Travel, adventure, and learning a new culture: Costa Rica
PURA VIDA! It means “pure life” and is the motto of Costa Rica. My family recently returned from a Spring Break vacation to the region where the landscapes are filled with diversity of animal and plant life and a welcoming culture.
When traveling, I try to do more than lie in a beach chair and sip frozen drinks (though I do plenty of this, too!) I enjoy learning about the country, flora and fauna, as well as the culture. I strained to remember my high school Spanish to communicate. The best example: After I stepped on a sea urchin while snorkeling, my husband and I had a lengthy discussion with Diego and Gustavo as to how I was injured. Diego swore I was stung by a jellyfish and thought my husband should pee on my foot. Gustavo disagreed and thought it was a stingray, but after an elaborate game of charades we figured it out! (No peeing necessary) Walter, the lifeguard, removed the spines/debris from my foot, but spoke little English. I managed, “Soy un doctor en Los Estados Unidos.” (I am a doctor in the United States) – to let him know I could help or dig it out myself. His face lit up with my attempt to speak Spanish (or he was cracking up laughing inside), then he asked a question I could not understand. I gathered he wanted to know what kind of doctor I was. I answered “familia” and he responded “general doctor?” “Si, Si, Si”– (yes). Walter took care of my foot, and I wish I had known more Spanish to express my appreciation. Next time, I will brush up on my verbs and common phrases prior to travel!
Costa Rica has a variety of landscapes. We stayed on the Pacific coast in March and it was the dry season with skinny horses and cows grazing brown fields. They told us that next month the rains will come and the area transforms to diffuse green in a few days. We traveled two hours inland, lush vegetation and foggy mountaintops offered new sights. Pablo, our tour guide, showed us sugar cane fields on our drive. Tall, thick stalks of sugar cane filled the fields.
I explained our cornfields in Iowa and harvest using combines, while Pablo explained that the sugar cane fields are initially burned off and then the thick stalk is cut off with machetes by laborers. Pablo had moved from Argentina to Costa Rica to surf. He runs a surf school and tour business while his wife sells souvenirs. He showed us pictures of his seven-year-old son already racing the waves on a surfboard.
My daily routine in Costa Rica: I would wake up to the deep guttural sounds of howler monkeys in the resort treetops. I would slip on flip-flops and grab my daughter (the other daughter would not move for another two hours) and we would go get Costa Rica Britt coffee. We saw the coffee bushes of Costa Rica on our tour, which I believe made my coffee taste better.
We roamed the grounds and the raccoon-like Coati scattered the roads, bushes, and occasionally got trapped in a trashcan. The howler monkeys jumped from tree to tree as they played, swung by their tails to munch on leaves and mangos in the trees, and carried their babies on their backs while they flew from limb to limb. Watching the monkeys hang by their tail as they grasped for food amazed me with their agility and grace. Iguanas not only sunned themselves on rocks but actually scurried across the treetops, too!
We hiked the rainforest with heavy, moist air and the ground moved with life. We saw a waterfall with deep blue water colored by sulfur minerals from the nearby volcanoes. We were able to visit a private park in Biguana and held green, red, and blue-legged tree frogs that were silky smooth and delicate. Hedgehogs are wild in Costa Rica and a few were hanging out. Sloths eased through the trees and allowed the guide to pick them up for snuggling. (Lesson of the moment is that three-toed sloths are friendly while two-toed sloths are more irritable). Although their fur looks wiry and thick, they are soft and gentle. Rubbing the head of a sloth while hugging puts them to sleep. Our tour involved a traditional Costa Rican lunch with fish or chicken, rice and beans with fresh cooked vegetables. Fried plantains look like sliced bananas and are cooked with a little sugar and fried golden brown. (The plantains from Hy-Vee are not quite the same and we have been unable to reproduce this yumminess to date . . .)
Costa Rica recycles everywhere and has avid programs for a “green” environment. The pace was slow and relaxed and everyone met your eyes and smiled with a welcoming demeanor. I could easily flee my current responsibilities in exchange for a pair of flip flops or just run around in dirty bare feet as I roamed the beaches and rainforests of Costa Rica. There is so much more to see and we must go back again, not only so Pablo can teach us to surf in Tamarindo, but also so we can experience more of the Costa Rican hospitality and countryside.