I have been in Costa Rica for two weeks and so far I’ve been to a wedding, a baptism, and a birthday party.

Taiwan may be the newly crowned World’s Friendliest Country, but I’d say that Costa Rica gives it some heavy competition.

I had heard something of Tico hospitality before arriving, but I had brushed it off as one of those things that every culture lays claim to, just as nationals of every kind will brag about the richness of their chocolate or the unpredictability of their weather.

On my first day of work, my coworker Priscila brought me to a borrower meeting some ways out of town. “There’s a lady nearby who makes the best chocolate,” she told me. “I’m taking you there.” We arrived at a tiny cottage shacked up in front of a jungled cliff. It smelled rich (no wonder – each bar cost $5; Costa Rica is friendly, not cheap).

It really was the best chocolate ever.

That weekend, Priscila invited me on a mountain hike with a few of her friends. It was a nice gesture, but I had to wonder how much a group of Tico twenty-somethings would really want a wreck of stammered Spanish accenting their ascent. It’s rainy season here (“winter”), and the trail was an avalanche of mud and horse dung. We couldn’t go ten feet without someone going legs up into the mess; nothing is more entertaining than a sudden, slippery dance number that ends butt-first into a thick pile of brown mush. Rich chocolate indeed.

We descended the mountain as a human chain, hand in hand. We ate backpack-smashed sandwiches and marveled over my new selfie stick. We got into the car and took off our muddy shoes, stinking it up. It began to rain.

The weather, at least, is very predictable.

A week prior, I watched a beautiful bride walk down the aisle, her hair meticulously curled and her parents by her side. I thought of my own sister’s recent wedding, and of what it must be like to administer these types of events for a living, a tight schedule of declarations and verses.

I saw an infant cry as water was poured over his head, unaware of the rain outside or of the permanence of objects or of the gravity of tradition.

I heard the birthday song sung five times in a row, so as not to exclude anyone born in July or August. We cut the cake. It began to rain.

Costa Ricans are friendly in the sense that they show you, very quickly, all the ways in which they love each other. And, if you’re lucky, they’ll share their chocolate.

Me (right) with Priscila on our hike.

About the author

Becca Levine

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Becca graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2015, where she majored in Writing. After college, she joined Teach for America and taught high school Spanish in a rural Louisiana town. She spent a summer working on organic farms in Spain, and another summer studying urban development in Medellin, Colombia. In high school, she served as a Page for the U.S. House of Representatives. She is particularly interested in harnessing the power of storytelling to connect people and drive progress.