Updated: Apr 21
On a recent trip to Costa Rica for my little hermana’s 21st birthday we had the pleasure of visiting Arenal and Queops for a week-long trip.
For any new experience, community is always the first thing that comes to mind. How is the food, drink (local cerveza is a must), fashion, and sense of community similar to what I’m used to? How is it different? And how quickly can I assimilate to appear as if I’ve been living there for years. I think we, as Americans, can sometimes be viewed as uncultured, or ignorant, when it comes to visiting a new city or country. While this holds true sometimes, I try to make an effort to get to know the locals, understand their way of life, and ultimately gain some perspective about what makes them tick.
In the handful of foreign countries I’ve visited, family is paramount. In Costa Rica, familia is everything and that became apparent pretty quickly. We arrived on a holiday in Costa Rica and the first park we passed on our two and a half hour drive was packed with families picnicking and playing footy. Weaving in and out of neighboring picknickers and on any sliver of grass they could find, kids, parents, and the elderly were all participating in what I call “football fever.” I knew this was going to be a good trip and all I needed to do was find a ball and some amigos.
Fast forward a few days, and many football pitches later, I stumbled across one in Quepos with open gates. On the field was a family – a grandfather and his grandkids—kicking around, taking turns shooting on goal. Since the goal mouths were closed off for reseeding, the family had found a goal off to the side where they could play, so I sat and watched from afar.
As I do with any new football encounter, I watched to assess the competition. Who are the players, how’s their touch, and most importantly, can I glean any insight into the type of person they are by watching their body language and technique. Without trying to sound any more snobby than I already have, and for lack of a better phrase, “how good are they actually?” In the 5 minutes I had to snap a few photos and watch, my assessment was summed up in one kick.
‘Abuelito stepped up to the penalty spot calm and collected. He closed his eyes as if he was envisioning a moment of brilliance from his past life. With a silky, smooth stroke of his left foot, he buried it into the upper 90 so as to avoid hitting any of the little niños.’
The beauty of this moment was that grandpa knew exactly what he was doing and he was doing it with no shame. Shot after shot - upper 90, bottom left, bottom right - all while his grandkids were jumping up and down with joy not having saved a single shot. He walked away to take a seat and catch a breath knowing full well his ability to strike a ball, and equally, his inability to ease into it.
“Pura Vida,” they say in Costa Rica. Here it’s more than just a saying - it’s a way of life. Family first, football second, and a bad ass Abuelito banging goals on his grandkids was pure perfection on this Saturday afternoon. Even if it was only for 5 minutes, I felt the joy and emotion with every stroke of the ball. In an empty field, or a packed stadium, you don’t need fans to keep you going, you need family.