A multicultural mosaic in Hotel Bijagua

Published: April 23rd 2016
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The bus rolled along the winding road from the Trapp family Lodge and took a right turn to the main road at the junction. I am traveling to my next destination Arenal. These were the two good days I spent in Monteverde. Zip lines were awesome. No, we won’t discuss zip line today. We talked all about zip lining in the last two blogs. Let’s change the topic here. I would like to tell you the story about a Costa Rican family who took me close to their heart and made me feel home.

On the way to Arenal

We changed the bus outside Monteverde. Then we took the main Highway No. 606 through the rolling hills of Alajuela. A green carpet of nature is spread across the silent hills and pastures all around us. It was a three hours journey by the time we arrived near the lake Arenal. We all unloaded our luggage and waited for the ferry. It took us good 20 minutes to cross the lake in ferry. But it was an enjoyable journey over a tranquil lake Arenal surrounded by green rolling hills. I could see the Arenal volcano at a distance. The pandemonium started when we reached on the other side of the lake. We boarded a small bus and all our luggage were dumped on the back of the bus. Once people boarded through the front, there was no way one could take the luggage out unless everyone gets out of the bus clearing the aisle. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. The first stop came and some tourists got out. And indeed, it was a novel way of unloading the passengers and luggage both. The passengers came through the front door and the luggage came through the back windows! My hotel Bijagua was right on the Hwy 142. The bus stopped in front of the hotel to drop me off and my luggage also followed the same route as others.

Hotel Bijagua

From outside, the hotel resembled more like a house rather than a typical hotel. I opened the main gate and entered a passageway. At the end of the passageway, there is a hall and the hotel desk is at the center of the hall. I couldn’t see anyone there. “Hola”, I said looking around. An elderly lady appeared from the inside of the house and gave me a smile, “Hola”, she returned my gesture. No, I didn’t want to give her an impression that I am a pundit in Spanish language and then make a fool out of myself. I learned my lesson in Salvatura.

“Well, I have a reservation.” I told her in plain English.

I am glad she realized that my Spanish won’t go too far and she called someone. A lady came forward to the front desk. She spoke in English and once the initial formalities were over, she came with me to show my room. Inside, there is a beautiful little garden and a small pool where some kids were playing. Hummingbirds were jumping from one tree to another. Lovely, I thought! At one side of the pool, there is a two story building with guest rooms on each floor. There is a stair at the end of the building and she showed my room on the second floor. It was a nice spacious room with all the basic necessities. At the other end of the garden and the pool, there is a community kitchen where the guests are free to cook. Obviously, it’s a family run hotel and I was not sure of what kind of services I could expect here. Once I settled down, I came downstairs. I was getting hungry. I walked to the front desk to inquire about the eateries close by. A young man was talking to another lady near the front desk. I approached him and asked about the restaurants. The guy smiled and extended his hand,

“Hi, I’m David, and you?”

“Nice to meet you, David. Call me ‘Tab’, that would be easier, don’t go by my Passport name,” I laughed.

“That would be fine. I am from hotel Bijagua. Are you new to this hotel?” Dave’s English was fluent.

“Came just half hour ago.”

“And coming from…?” David looked at me expecting an answer.

“Originally from Canada, now from Monteverde.”

“Welcome to Arenal, Tab. Actually, you are lucky, we had a pretty bad weather for the last few days. Just got better. Anyway, what can I do for you?” David asked.

“Well, I am looking for a place to have dinner”

“You just got it.” David was smiling. I was confused. In the meantime, another elderly gentleman came to us. David introduced him as his father, Jorge. The gentleman also spoke English, but not as fluent as David. Both David and his father seem to be easygoing people, and I started feeling at ease. I reiterated my question, now looking for an answer from either of these two gentlemen,

“Is there a place close by where I can grab a bite?”

“You know, we are inviting you for a family dinner with us tonight.” David said with a smile.

I was taken aback, but said, “Oh, I will be honoured…but may I know…umm, is there any occasion?”

“Well, today is 31st December, right?” David continued,

“On the last day of the year, our whole family gathers here. We cook and invite friends and guests. So if you don’t mind, you are welcome to join us.”

“But you hardly know me, David. I just arrived here only half hour ago.” I was still trying to understand the rationale.

