Many travelers have a certain place far away that is like a second home, a place that is lodged in their psyches as if they had been born there. For me, that place is Bijagua de Upala in northern Costa Rica. It is the only place that I can feel homesick for even while I am sitting on my own couch.
I might never have gone to Central America if my parents had not decided, after retirement, to join the Peace Corps. They were posted in Bijagua, about 20 miles south of the Nicaraguan border, for two years. I was 26 years old the first time I went there, and I have been three times since. I’m not done going back, either.
My parents lived in a four-room concrete house with no hot water, no dishwasher, no washing machine, no oven, no television, no telephone, no car. Some of their neighbors had some of those things, but most had even less. And yet it seemed to me like paradise, and it still does.
Some of the people I know in Bijagua are like family to me now. They took me and my daughter into their homes, fed us, helped me with my Spanish. They took us horseback riding, to hot springs, the beach and the mountains. They showed us another way of life as if wasn’t anything special.
I remember walking along the main road through town, looking up at the mist and clouds playing over the steamy volcanoes on either side. People would walk by, nod and smile, ask if we were paseando – out for a stroll. I noticed that they were looking down, chatting, staring at nothing and I would wonder how they could miss the splendid scenery around them. But of course they were used to it.
That came to mind recently when a colleague told me that he had driven through the town where I live. It’s a pretty town, he said. Is it? I had stopped noticing that. Maybe I’ll remember some other time, when I’m far away.
This is Bijagua:
Do you have a place like that?