while the calls of tropical birds filled the air. The foot-long pineapple and even larger papaya (not available stateside) would be my morning tradition – I was now in my own tropical dream! I would converse with the family while the smell of Gallo Pinto and Pan con Natilla would fill the air, all before 6am. But, being from a restaurant background, I needed to fill my days with employment! So, Jose found me a position at a local hotel’s restaurant where I could learn the ways of the local cuisine and serve as a de-facto go-to guy for any Anglophones that were passing through.

Weekends were filled with local adventures, road trips, and all things cultural and all were made possible because Jose made sure that all the dots were able to be connected. What initially was a daunting task of immersing myself in a completely new culture, the hospitality of the Costa Rican people and the helpfulness of Jose carried me through to the point where returning home became daunting – I was fully immersed and didn’t want to return! In other words, if you need the experience of a lifetime, whether as an individual (like myself) or as a group (Jose’s specialty), then Natural Expeditions is THE company to go through to ensure a lifetime of memories in such a short time.

(by Justin Herrmann Pait)

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