“Well, you are a guest in our hotel. That’s all it matters. We are all one family here.” Then he added, “We have invited two other guests from the hotel too.”

I didn’t know what to say. “Can I be of any help,” I asked politely.

“As you please, no compulsion,” David’s father told me. I thought, if we are to spend the rest of the evening together, it is better that I start get acquainted. So I mingled.

“This is Caroline, my elder daughter.” Jorge introduced me to a smart lady who just emerged from one of the rooms near the front lobby. She wore a casual dress of blue skirt and a sandal. Caroline came forward and shook my hand.

“Let me guess, Thailand?” Caroline was smiling at me. This is not the first time I was called an Oriental person and I have accepted this as part of my life.

“Close, India.”

“Oh My God! I should have known. We have to talk,” Caroline was excited.

“Sure, but may I know the topic in advance, so that I can prepare,” I said jokingly.

“I want to inquire about your religion a bit,” Caroline said. I stiffened a bit. I am not a religious person myself and discussing religion is not my comfort zone.

“Actually, I was studying Sanskrit…I would like to know a little more about Bhagwat Gita,” Caroline continued.

My jaw dropped! I had to balance myself holding a chair; otherwise I would have fallen on the ground! There she is…a Spanish speaking complete Costa Rican lady, studying an ancient language of India where I grew up and ironically, I have practically zero knowledge of it; and on the top of it, she wants to discuss the Bhagwat Gita with me, and I don’t recall when I last turned a page of that book. I was feeling dizzy!

So we discussed. No, let me correct it, - it was a monologue. Actually, Caroline spoke and I listened and I learned about the Hindu philosophy of life from a Costa Rican lady! I felt like a complete idiot. However, I was simply amazed to see her motivation.

Caroline is a lawyer by profession, but she was also studying a couple of ancient languages. She spent a fair bit of time in Beijing in an exchange program. One of her subject happened to be Sanskrit. I believe the other one was Mandarin. It would be an understatement if I just say that I was very impressed. Rather, I was overwhelmed! Live and learn, Tab, live and learn!

The guests started to arrive. They are mostly family and friends. I was loitering in the pool area recovering from the shock of my last encounter when I bumped into another lady. She is a guest like me and she was also invited to join the party. After the initial small talks, we started discussing our trips. I asked her where she was from….”You WHAT...,” This is the second time I almost fell on the ground. Of all the places in the world, she hails from Kolkata, India! Well, what are the odds that two people coming from the same city halfway across the globe and staying in the same hotel in Arenal! No wonder they say, the world is a small place.’

Soon David called us to join the crowd. We did. David introduced us to his brothers, sisters, sister-in-law…the whole family. Jorge called me and asked if I would like to help in the barbecue roast of the pork. I did with pleasure. During the whole time I didn’t realize how the evening passed. It was past midnight when most of the guests left and I found myself in the kitchen helping the family cleaning the dishes. The next morning I joined David and Jorge for the breakfast and we had fun. So much love and friendship they gave me that I felt it is my second home. So, if anyone asks me what I loved most in Costa Rica, - what should I say? I know what you are thinking. No, it’s not the zip lining; undoubtedly, it was my opportunity of getting to know David and his family in hotel Bijagua! I was touched by the fact how quickly they embraced me as part of their family. Often I think, if we all could open our hearts in the same way David and his family did for me, this world would have been a much better place to live in. Instead, we are slowly dissolving into a world of self absorption, where we tend to love ourselves more and more than loving others. We seem to be comfortable with embracing the world of ‘selfie’ and call it a progress of human civilization! We tend to forget that life is all about sharing and giving. David, Jorge, Caroline, you all woke me up from my make-believe world of civilization and reminded me the eternal truth, - love and friendship know no bounds.

