Costa Rican Connections: Building Lifelong Friendships on Holiday

Costa Rican Connections:

Building Lifelong Friends on Holiday

Following on from our interview with Julie last month about her adventures in Costa Rica, here she tells us about her experience forging new friendships in the most unlikely place.

Could you describe your first interactions with the people you eventually became close friends with during your trip?

Yeah, it's strange. You look back and there was a group of 12 of us and you instantly think, aw I don't think I'm going to like those people or I really like those people. And then you suddenly are spending three weeks with these people. And how it changes! One of my best friends, Charlie, she was a solo traveller, initially I was like, "Oh, I don't really know, to be honest" and now we've been friends for 15 years. I see her three or four times a year still, but it's really funny actually, because through those experiences together, you get to know people in their real state, not when you're jet lagged and when you're tired or when you're in your work mode. You get to know people really quite well, because some of the experiences we had, were a bit hairy. It also wasn't just British people, there were Irish people, Spanish people, there was all sorts, it was big cultural mix of people. I've obviously now travelled a little bit more since then and I'm more relaxed about it now, but this was really quite a big thing. I think everybody felt like that. So the first meeting people were over trying and people weren't trying at all, and it was quite stressful. You think "I'm just going to spend three weeks with these people on a bus travelling around Costa Rica. How is it going to be exactly?"

Julie's fellow travellers

How did the group dynamics evolve during that trip? Were there any challenges?

There was 12 of us and we all tried hard to all be together. Me being the woos, I get carsick, so I had to sit at the front of the bus. Then you had all the fun people at the back, and I felt like I was missing out. As we all got to know each other, the group, just naturally sort of split into three groups, and you couldn't help that because you get to the point where you think, "well, actually, I'm really enjoying those people's company." I wanted to be at the back with all the fun people but you know, nobody wanted me there especially when I was feeling sick. There were a few challenges. There was a lady who had come on the trip, who should have been on some sort of medication and decided not to take her medication. So that was actually quite a challenge for us all. But you know what, towards the end of the holiday, we all managed this lady and told her this wasn't the right thing for her and that she should take her medication. It definitely put a little bit of a stress on the the group. There were also the different activities that some people liked more than others, the food, because we weren't backpacking, but it was quite basic, because we all had to take it in turns in cooking and shopping. Some people were very much like, well I'm not going to go shopping, I've never gone shopping in my life or I'm not cooking and the response was, well, we've all taken it in turns... Actually, it was really quite surprising, nobody fell out with anyone. It was quite good that each person sort of stepped in and helped when there was a difficult situation. Even at the end when there had been difficult situations with difficult people, we were quite sad to see them go really, at the time. 

What activities or events initially brought you and your fellow travellers together?

It was strange, actually. One of the hikes, the weather was horrendous. We're in the rainforest, and surprisingly, it rains a lot in the rainforest because I remember saying to the guide, it's raining, he goes “We are in the rainforest, Julie what do you expect?” I didn't really think about that. I think one of the first bonding moments was when we did ziplining in the Costa Rican rainforest. I found out then that I was actually scared of heights. It's not the time to find out that you're a little scared of heights. We'd spent about three days together by that time everybody got over the jetlag, everyone was settling into the holiday mode and then you get on this zipline and I was absolutely petrified. Some of my closest friends now that I still have were so encouraging, and they're like, "Julie, I'm gonna do it. I'm scared too you know, let's do it." They didn't cry, I did. But even at the end of the zipline, it was just amazing. We went to a little bar afterwards which actually was like a big tree house and we sat and we talked about it and it was suddenly like, God I trust these people I'm ready to do the next thing I'm going to be scared of. So that was it at the ziplining in the rain, in Costa Rica, who would have thought it. That was the bonding of friendships that are still there now. 

Image showing a woman ziplining in a forest in Costa Rica
Ziplining in the Costa Rican rainforest

How did your newfound friendships enhance your overall travel experience in Costa Rica?

