5 Things I Learnt in Costa Rica

There’s no place quite like Costa Rica. I know it’s an overcooked statement but I’m serious! It’s the world’s most biodiverse country and despite the potential desire to protect and cocoon their raritys, Costa Rica is actually one of  few nations to completely abolished their armed forces. Wow! To further promote it as the shining example of democratic potential, it’s home to the United Nations University for Peace.  Awww! Animals? Adventure? Peace? I’m in love.

Back in 2009, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit Costa Rica at a discounted price. Fortunately for me,  my Grandmothers brother moved to the outskirts of San José and married a local girl in the 80s. One generation later and I am able to visit actual Costa Ricans relatives, born, bred and raised. Better still, one (the distinguishable Rudy) is the owner of his own tour company, Fiesta Tours. Our original intention was to stay within a radius of the family residence but it turned out that Rudy had other plans. Shortly after waking to our first Costa Rican morning, my parents, my brother, companion P and I were guided into the empty tour van by our own personal guide, insisting that we explore the country at large. Coming from England, I’d never experienced anything so exotic before so it’s safe to assume I had a lot to learn. 10 days later, exhausted but enthralled, I left the country with a story or two to preach:

1.Be wary of your surroundings
It’s easy to get lost in the moment when submerged somewhere as kaleidoscopic as Costa Rica but holding the title of the world’s most biodiverse country doesn’t come without a hint of danger. Near the end of our trip, Rudy took the four of us on an excursion through Manuel Antonio National Park; my mother remained in the safety of the hotel for fear of encountering an unfriendly serpent- and wisely so. Commotion ahead on the footpath told us that a large snake had been spotted, a known man killer. Edgy but curious, I lingered around the perimeter of the crowd, hoping to catch a glimpse but the noise had scared it away (so much for man killer.)

An unexpected guest

Continuing on, the rain forest opened onto a breathtaking beach. Dazzled by the sudden contrast of luscious green to brilliant white and blue, I walked out from the shaded path. Rudy’s voice awoke me to my senses. A hand’s reach above me, camouflaged in a tree, hid a python- the same species from before. After taking a quick photo, I hastily retreated. Had it been my 6 ft 3′  brother in place of me, things may have ended a little differently. Thank goodness for Rudy’s eager eyes.

2. You don’t make friends with salad stray dogs
Stray dogs were not a rare sight during our travels in Costa Rica but for me, to see any domesticated animal homeless is heartbreaking. At first, P and I baptized them all with wonderfully stereotypical names, but this didn’t satisfy my sensitive soul. In the shadow of Mt. Arenal, we met a scrawny little pup we named Pepe, who seemed to have taken a liking to us. In Rudy’s absence, he guided us around the streets of La Fortuna and out of appreciation, P traded some of his wonderfully colourful Costa Rican colones for some fried chicken.

Don’t let the smile fool you

Pepe devour it in its entirety yet not a moment later than had the last bite been hungrily swallowed did he abandon us for another couple. I was ready to beg my parents to take him home and everything! It looks like this trickster had it down to an art

.3. (In the words of Scar) Be prepared
One of the most authentic Costa Rican moments for me was a nighttime jungle hike in an intense, tropical thunderstorm. The downpour was horrendous and with nothing but highly unfashionable ponchos for cover and a single flashlight each, our tour group was very much alone with nature. Tripping over roots was unavoidable, but when my flashlight stubbornly refued to cooperate, it was a requirement. The rest of the evening involved me squinting through the distorted beams of others and fumbling through the brush in fear of being left behind. Not myself, my fellow wet hikers or the tour guides had an extra torch to spare! I think I’ll rely on no one and bring the outdoor staples myself next time.

4. Take the leap
Ecoadventure tours are a large source of tourism for Costa Rica so it was inevitable that such an opportunity would arise. Zip lining over 325 feet above the forest floor wasn’t on the itinerary. Then again, nothing we did really was- and I’m not one to say no. The practice jumps were simple, close to the ground in clear daylight but as we took the cable car up high into the cloud forest, my heart began to race. Thick fog encircled us, the trees swayed in high winds, visibility was severely limited. For some bizarre reason, I also half expected dinosaurs to appear out of the mist (Jurassic Park, anyone?).  Was I willing to jump into the foggy abyss, me who so spontaneous develops a sense of vertigo ? Apparently so, because I took the plunge although I have little photo evidence to support this claim.  Regardless, in my heart I know I did it and the feeling of self achievement is satisfying enough. Going home a coward is not an option.


5. Accept an illness
As much as my heart and soul love travelling, my stomach doesn’t always agree. It’s a pretty sensitive fellow and even the Costa Rican diet consisting  largely of fruit, rice and beans began to upset it a little. P suffered also and a few nights we rested alone in the hotel while the others were enjoy local cuisine. Frustrating as  it was, being ill is something you just have to accept – a holiday is not a safe haven. The best you can do is recuperate and appreciate the time while doing so. We watched There Will Be Blood in Spanish and by the next morning, we were fine. I can think of worse evenings.

My passion for travel often leaves me with conflicting desires about returning to a previously visited location. Could that time and money not have been spent going somewhere different, creating entirely new memories and not trying to live up to the expectations of old ones? Costa Rica, however is an anomaly – I would go back in a heartbeat. Next time I aim to travel the Caribbean Coast, searching for hatched turtles returning to their salty blue home. I can hardly wait. You see with Costa Rica, it’s like you’ve been living in a black and white world and someone just flicked on the colour switch. Welcome to Life in HD.


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