I recently returned from an awesome trip to Costa Rica, an amazingly beautiful country. I think the most appropriate thing I can say here about Costa Rica is…”GO, SEE IT FOR YOURSELF!”
For much of the trip, we spent our nights in a time share in San Jose in the central valley. However, during the days we were usually driving through tropical moist forests and mountains, headed toward one coast or the other. That was some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. Imagine a huge blanket of green with sprinkles of red, blue, yellow, and orange covering sharp, young mountains full of sheer, vertical cliffs. In Costa Rica, everything is covered with growth. Even the trees themselves are covered by other plants!
One of our major adventures was driving. We put about 1,200 miles on our rented Suzuki Sidekick, and those were some of the most exciting miles I’ve ever driven. Costa Ricans seem to feel that if you are still living, you are driving too calmly. I firmly believe that they have lost their minds! Wow! It is amazing any drivers are still breathing. I spent most of my time bouncing the car through potholes, often driving off the road to avoid the worst potholes, and swerving to avoid drivers facing me in my lane. I think my brother summed it up very well in an email he sent to some of the members of our family. It went like this:
…However, all this was surrounded by driving. As Carl can tell you, driving there was an adventure in itself and I award Carl a medal for bravery and accomplishment for getting us through it without an accident or personal damage. I guess that I will start with the most prominent of the Costa Rican National Driving Hazards (heretofor referred to as the CRNDH): potholes. Carl and I quickly learned of the potholes upon leaving San Jose for the first time. There we were in the national tourist car (a Suzuki Sidekick) driving on what is considered a major highway late one November afternoon. As we cruised along, we approached the lip of a “pothole.” Not wanting to be rear-ended by an impatient CostaRican driver (actually, that’s a little redundant, from now on, they will be referred to as Ticos and Ticas), we began our descent into the “pothole.” It was quite pretty at first. There were ferns and small rivulets of water on the side walls. However, we soon got below the maximum depth of light penetration from the sun and the place just got darker and darker. Due to the weakness of the breaks on the “jeep” we had rented, we were picking up speed at an alarming rate. Fortunately, the people driving on the rotary at the bottom were spaced just right and we shot half way around without actually crashing into anyone. Our momentum carried us two thirds of the way up the other side of the “pothole.” But then Carl had to down shift the rat driving the wheel that provides the “power” for our car to second so we could get enough of a boost to get to the upper rim of the “pothole.” Just as we got to the top, Carl swerved out of the way of 7 Tiocs crammed into a light blue 1971 Toyota Bondo Bomber that careened at us in our lane on a blind turn because he was trying to pass 12 cars, a Subaru van, 16 mopeds, a pick-up carrying 9 oxen, a pipas truck with no tail gate that was pouring coconuts all over the highway, a municipal bus that was billowing plumes of smoke so black it could be Satan’s breath on a cold day, and a fat kid on a one speed bike with an inner tube around his neck and his mother sitting sidesaddle on the frame in front of him…
Actually, he understated it a bit. Those “small rivulets of water” were waterfalls, kind of similar to Niagara. Those ferns were actually giant redwood trees. Just kidding… The potholes are not only large, they are also frequent. One of the jokes running around the country goes like this: How do you know a Tico is driving drunk? He’s driving in a straight line! I have to admit, considering the number of potholes we slammed through, I am amazed we did not crack an axle. I did see a pickup truck by the side of the road with its right, front wheel leaning at an alarming 60 degree angle. There is no doubt what happened there.
Early in our trip my sister suggested we check out one of the butterfly farms so we asked the guys working at a travel agency associated with our timeshare to give us directions. They could not. The biggest problem was the fact that almost none of the roads have any signsindicating their name. You can drive for thousands of miles crisscrossing that country and never know which road you’re on. (At one point my sister asked a native for the name of a road and he burst out laughing.) Even the natives don’t know any of the road names. When someone there gives you directions, it goes something like this, “gostraight 500 meters, turn left, then after another 1,250 meters turn right, it will be 450 meters down on the left.” Instead of directions, we ended up with a small, incomplete, incorrect map. However, thanks to Melody’s brilliant navigation and intuition, we got there without making any wrong turns. The farm was great. We saw thousands of beautiful, colorful butterflies, and learned a great deal about them.
I also do not recommend driving into downtown in any city. If you want to go downtown, take a cab. The roads are very narrow and crowded, the drivers are insane, and the pedestrians have no fear of death.