I was quite shocked, I didn't go there to meet friends. I went to have the experience of Costa Rica and travelling and seeing Costa Rica. The last thing I thought I expected was to come back with friends . It was just like quite a shock. But a really nice shock to actually hug them and be really, really sad to see them go you know think, I wonder if I'll ever see these people again. It was a real eye opener. If I'd gone and done the three weeks in a package holiday, I don't think it would have been the same, it definitely wouldn't. Experiencing the accommodation we were staying in, the travelling, the roads, the flooding and everything that went on because it just rained so much was challenging. Bizarrely even though you know you look back on it, was it a nice holiday? The friendships that came out of it were unbelievable. I was really quite surprised and happy that even now, it was 15 years ago, even now I'm still really close with a lot of them. 

Were there any particular individuals from the group who left a lasting impression on you, and if so, why?

There are two people that stand out, maybe three actually. They were the ones that I didn't think I would be really good friends with and I've learned different things from them. One guy that I haven't actually seen since but because of the joys of Facebook and everything else we still keep in touch. The one thing that I realised maybe one of the reasons I took the trip, is that I needed the break. He made me laugh so much, and he was just so much fun in the group and it made me realise that actually I haven't laughed for so long. It was so nice to keep in touch and hear all the great things that have happened in his life since. The female friend who I spoke about earlier, I see her three or four times a year. Again, I didn't think I'd be such a close friend and I've learned so much from her as well, about how to not cry when you're ziplining and she's a really good skier. It is really annoying because I live in a ski resort and she's really good and I should be that good. You learn things about yourself from having friendships that happened without you going out and looking for it. One of the girls on the trip actually came out to visit me a couple of years ago here in Chamonix, and she now lives with a guy that she met in Chamonix. They're really happy, they've been together for seven years and without that she wouldn't have met him. It's just the the backlash of those three weeks, and she's chilled out as well. I think those three weeks we had to learn how to go with the flow. I remember turning up, we called it the murder hut because there was no electricity as everything was solar panelled. It was raining so there was no hot water because there was no sunshine. Obviously the people who lived in this accommodation, were cooking, and obviously they've got a chicken from the market. So we went round the back and it was all dark, and we've got this chopping board and there's blood all over this chopping board. So we're now all convinced that we're in the murder hut, we've got no light, there’s blood and there's a big pot boiling on the fire, and somebody in the in the group said, “Well, I can't stay here.” And someone else said, “Why don't you check into that four star hotel down the road?” and he said, “What, is there one?” We’re like, “No, of course there isn’t one!” and we all just laughed about it. We all sat there and nobody got murdered, and they had made a lovely chicken stock out of the slaughtered chicken. It was little funny stories like that where you turn up and you just suddenly trust in these people to look after you and you don't even know them. 

Julie with one of her newfound friends, Charlie

Can you describe the process of staying connected with your new friends after returning home from Costa Rica?

There was Facebook, I don't think Facebook had been going very long. So we had the photos that went on there and we had the initial chat with whoever was on Facebook, but we also got everybody's email address. Some connections fizzled out and then some stayed, so out of the 12 of us, I'd probably say that I'm in contact with probably seven of them still, which is really good, some more than others. It was the following year that I sent an email out. I was always going to be a travel agent, I think. I sent an email to everyone and I said, "Look, I'm thinking of planning a trip to Malaysia. Maybe going on to Thailand, who's in?" and my friend who's coming out next week skiing, she came back and said, "I'm in!" and lots of other people said they wanted to come and some said the dates didn't work. It was a bit like you've met these travel buddies and we were all suddenly reconnected again. There was another friend that we met in Cosat Rica, we met her back in the UK in London, and it was really strange to see her because she had blow dyed her hair, she had makeup on and a dress on. It was just like, who are you? So it was really strange to have this friendship where you're in the rain for three weeks together. There's no hair dryer needed. Another friend who lives in Wales said, it was just like being on holiday in Wales. We went up the volcano and it stunk of really bad toilets at the top. We were like, why have we done this? It's a four hour hike. I think it's about keeping in contact. It's come up on Facebook, I think 15 years and you look and you think we all look so happy. It was such a great trip. It was life changing for a lot of us.

Lessons learnt?

Age doesn’t matter. When we were in Costa Rica, I think maybe the youngest person there was 19 and the oldest person there was 68 and we all bonded, and age doesn’t matter at all.