Mangoes and Memories
In this piece, I explored my desire to travel when I was younger and how this has impacted me as I have grown up and gotten to experience the world more.
Growing up in a small town of 800 people and living a half hour drive from pretty much everywhere, I always dreamed of traveling when I was young. Though I loved the same landscape of people, trees, and buildings that I saw every day, I craved new experiences and opportunities that would let me get to know the world better. My favorite parts of every year were my trips to visit family, both for being around the people I did not get to see often and for the places I could explore anew.
Despite my excitement for my existing opportunities to travel, I soon found that I loved to look beyond my limited experiences of traveling that were, while enjoyable, not particularly varied. I decided to learn about all the different people and places in the world, so I began to search out all the opportunities I could to broaden my horizons. I lived vicariously through stories of distant places from my family, flipped enthusiastically through all the travel magazines I could find, and avidly dug through packing lists, photos of distant destinations, and travel blogs. My spare time was spent compiling lists of the places I wanted to visit when I grew old enough to travel on my own, a guilty pleasure I still have.
As I reached high school, I began to look into opportunities that would let me travel. I started taking German classes because I was fascinated with the idea of learning a new language that I could use to communicate in other countries. I learned to love the little thrill I got every time I mastered a new piece of music, understood a German phrase, or made a connection between concepts while studying. At the start of my freshman year of high school, I auditioned for a chorus group that gave me the opportunity to travel all over my home state and later to Costa Rica to perform, and this experience solidified my desire to travel and see the world. Reflecting on this trip, I think of both the memories I made while traveling and the ways this experience solidified my ideas of what I enjoy doing the most in life.
Pacing anxiously through the airport, I stay within sight of my chorus group. I have never left the United States before, and this is in all ways a new experience for me. Buzzing with nervous excitement, I think about how this trip has been postponed for so long and go through a mental checklist of all of the preparations I made for it. My hand strays to the pocket in which I am stowing my passport, checking nervously to make sure it is still there. I worry that I have done something wrong somewhere in the process of preparing and will not be able to go on the trip. As the rest of my chorus filters into our corner of the entrance to the terminal, my excitement continues to build.
Later, on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, I look out the window at the bright rays of the sun setting. The woman sitting next to me says something, but I realize that she is speaking in Spanish and I do not understand her. After a lot of gestures between the two of us, I finally realize that she is trying to take a picture of the sunset out of the plane window, so I move over for her so she can cross the aisle. After sitting back down and reflecting on my first “conversation” with someone I do not have a language in common with, I realize how much I had taken living in an area where I speak the same language as everyone else for granted. Though I had prepared for a visit to an area where I did not speak much of the local language, it took actually experiencing this for it to fully sink in.
My first morning in Costa Rica, I wake up still not quite believing that I am actually getting to experience the travel I have waited for my whole life. I look out the window at the view of a Subway restaurant backed by distant mountains as my roomate gets ready, and I reflect on the haze of landing at the airport the night before, making my way through security, and stopping at what was nearly midnight in my time zone to get a bite to eat before going to sleep. I laugh to myself, thinking about the memories I have already made with my friends. A few minutes later, while I am rushing to get breakfast, I have my first daylight glimpses of the sunny area and all its tropical plants. I try gallo pinto, the nation’s official dish, for the first time and am blown away by how much better it tastes than all the Latin American cuisine I had tried in the United States. Later that day, we toured a local coffee farm, learning about the varieties of coffee plants grown there and sampling a delicious mixture of coffee and hot chocolate before lunch. We also made a visit to the farm’s butterfly garden. As I look out at the surrounding mountains and take in the coffee plants, the opportunity I am experiencing finally begins to feel more real and less like the abstract dream I had envisioned for so long.
Walking through the rain forest, I look up at the dense cover of green with rays of sunlight reaching down to the forest floor between the leaves, creating a dappled effect that I run my hand through and watch how the light dances over it. I find my eyes are accustomed to deciduous forests whose leaves fall off in the winter and grow back every spring and realize that I am unfamiliar with the explosion of tropical plants. I have never before heard the songs of the tropical birds, and I soak in the different sounds and scents of this environment. I realize how rarely I have experienced geography that differs from the North American forests where I live, and drink the moment in as I think about how I want to explore slices of nature like this all over the world and admire their differences.
As the end of the trip nears, we take a bus to the Pacific side of Costa Rica. I have waited years to see this place, dreaming about what it will be like to get my first taste of this side of the world. I dump my bags off in my hotel room and run towards the ocean as soon as I can. It feels almost surreal to finally see the Pacific Ocean after waiting so long. I find that the countless pictures and blog posts I had combed through in my imaginings of traveling the world do not compare to the actual feeling of the sand on my feet, the smell of salt lingering in the air, and the sound of the waves beating against the shore that is, finally, just ahead of me. I wade into the shallows of the waves, realizing how much warmer this ocean is and how it seems to have an indescribably different character from the Atlantic Ocean near me, and savor every moment of this unique experience.
That night, my friends and I sit in a circle on an abandoned patch of grass on the lawn of a Costa Rican hotel. With a plastic knife one of us managed to procure, we take turns slicing and eating slightly overripe mangoes bought at a market overlooking a volcano, juice dripping down our hands and onto the grass as we attempt to cut the mangoes without being covered by their sticky guts. The experience is ridiculous, all of us with mango juice coating our hands and faces, but we laugh together as we attempt to eat the fruit. I realize that this is a moment I will remember, something I can look back on decades later and laugh about.
Sitting on the bus ride to the airport at the end of the trip to Costa Rica, I try to stay awake to get a last glimpse of the scenery as I reflect on all the things we did throughout the trip. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to learn and grow, and I realize how accurate my dreams of traveling the world were to what I want to do in my life. Having the chance to travel allowed me to expand my lens of how I viewed the world and better understand how valuable seeing the world is to me. Through meeting new people that I had communication barriers with, tasting new foods, experiencing diverse surroundings, and making many memories with friends, this trip allowed me to open my eyes to so much more of the world and gain new experiences, something I will forever be grateful for.
This piece was inspired by my experiences as a child and my realizations of how my perspective on travel has helped me become who I am today. Part of my motive for writing this was that I wrote about my love of travel for some college essays but felt like I was writing more for an end goal than for myself and my own memories, so I decided to revisit this subject and expand on it in a more nostalgic and introspective way. I wanted to focus on how travel has broadened my perspective and the experiences I have had for it, something I worked on by going through various memories from my first trip outside of the United States and exploring how they made me realize the ways travel has affected me.
Greta is a high school senior who is interested in learning more about how to get better at writing and express herself using words. She is a part of her school’s field hockey and track teams, and also enjoys doing things like reading, making music, learning new things, doing crafts, and baking in her free time. She hopes to someday get to travel the world and get to see and learn about lots of different places and people. She loves to read and explore different genres, but her favorites are YA Fantasy and sometimes Historical Fiction.