I had the good fortune of living several years in San Jose, Costa Rica as a child. My parents rented a small house with a little backyard that included a shed and a jocote tree, enclosed by the tallest wall I’d ever seen. The experiences I had there have had a big impact on me, including shaping my proclivity for adventure and travel. We had a detached room that my parents would, on occasion, rent out to tourists passing through to earn a little extra money. I must have been about six years old when this Australian family came to stay for a few days. They had a son who had befriended me, I could speak English with him, he would buy me bottles of Coca-Cola, plus he was a few years older than me so I thought he was the coolest kid I’d ever met.
Our neighbor’s dog, who we called “Lassie” (we never knew her real name but she looked exactly like the famous Collie), would always hang around our home. One beautiful, sunny day my new Australian friend and I decided to go on a short hike up the mountain. I was never allowed to walk by myself so I felt mature alongside our guest. Lassie followed us. Like most days year-round in Costa Rica, the weather was perfect. Not five minutes into the walk and Lassie veered off to the left towards a creek. Without hesitation, she crossed over a fallen tree that functioned as a bridge. The collie looked back at us briefly before continuing onwards through a wall of thick brush that looked like a skirt for the taller trees in the mountainous, jungle-like landscape. I felt responsibility for the dog and told my Aussie friend that we had to go get her. I felt uneasy about walking across the log for fear of falling into the rushing water below, but with plenty of encouragement from my new pal I found the courage to make it across and into the forest.
I’ll never forget this day because of what happened next. The density of the forest was deceiving. It quickly opened up into this area that seemed like it might have been created from a scene in a Peter Jackson movie. The trees surrounding us created a barrier that blocked the noise from the external world, but inside produced a music sanctuary that resonated within our minds and bodies. Tiny, clear streams danced in different directions between tufts of bright green moss while frogs, insects, and birds sung in beautiful harmony, creating this atmosphere of fantasy and tranquility. Colors seemed brighter, the air was pure, and the smells were fresh, almost surreal. We stopped to take it all in, allowing the environment to stimulate all our senses. If there was ever a physical manifestation of heaven, this was it. This was pure, unadulterated beauty. The most beautiful place on earth. I knew right then and there, at 6 years of age, that not only would my life be dedicated to searching the globe for more beautiful places, but that I would return one day in the future to once again visit this mystical place.