Can you imagine your perfect beach? I may have spent Christmas on it. I was in Costa Rica, staying in a tiny beachside apartment in Samara. The beach had fine pale sand, you have to avoid the dried horse turds, but sight of the horses running on the beach at dusk is worth the mess. The impacted sand makes it easy to walk across the low tide to the soft undulating waves. People learn to surf here, I watch a young girl riding the low waves in to the beach as I swim. There are no high rises, no real buildings at all. Only tin roofed restaurants. We have an iguana living outside our window. He attempts to get in the bedroom, tapping his claws on the corrugated iron roof, we lock him out and scare him off eventually, he is like the Tico men who attempt flattery on the gullible gringas “Hey Chica, muy guapa!” they are also scared off and kept out…
Palm trees, banana trees, mango trees line the beach. Noisy birds and geckos everywhere, Costa Rica is alive and moving. This country is beautiful but the Americans and Germans have arrived in droves and the accents jar slightly against the tranquil beauty. These accents are indicating change rolling in. I wonder what Samara will be like in 10 years time when the moneymaking potential of this little paradise is recognised and the new international airport in the north of the country grows to accommodate more and more gringo visitors.
As I travelled in Costa Rica and Nicaragua I became aware of a tension. The desire for ‘realness’ to not be a tourist, whilst simultaneously being one. A need to be the first, to go somewhere undiscovered or unspoilt, to capture a place at exactly the right moment before it became ‘too touristy’ or ‘too westernised’. I struggled with this. I don’t view myself as a traveller, I see myself as a tourist, a western tourist. I try to be respectful. To not trample over other cultures. Only tasting tiny pieces here and there. Not ticking off my list, done, done, done. But the fact remains, I am a tourist. If there is a search for an experience of truth or beauty. I am looking for the beauty, the building the landscape, the waterfall, the mountain. I find the search for truth, for the authentic experience sometimes troubling. We must get the local bus because that is what the locals do. I don’t think the locals would choose the bus, I think they have to get the bus because they can’t afford anything else.
Of course this may be an intellectualising of my own laziness and the ‘truth’ is that I prefer the ‘beauty’ of the taxi ride because it is easier.
I have always loved storytellers, constantly attracted to those who can weave narratives for me. A friend of mine often says ‘never let truth get in the way of a good story’ as his slightly exaggerated versions of events portray us in less than flattering ways. And as I upload my holiday photos to Facebook this comes to my mind.
I look at the story unfolding in those pictures and I see the beauty, and of course the pictures don’t show the whole truth. The catcalls and grabs in the dark street, which make me uncomfortable (but the female Nicas assume me are safe and normal!). The rats in the market. The cockroach and frog I shared the shower with. The beggars, the crazies, the missing limbs, the children around the restaurant, constantly chased off but coming back for more scraps. The homes which are only two walls and a roof, people burning rubbish in the street because no one collects it. The sense of lethargy that pervades when there is (apparently) 70% unemployment.
However truth doesn’t completely override the beauty. I suppose it just means that travel, like life, is made up of a million different shades and hues.
So perhaps in a search for truth or beauty, the most important thing is just that, the search? The ability to look and see and consider.Why am I a teacher? I think fundamentally it is because I am interested in the world and I like to share that interest. I find that everyone I meet or teach has something to tell me or show me. Some topics are more interesting to me than others but everyone has something to share. In being an educator I am seeking to share both truth and beauty. As an English teacher with passion for language I share my love of words and that wonderful moment of connection when you read the words which express something you struggled to articulate. That is the essence of truth and beauty captured in a moment. The same way that when a crowded local bus moves as one to ensure the man that needs to get off can get out. That despite the heat, the dirt, being uncomfortable, and slightly angry that I am even on this dam bus, I see the beauty of connection flit across the moment like words on a page.