Red Card Roberts: Traditionally untraditional |

Red Card Roberts: Traditionally untraditional

Park Record columnist Amy Roberts.

Most of us recognize some type of Thanksgiving tradition — serving turkey, making the same shared family recipe(s), overeating, watching the Macy’s Day Parade. Maybe your family puts up the Christmas tree or volunteers to serve a meal to those less fortunate or plots their Black Friday strategy over dinner. Traditions — no matter how trivial — tether us in world that is constantly shape-shifting. They offer stability, consistency, and a sense of belonging. They also tend to create lasting memories. I’ve been to many holiday feasts where someone starts with a story about how “Mom always used to…”

For the first 40 or so years of my life, my family’s traditions were typical — turkey, gluttony, football, giving thanks, etc. And a Watergate Salad that almost no one ate — but it was made from scratch using the same recipe as my great, great grandmother followed, and served every year regardless.

Then, in 2016, my younger sister died three weeks before Thanksgiving. That holiday season was a blur. I don’t remember much about it, but I know none of us felt like counting our blessings.

A few months before the next Thanksgiving holiday rolled around, we began talking about who was hosting and where, and quickly realized none of us were particularly keen on the idea of going about our family traditions without a key member of our family. So instead, I suggested we take a family vacation to Finland. The destination was selected because I wanted to take my then-three-year-old niece to Santa Claus Village. Most aunts take their niece to the mall to see Santa, I took mine to the North Pole.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of a new tradition — an international family Thanksgiving. The following year we went to Fiji, then Turks and Caicos. We took a year off for Covid but got another passport stamp once we had our vaccines.

This year, we chose Costa Rica. To be more accurate, Costa Rica chose us. Through a trial-and-error process we call talking, my family has come to realize that we aren’t really compatible travelers — we all have vastly different interests and preferences. My mother is best suited on a Caribbean cruise where little effort is required and each day brings a different experience, location, and shopping options; my dad’s main requirements are inexpensive, safe, and an easy/short flight; while my older sister and her new husband consider anywhere that serves fruity drinks with little paper umbrellas the epitome of vacation success. I’m more into nature and wildlife, and my niece is at the age where she enjoys jumping off things. Thanks to a number of waterfalls with natural steps and platforms for launching into the pools below, Costa Rica was the only country that checked all of the boxes.

A few months prior to our planned departure, I decided I would arrive a few days before the rest of my family, giving me time to explore one of the world’s most bio-diverse national parks, Manuel Antonio. I hired a naturalist guide and reveled in his explanations about the surrounding ecosystem. The park is home to roughly 300 animal species and the topography includes mangrove forests, verdant jungles, and postcard-worthy beaches.

The discovery, wonderment, and “pinch me, this can’t be real” scenery continued at my resort, Arenas Del Mar, which neighbors the park. Few of the animals pay attention to what is literally a line in the sand, crossing from park to resort with little care. Toucans, scarlet macaws, iguanas, sloths, red-eyed tree frogs, and monkeys roamed about unbothered. Though I didn’t see one, I was told by hotel staff that it wasn’t uncommon to see jaguars wander the grounds too.

Arriving before my family was a whim decision based equally on flight costs and the desire to enjoy nature on my own terms — unrushed and unconcerned with someone else’s contentment. It wasn’t intended to become a tradition, but after this trip, I’m pretty sure it will be.


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