Travel may not be about books or history, but to me, it’s as educational and interesting. We flew to Costa Rica many long years ago, about twenty by my estimate. The flights ran only once a week back then. Our son was living there, and we were fascinated by open-air houses and monkeys in the city and the wonderful architecture of a country just emerging from poverty. Unfortunately, a family emergency called us back almost as soon as we arrived. We spent an entire day just looking for a flight out, finally—thanks to our son’s ability to speak Spanish—we found a Dutch freighter flying to Miami. From there, we had to make connections to our home—a memorable experience! (photo to left is me having a drink called sex-in-the-trees in a tree house restaurant)
My, how times have changed! This time, we traveled with an experienced tour group. We returned to a modern airport bustling with passengers, traffic almost as bad as LA,(photo on right is San Jose at night) and a country where almost everyone spoke some degree of English because a second language is required in schools. How often have you used your high school language skills? They have socialized medicine, first class medical facilities, and a tourism trade in cosmetic surgery. But their biggest export? Technology. All that in twenty years.
At some point, the government recognized the need to preserve their jungles and natural wonders, so a large part of the country is now in national parks. To keep animal trails open, many farmers have donated pathways to the park system so all creatures, large and small, can safely traverse their preferred habitats.
And the countryside is spectacularly worth saving. Our first full day we traveled to Arenal Volcano, which is actually four different volcanoes all in one mountainside. We were blessed with a clear day that allowed a full view, including steam emerging from the side. We stayed in a locally-owned hotel with gorgeous grounds that included orchids, birds of paradise, and howler monkeys. Fortunately, we were too exhausted to let a little monkey noise wake us.
The next day we visited a coffee plantation and tasted coffee beans straight off the tree—they grow in little berries and have to be hand-picked from trees growing on often treacherous mountainsides. The process of turning those small beans into the coffee in your morning cup is so complex and takes so long that it’s a wonder the bags aren’t gold-plated.
Costa Rica has mahogany plantations and the gorgeous wood furniture is everywhere. We stopped at an old-fashioned oxcart factory that still sold the colorfully painted mahogany cart wheels that are now used mostly for parades and celebrations. Trained artists paint the wheels and other decorations, while trained woodworkers create beautiful wood pieces like the lazy Susan we brought home.
From there we traveled to Monteverde’s cloud forest where we crossed swinging bridges over enormous jungle gulches in a rain cloud. Here, orchids grew naturally in the trees, a plethora of different hummingbird species hovered on feeders, and the national butterfly lived in a protected shelter because the mountains were too cold for it to survive.
Somewhere after that we saw sloths living in trees beside the road. Their life cycle is singularly uninspired, since they only come out of those trees once a month to defecate. The rest of the time they sleep and eat.
Returning to the city side of the mountain, we cruised down to the coast where we took a river cruise and saw more waterfowl in one day than I’ve seen in a lifetime—and we live on the coast. We watched macaw pairs fly over the river to scoop up mud for their nests and floated along with the crocodiles lying in wait on the banks.
We visited a botanical garden that specialized in a spectacular variety of orchids. The flowers require no dirt, just air and moisture. We were fortunate to see some of them blooming early. The season doesn’t really start until March, when it’s too hot to move in the lower regions.
We visited the beach, of course, but the last night of our stay was in the city of San Jose . We took a bus that evening to the top of a hill overlooking the city. While eating a local dinner of beans, rice, magnificent vegetables, plantains, chicken, and sausage, we admired the valley filled with city lights and enjoyed the music and regional dancing performed by local students.
There was so much more to learn about the culture that we barely touched on the history. I think that means we need to go back!
If you could go anywhere you liked, where would it be? Or if you’ve already made your dream trip, where was it to?