History vs. The Great Outdoors

As a Spanish major I had always planned on studying abroad in Spain-duh. But as I attended a college in which there was no limit on the amount of time you could study abroad provided you met certain academic requirements, I was anxious to find a second destination. For some reason I have always been obsessed with Cuba-its food, history, hidden allure. Luckily for me my school was affiliated with a study abroad provider that offered semester abroad programs in Havana. I was dead serious on going even after speaking with a past participant who said Cuban Spanish sounds like people have marbles in their mouths when speaking and that it was a good rule of thumb to shake one’s shoes before putting them on to make sure no scorpions decided to take up residence. Unfortunately for me, less than a year before I was to apply, former President George W. Bush shut down all academic programs in Cuba. I was crushed by this, seeing as how undergoing rigorous academic studies at a foreign university hardly equated to downing mojitos and salsa dancing. As it looked like this new mandate was sticking around for some time, I had to come up with a plan B. My college was affiliated with another program in a Spanish speaking country but Costa Rica had never been on my radar. (If you’ve read my blog before you know how much I adore Costa Rica, so what I’m writing now is more of back story on how my love with it came to be.) I knew Costa Rica was great for outdoor and adventure enthusiasts, not exactly for a lover of all things historical. I also had heard that the program was focused on sustainable development and while I wasn’t 100% knowledgeable on all that it entailed, a part of me knew that four star hotels and foie gras were not included. But as I was anxious to go somewhere and receive academic credits already approved by my college, off I went to Central America where I had the adventure of a lifetime. I had some downs while there (a really bad first host family experience, losing a flip flop in a mangrove, stepping into a two foot deep mud hole which I had no way of seeing as electricity had not yet come to Puerto Viejo’s outer roads, gaining about 15 pounds due to my host mom’s delicious but so utterly fattening cooking, a taxi driver who I thought was going to rob me or worse). However, the ups more than evened it out-seeing a baby sloth, swimming in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean in February, going zip-lining, seeing two volcanoes. My semester in Costa Rica was unforgettable and while I’m sure Cuba would have been incredible too in its own way, Costa Rica was pretty darn special.

(It’s scanned so I apologize for the poor quality
 but hopefully you can still see how special Arenal Volcano is.)

Had it not been for my time in the land of pura vida I probably would have never considered traveling somewhere that didn’t have ruins, or museums, or other historical sites. And yet there are trips now I would love to go on that involve nothing except the Great Outdoors. My time in Costa Rica and in Hawaii, two places that are extremely small in size and yet home to an astounding array of ecological diversity made me realize that as incredible as some historic attractions are, so is seeing an active volcano or a particular plant species that is endemic only to that area. In Costa Rica, save for a museum I visited in the capital of San Jose which still shows bullet holes that were lodged there during the country’s civil war in 1948, there weren’t other historical sites that I toured (overall there really isn’t that much “history” to see in Costa Rica). But what Costa Rica lacks in the history department is more than compensated by its beaches, flora and fauna, and other natural sites.

Here are three “great outdoors” sites I would love to visit one day:

Ngorongoro Crater-Tanzania
To some, this is the eighth natural wonder of the world and rightly so.  It’s believed to have been formed around two million years ago and is home to an incredible array of landscapes-forests, peaks, craters, valleys, rivers, lakes and plains. The crater is located in the Biosphere Reserve of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area which covers over 3400 square miles in northern Tanzania. The reserve was formed to accommodate both traditional Masai communities and tourists. All sorts of fauna can be found here including lions, cheetahs, leopards, zebras, elephants and more.


Milford Sound-New Zealand
Due to its being located on the other side of the world and then some, New Zealand is a destination on the “keep dreaming” wishlist. Not to say I won’t make it there but between costs and the time spent getting there, it’s a trip I don’t see as happening anytime soon. However, should I make it there, I would love to check out the South Island, home to Milford Sound which the Fodors New Zealand guidebook describes as being “the sort of overpowering place where poets run out of words.” The 18 mile fjord there was carved by a succession of glaciers as they gouged a route to the sea.


Ha Long Bay-Vietnam
While I’m most anxious to see and experience Vietnam as a whole, especially its French colonial past, Halong Bay is perhaps what I would be most interested in seeing. The bay features thousands of limestone karsts (a type of geological formation) and isles in various shapes and sizes. The limestone in the bay has gone through 500 million years of formations in different conditions and environments. Ha Long  is home to 14 endemic floral species and 60 endemic fauna species.


Which do you prefer-seeing history or seeing nature?

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  • Reply
    July 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    One of my regrets in college was not studying abroad. I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I love history but love getting out and about to see nature. New Zealand and Vietnam are both high on my “to do” list. Excellent choices!! =0)

  • Reply
    the red headed traveler
    July 23, 2012 at 12:36 am

    I’m glad I’ve seen the light as in I want to embrace nature just as much as history when traveling. There are two many wonders of the world that while not historical sites are equally as incredible.

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