An Open Letter To Costa Rica

You had me at, "Hola, guapa."
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Dear Costa Rica,

What began as an instant love affair has turned into a complicated love-hate relationship. Over the past three years, we've had some mind-blowing adventures as well as some teary-eyed breakdowns.

I fell in love (or was it lust?) with you in 2009. You can't blame me, really. You took me on a death-defying whitewater rafting ride, brought out my energizer-bunny cycling skills (you know, the "keep going and going" kind) and introduced me to the most pristine beaches I'd ever laid eyes on.

You had me at, "Hola, guapa."

But our time together was short. In a mere 10 days you lulled me to sleep with your swooshing rapids and pounding rain, jolted me awake to the bellow of your howling monkeys, and satisfied my sweet tooth with your succulent pineapples and fresh-picked bananas.

I was a woman in love. I even had the rosy cheeks, sweaty palms and dreamy gaze to prove it. I couldn't get you out of my mind. Instead of resisting, I ended up giving myself over to you.

I quit my job and moved south to see if we could make a long-term relationship a reality. As it turns out, a year-and-a-half together was a pretty good run. But it certainly wasn't without its ups and downs.

You kicked me out every 90 days and sometimes gave me an unwanted cold shower when your sunny demeanor turned dark and gray. You unleashed your unrelenting blood-sucking mosquitoes on me and caused me to itch like a mad woman. And, of course, you made my body temperature rise 10 degrees and turned my naturally unwieldy locks into a frizzy disaster.

I wasn't always happy to be with you, but I was always happy to wake up to your blue skies and rolling waves. I admit that I didn't open up to you like I could have. Sometimes I failed to communicate properly with you and at times I judged you too quickly without trying to understand you.

I loved you, but I didn't always like you. This is why I had to let you go...or, so I thought.

I went back to my comfort zone. But after being with you for so long I missed the security of your swaying green palms towering over me and I longed for the tender kisses your dewy air left on my cheeks.

So, I came back to you.

Yet, I knew it would be different. You had changed and so had I. But I was willing to give us another chance. I wanted to get to know you a little more.

I must admit it wasn't always easy.

As I write this, we'll be approaching our five-month mark...and my departure. As I prepare to leave you once again, I know our goodbye will be different. This time, I'm leaving you knowing that I will be back again. But before I go, I want to thank you for what you have taught me these past few years.

Dance is joy - the contagious beats of salsa, merengue, bachata and cumbia emanate from the local saloons, sodas and bars. You've shown an uncoordinated midwestern girl with two-left feet that there's more to dance than the electric slide. While I don't come close to imitating your fluid movements, I have begun to understand the pure ecstasy that results from shaking, swinging and shimmying your body.

No place, no person is perfect - you have many faults - some that I'm not sure I can live with - but so do I. As with every relationship, you have pushed me to try and accept you without constantly trying to change you. I must love you as you are...despite the cold (and not-always-guaranteed) showers; crunchy, scream-worthy bugs; long, feet-tapping ATM lines and crack-of-dawn crowing roosters.

There are genuinely good people in this world - while your "hola, guapas" are flattering, I've learned that Costa Ricans offer more than just blushing come-ons. Your people have a good heart. I've been fortunate to befriend incredible individuals who have welcomed me into their homes with open arms. Whether it was a homemade pancake breakfast cooked by local friends or a special farewell drink artistically prepared by a one-of-a-kind barista, I'll always be grateful for the kindness that has been shown to me.

Life is too short not to live it and love it - in the past five months you have taught me this more than anything else. Life for you is not always easy. But even after your darkest, tear-drenched days, you always find a way to break through the darkness and show your bright, sunny smile. You've shown me that happiness is not derived from material possessions, but from experiences.

Life is simple, stop complicating it - a "banana" beach cruiser, a roof over your head, a few colones in your pocket, the occasional cerveza in your hand and loving, supportive family and friends are all you really need. Costa Rica, you epitomize simplicity. You never seem to let the small things bother you. It's all "pura vida" to you.

So thank you, Costa Rica, for all of your beauty, kindness and mystery. I don't have you figured out, but each time we meet I learn something new and unexpected. This isn't goodbye, but merely "hasta lluego."