We Can Dance, Everybody Takin' the Chance, Safety Dance
Jaco Travel Blog› entry 13 of 18 › view all entries
How many times can I find paradise in one country? I have found myself wondering this on several occasions thus far. The most recent occasion that comes to mind occurred at the beach resort in Jaco this past weekend. My homestay family, her sister’s family, and my roommate all headed to Playa Hermosa in Jaco for the weekend. I spent all day Saturday swimming around a gorgeous underwater bar in the translucent aqua water, convincing myself that the cold water was defending my body from the effects of the scorching 95 degree sunlight. After a few cocktails (virgin, of course!) made with tropical Costa Rican fruits and an array of delicious sautéed vegetables and Costa Rican delicacies, I knew I never wanted to leave.
In that particular blog entry, I wrote from a humorous standpoint about my personal safety and the ways in which I have jeopardized it, but found great opportunity in doing so. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that although I can be self-absorbed, my personal safety is never on the tip of my tongue, the top of my to-do list, or the topic accompanying others as they dance through my mind. I value my independence, my ability to travel, and my personable approach to strangers; however, in doing so, I have neglected to value something of the greatest importance to me: my life. I always want to see new places, to try new things, to speak another language, essentially to immerse myself in a culture to the greatest extent that I can. I will admit that these desires have enabled me to expand my knowledge, to broaden my horizons, and to better relate to people cross-culturally, but they have not encouraged me to take a safer approach to my journeys.
Costa Rica is the first time that I have traveled alone. I have flown solo, but no matter what country I visit, I have met up with a friend, family member, or school group there. A certain level of comfort and security comes with company while a heightened level of danger comes with being alone. I learned a very valuable lesson yesterday in a two hour long course focused on women’s safety and awareness in Costa Rica. One of the teachers said that while traveling as a woman, a heightened level of danger requires a heightened level of awareness which leads to a heightened level of precaution. This lesson is undoubtedly something that most, if not many, people my age already know and employ in their life and their travels, but for me, it took longer to kick in. To be honest, this lecture exists as somewhat of an epiphany and a much-needed eye-opening life lesson for me. The safety course is truly the most time that I have spent thinking about personal safety- the various ways I can protect myself, the times I need to protect myself, the places I need to be aware, and the ways in which I can trust my instincts.
One component of the course required us to do a large walk around the city as a group. The leader of the walk had already designated three ‘dangerous’ places as stopping points. At each stopping point, we were asked to fill out a short questionnaire that asked whether or not we thought the location was safe, if we were attacked or robbed in this location at a variety of hours in the night, at which times would people hear or see, what words we would use to describe the location, and why we do feel the way we do about it. The first location we visited was an isolated alleyway with no visible lighting or signs and lots of sewage, garbage. The second location we visited was a bus stop on the main road located within a small, sketchy park. The third location we visited was the corner of a residential area that is set far back from the main roads, businesses, etc and has a lot of inaccessible houses with large gates, locks, and security systems. I only sensed danger in the first location. In fact, on my questionnaires, I wrote that I felt safe and unthreatened in the other two. Upon return to the classroom, everyone shared their thought sand feelings. From this discussion, I quickly realized the error of my ways. All three of the locations were unsafe, but I had not noticed because I had neglected to take into account anything other than my own emotions and instincts. I did not look at the other people around me, the street lights, the signs, the stores, the closest police station, the number of cars and people passing by, etc. Safety is not necessarily about obvious danger; it is about the little things too.
As I spend the next year studying abroad for school, I look forward to employing and expanding upon my new-found instincts for safety and security. Yes, I admit that I will continue to use CouchSurfing, but I will also be more cautious and aware of my surroundings and the people I meet and that is truly the change that matters the most.