Sunday, November 27, 2011

¡Pura Vida!

¡Pura Vida!
My last adventure to southern climes was to the tiny country of Costa Rica. “¡Pura Vida!” or “The Pure Life!” is the standard toast you hear throughout the land.
Being a lifelong British Columbian, I have been spoiled by the natural beauty of my home and did not think anything could rival it. I was wrong;  Costa Rica could be considered as being on equal terms as my home province when it comes to natural beauty. In fact, travelling on busses through the different provinces of Costa Rica reminded me a lot of a road trip through BC. There are areas reminiscent of the Okanagan Valley, the rain forest and the east coast of Vancouver Island. And being such a small country you can see all the changes in vistas in a matter of hours.
As per the name of this blog, I am one to be a tad adventurous but at the same time a wee bit cautious. I am not one to “rough it” it or venture out too far on my own so I did stay in an “all-inclusive” resort near Liberia in the north eastern province of Guanacoste and all my trips outside the resort were on guided excursions. That being said some of these excursions did involve me going outside my comfort zones.  The horseback ride I went on was not your ordinary tourist friendly walk through relatively flat well cleared trail; it was a trek up a steep mountainside and down a rocky creek bed on narrow paths that the guide had to continuously re-clear with the aid of his machete.  I also managed to climb up and down a 150 foot ridge in the dark to view a Pacific Green Turtle burying her eggs in the sand on the beach and crawl back into the ocean. Although standing around for an hour and a half watching some large dinosaur like creature slowly move her fins back and forth seemed a bit boring; it was probably the most exhilarating thing I did during the two weeks in Costa Rica. Very few people ever get to witness this natural process in person.
However, I should tell you that my “safety scissors” side took over when it came to zip lining even though this form of forest/jungle canopy transportation first became popular in Costa Rica long before all other places. I just did not feel comfortable with idea for two good reasons; no one could assure me it was safe for someone of my height and weight and the fact that I have a bit of a phobia when it comes to descending. (I can climb up a ladder without out fear but on at least one occasion I’ve had to have been talked down a ladder, one step at a time.)
Tobacan Hot Springs
None of the other excursions I took were disappointing and I would highly recommend all of them. The first tour was to the Arenal volcano northwest of Liberia where we toured Lake Arenal by boat viewing the countless species of birds as well as a few caimans patiently floating around waiting for some unaware fowl to become their lunch. Unfortunately we were unable to get a good view of the volcano because of the rain and fog. Then again one does have to concede such inconveniences when one is in a rainforest. But our disappointment was soon forgotten with a visit to the Tobacan Hot Springs and spent the afternoon luxuriating in the pools heated by Arenal. However it can be it bit disconcerting when notices are posted throughout the resort telling guests what to do in case of a volcanic eruption.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is probably the best place to experience the vegetation of the tropical rainforest. By forgoing what is described as one of the best zip line adventures, I was most fortunate to receive a private tour of the reptile refuge and the butterfly pavilion as well as the hummingbird sanctuary at Selvatura Park while everyone else was buzzing down wires above. After everyone saw the forest canopy as a blur of green, we all set out to walk along a series of fifteen suspension bridges where one can view the fauna from high above. All the plants in the canopy were so oversized you would have thought you were in a 1960’s Sci-Fi film. I would love to see the size of the 1980’s cocktail lounge that could fit even one of the ferns!

The trip to Palo Verde National Park and cruise up the Tempisque River was simply amazing. We were lead by a guide, Sergio that introduced us to countless birds, monkeys, lizards and a few crocodiles. Sergio was a fascinating character. His is primarily a biologist and environmentalist has conducted several other studies for the Costa Rican government and others that may have embarrassed the government.  He has lived in the rainforest on his own to collect data on monkey and bird colonies and produced several documentaries including two with Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter. He also is one of the primary teachers of tour guides in Costa Rica. Basically anything about the country’s wildlife that Sergio didn’t know hasn’t been written yet and in fact he probably wrote a lot of it himself.
I travelled north on a day excursion to Nicaragua. While both are naturally beautiful the contrasts between these two neighbouring countries outweigh the similarities. Costa Rica has a literacy rate in the nineties and most students attend some sort of post-secondary institution, the literacy rate in Nicaragua is about 38%. This dissimilarity is reflected inversely in each countries’ poverty rate. However Nicaragua and more precisely Granada wins out in architecture. Granada is the oldest Spanish city in Central America and reminded much of Habana. Costa Rica does not have the long history of many of its neighbouring countries.
The people of Costa Rica, commonly referred as Ticos, are bit more reserved than their cousins in places like Cuba and Mexico where everyone is your amigo. None the less the Ticos are just are warm and generous. Also the language is a bit different in Costa Rica. Ticos speak a much more formal version of Spanish similar to that which is traditionally spoken in Madrid and they tend to speak it much faster so those like myself trained in “Spanglish” have a more difficult time. However key phrases like “¡ dos mojitos por favour!” and “¿Donde est el bano?” still work. :-)
While I didn’t do it myself, travelling unguided through the country is relatively. It is not uncommon to rent a car and drive to several places mentioned above. However, driving at night is not recommended. Costa Rican roads are notoriously in bad repair and directional signs are confusing if and when they do exist.

Close encounters with Costa Rican wildlife is not restricted to the jungles and rainforests mentioned above, the resorts are teeming with birds, howler and Capuchin monkeys, coatis (tropical raccoons) and huge iguanas that casually stroll around the grounds.
I look forward to returning to this paradise soon.
Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day here in the Magic Kingdom. Oh crap, wrong theme park! ;-)