Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.
Many words describe Costa Rica. Forced pick one, it would be “green.” The color is everywhere, in every single verdant shade from dusky olives to brilliant emeralds that shouldn’t be natural. I’ve never been to Ireland, but its reputation must be exaggerated; Costa Rica is certainly the greenest place on this planet.
I discovered this because I went to Costa Rica to learn Spanish for two weeks at the Costa Rican Language Academy in San Jose. My profesora, Maria Laura Aguilar, was incredibly patient, and the program was great, so I speak like a native. Some of the Spanish I learned:
* Quiero una cerveza por favor… I’d like to sample one of your local brews.
* Una mas… My, this is good and I’d like another (may be used repeatedly).
* Donde esta el baño… The waterfalls here are lovely and now I must make one of my own.
While I was in Costa Rica I stayed with a tico family. Ticos (or ticas, for the women) is what the Costa Ricans refer to themselves as. As a general rule, they are a warm and friendly people and my host family was no exception. If you ask a tico how he or she is, the common response is ¡Pura vida! which literally translated means “Pure life” and generally means that things are just hunky dory. Considering they have no army, it’s no wonder the Costa Ricans have such a positive outlook on life.
Costa Ricans hate war and love tourists: it’s their number one industry, ahead of both microprocessor and fruit production. Despite this, they don’t understand the concept of road signs. Streets, in fact, rarely have names except as novelty items, and if they do the names aren’t used. Ticos navigate like they dance salsa: fluidly, intuitively, and passionately. Any taxi or bus drive through San Jose will confirm this. Naturally, I found myself with about as much sense of direction on the streets as I have on a dance floor, which is to say that I had none at all. Directions are routinely given in the manner of, “Go to the blue house in barrio San Pedro which is now painted yellow, turn left, go down the hill until you see the tree that was chopped down five years ago, and travel for about 17 meters or until you feel like stopping. That is my house.” Seriously.
I did not let this deter me, however, and when I had the opportunity, I travelled about the country. What I saw was beautiful. Although much of the country is agricultural, nearly a quarter of its lands are nationally protected areas, making it a very wild place. I was able to visit both the Pacific coast and the Poas Volcano, and on my trips I got to see monkeys, crocodiles, iguanas, butterflies, toucans, and even a sloth’s butt! You wouldn’t think that a sloth derriere would be much to write home about, but I was ecstatic about this for some reason. I certainly took enough blurry pictures of it.
On my final days I got the chance to visit the Nectandra Cloud Forest, a small preserve of primary and secondary growth cloud forest just north of San Ramon. A cloud forest is like a rain forest, only, well, cloudier (and cooler due to its higher elevation). I was treated to a royal welcome at the refuge by three of the founders: Evelyne and David Lennette, and Arturo Jarquin. I stayed the night at Arturo’s beautiful mountain-top home with food provided by his friend Alan. Nectandra was magnificent, and my visit was one of the jewels of my entire trip to Costa Rica. I want very much to go back just to see Nectandra again.
Sadly however, I had to return home, although I admit I was a bit homesick after two weeks abroad. The flight home was less than enjoyable due to a 20 hour flight delay, but that’s air travel these days for you. At least the airline put us into a hotel while they tried to fix the plane, and thanks to the wireless access in the airport I was able to keep Melina posted thousands of miles away. The internet sure is a nifty thing. And thanks to the Internet, you can experience a virtual tour of my trip.
Check out the pictures!