Suddenly, my commute down Route 1 into Boston every day no longer seems so crazy or dangerous. At least I’m not bouncing through and around potholes and there isn’t anyone driving like a madman at me in my lane around a blind turn on a mountain slope while the truck he’s passing is dropping coconuts all over that poor excuse for a highway. Plus, in comparison the taxi drivers here in Boston are tame, safe, and courteous.
No matter how thrilling and heart-stopping the driving was, it did not compare to our other adventures. For example, one day we were headed south toward Cahuita on the East coast. We planned to find a small hotel for the night somewhere nearby since we were so far from the timeshare back in San Jose. As we were traveling down a horrendously bumpy, gravel road along the coast, we happened to pass a few signs for a bed and breakfast. I turned to Eric and asked, “think this place is worth checking out?” He replied that it couldn’t hurt so I turned the car around and pulled into their driveway. It turned out to be a small bed and breakfast called Aviarios del Caribe located on a privately run wildlife preserve and it doubled as an animal rescue center. The owners, Luis & Judy Arroyo, are very enthusiastic people who love to share their love ofanimals with their visitors. Luis said there would be a room available as soon as the maid finished cleaning it and he took us on a brief tour of the immediate grounds. He pointed out a short trail we could walk which would take us into the forest (which was the first place we saw the land crabs and leaf cutter ants). He showed us poisonous frogs he was raising to educate the local children. He took us to see the toucans and the three toed sloths, and a paca (a rodent larger than a rabbit). Naturally, we decided to spend the night. After dark the guard, with his shotgun and flashlight, took us out onto the dock. He shined his flashlight out onto the water and we could see large glowing, orange lights. He was illuminating the eyes of the caiman (small alligator-like reptiles). In the morning a guide took my brother, sister, and I on a three and a half hour canoe ride through the wildlife preserve. There we got to see myriad birds. More differenttypes of birds than I’ve ever seen in one place. Some of the birds were tiny, some huge. It seemed as though you could not look in any direction without seeing birds. This was the first place we saw toucans flying and sloths hanging in the trees. During a break, the guide cut down some coconuts for us to eat and some unripe coconuts for us to drink. They refer to the green coconuts as pipas and I have to tell you, that juice was great! It is sweet and does not taste like you’d expect, but it was really good. Before we checked out, they allowed us to hold a three toed sloth. She was an extremely cuddly animal. It was pretty cool.
While at Cahuita, we stopped in to see the National Park. As we were driving in, a coatimundi (a large animal that looks kind of like a cat with a very long tail sticking straight up into the air behind it) ran across the road. On the trails, we saw a huge iguana, maybe four or five feet long. Later in our trip, wediscovered that was not uncommon. We saw so many hundreds of iguana they became quite commonplace. When we made it out to the beach, we were amazed. Here was a beach, miles long, that epitomized the “paradise” type beaches you find in movies such as The Blue Lagoon, yet we were the only people in view. Throughout the trip, we kept running into these amazing, “Garden of Eden” type beaches, but they were almost always empty. Talk about paradise!
During this trip we saw hundreds of vultures circling and gliding through the sky, many majestic herons, many squawking parrots, a few toucans floating in their wave-like flight, many humming birds zipping around, a few peaceful hawks gliding as if they didn’t have a care in the world, a bright, colorful macaw (which Eric got to hold), statuesque eagles, and many, many other types of birds. We got to see a motionless, four foot long caiman, hundreds of lazy iguana, and five different types of small lizard. We watched and dodged white faced monkeys and we listened to and watched howler monkeys. We viewed three types of praying mantis, many katydids, a four inch cockroach, and hundreds of otherinsects. At an overlook we held a tarantula someone had caught. I found it interesting that the bottoms of the tarantula’s feet were prickly, like they were covered with tiny, stiff, sharp hairs. I guess that explains why they can climb so well. A tour guide we were following caught a “bullet ant” that was over an inch long. He explained that they are named bullet ants because their bite feels like a bullet and a single bite can cause a mild fever. We decided not to try holding that one.
Several of the people we met were originally from other countries. They had gone to Costa Rica on vacation and simply never left. It is definately the most naturally beautiful country I’ve ever seen. I can understand the attraction to living there, but I would miss the niceties of living in a “first-world” country. I also could not handle living someplace that never got cold, never had snow, and never saw spring and fall.
This was definitely one of my favorite vacations of all time. The myriad life we saw was spectacular. The people we talked to were great. The driving was an adventure. The landscapes were incredible. I could continue writing this story forever and not finish. I think I will simply say, “GO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF!”