It was almost two o’clock in the morning. I walked towards my room while musing my favourite song – “Imagine there is no country…”

Additional photos below
Photos: 20, Displayed: 20


23rd April 2016

I enjoy reading your blogs - keep them coming!
23rd April 2016

Thank you Oppy. Much appreciated. Just to let you know that one of my travel article has been published in Times of India, the most circulated newspaper in India. They have accepted me as one of their authors for writing in their travel column. Here is the link below: http://bit.ly/1NmYL4s
24th April 2016

A little slice of heaven!
Hi Tab. I loved reading your story! I was grinning from ear to ear as I read it because I know this family well. 20+ years ago I met them for the first time. I had the good fortune of staying with their family during a college internship in San Jose. David was 10 then and just as friendly and charming; Carolina was 18 and just as smart and beautiful; their parents were just as gracious and loving. And Hotel Bijagua then was a small 3-roomed building used they had just built for their vacation home. Over the past 2 decades, we've been in each other's lives. I've loved watching them all blossom...their families grows... their hotel thrive... their hearts continue to be open. This family definitely changed my life. A few years ago, my husband and I brought our 2 boys and stayed at Hotel Bijagua for nearly a month. What a paradise is it! It's a little slice of heaven. There is nothing like it. I am delighted that you had this experience with them. My guess is that, sooner than you know it, you'll be going back for more. Their pull is strong. :) Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience with us. It really made my day.
24th April 2016

A little slice of heaven
Hi Stephanie, First, thank you so much for reading my article. Second, it's so good to hear that I was not the only one who was so fortunate in getting to know this family. When I travel, it's the people who who give me the real excitement. It appears to me that you are currently really in touch with family. Great! After I got back from Costa Rica to Canada where I live, I lost touch with David for a while. Then I managed to get his email and got in touch again. Because I couldn't publish something about them without their consent. David was overjoyed to hear about the blog and I forwarded him the link right away as soon as I published it. And I have seen that they read it. I consider that to be my best accomplishment. I believe Caroline gave me her email address, but I may have misplaced it. Stephanie, it's nice to know you. Let's be in touch! My email address is agango54@gmail.com. After all, it's the people who give character to a place, but not the place itself. Cheers!
24th April 2016

A slice of heaven
Hi Stephanie, Dave has left a comment for you and me. Please take a look when you have some time. Cheers, Tab
24th April 2016

Many thanks!!!
Dear Tab and Steph.... with tears of joy in my eyes I write this... The day I arrive to Hotel Bijagua to work full time on it, my live was in pieces after my divorce.... Ok this is very personal but, what is not personal in my live, my doors are open in all aspects. My life came from 0 to 100 in 28 years and after a series of fortuneless events goes from 0 again but this time to 200. Now I see life completely different. Read this comment really drill my heart, I feel the reward of my effort to rebuild my life, to reinvent my self, to belive again in my live purpose and have projects again. Many thanks Tab!!! Looking forward to you next visit :) With all my heart David Castro, Hotel Bijagua´s Owner.
24th April 2016

Many thanks!
Dear David, Everyone goes through ups and downs in life. You told me about your personal tragedy when I was there. I talked to Carolina as well. But what impressed me how you all bounced back. I read somewhere 'Respect yourself well enough to walk away from something which does not serve you, does not grow you or makes you happy'. I you made that true. And I take that lesson from you. Because you went through the trouble, you value the happiness more than ever before. How true it says " happiness is but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain". We will meet again. You, Carolina, the whole family. And we will have fun!
24th April 2016

New Years Eve
A New Years Eve to remember Tab. It's something about that day or evening that can forge new friendships that become strong bonds or be totally forgettable. This is definitely in the UNforgettable category. What a wonderful story of the hospitality of your Costa Rican hosts to embrace you and others as family on that day. The comments to this blog are testament to when it is special and enduring. Hope you can meet again...that would be grand.
25th April 2016

New Years Eve
Thank you for your comment, Dave. Yes it is surely an unforgettable New Years Eve story. As I continue to say, it is the people who give character to a place I visit, through their laughter or solitude,- I embrace them all. If I have been able to touch the hearts of even a few people through my writing, I treasure that beyond anything else. We will meet again...
25th April 2016

You're right -- this is another great one. I love your story about Caroline's monologue and your conclusion is so true -- one of the best things about travel is being surprised by cross-cultural similarities just as much as differences with those in our own cultures. I think we've all got a lot more in common on the inside. ;-)
25th April 2016

You are absolutely right, Michelle. We may talk different, wear our cloths differently, and look different....but at the bottom of our hearts we all have the same qualities. After all, we are one common race - Human. It's up to us how we nurture those qualities to make this world a better place:)

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