With unaccustomed wisdom, Nancy and I planned our fifth visit to Costa Rica last November. We wanted a warm and pleasant place where we could escape Northern New Jersey’s customary drismal January weather. The week before we left, temperatures hovered unpleasantly near zero. We almost didn’t mind arising at 4 am to catch the early flight to San Jose.
Costa Rica (“the rich coast” Columbus is supposed to have named it) is close to the equator in Central America. It has numerous ecosystems–dry forest, cloud forest, rain forest, arid forest…you get the idea. It also has some active volcanoes that occasionally wipe out entire villages, but also create wonderfully fertile soil. Cut a pole off a tree, stick it in the ground for a fence post, and it sprouts leaves in a few weeks. Hence, the living fences surrounding coffee, banana, pineapple, coconut, sugar cane, and other plantations. Costa Rican coffee is exceptional. Its high octane caffeine provides a promising beginning to every day there.
Costa Rica is bordered on the north by Nicaragua, on the south by Panama,. and the “Ticos,” as in many neighborhoods, have mixed feelings about their neighbors. They have very friendly relations with Panama, but are not crazy about the “Nicos” to the north. The country’s population is five million, of which one million (according to local friends) are immigrants from Nicaragua who provide much of the hard labor needed to bring in lush harvests. Fortunately, political leaders recognize the need for these helpful laborers, and do not follow northern bad examples of trying to keep them out.
Pura vida (“pure life”) describes a happy and relaxed outlook on life. Just saying the words in response to “how are you?” is satisfying. Rather than expanding on this thought, here’s a photo of of a Capuchin monkey demonstrating pura vida–totally relaxed but ready for mischief.
The country’s most important import is tourists– 1.7 million each year. They come mostly from the US and Canada for eco-tourism and are the Costa Rica’s primary income producer. Like us, they tour in well-appointed new buses, stay in hotels ranging from posh to pleasant, eat too well, and are delighted by natural beauty and wildlife. We saw many exotic animals, principally at a wildlife rescue center, one of which is below. I’ve seen many pheasants display, but they have been shy about showing their backsides. That mystery is now revealed.
The country’s oldest city, Cartago, was founded in 1563, and the country is dotted with charming old villages and small cities. Catholic churches anchor the central squares of those places. Here’s a view of the one in Zarcero.
Up close, the gray tiles that cover the church are discovered to be vinyl . So much for ancient masonry!
We swam at turtle beaches, took a cable car ride through lush tropical forest, bathed in volcano heated hot bathes, cruised jungle rivers, and visited all the forest areas. The warmth of the climate and the people was appreciated. And the weather was much warmer in New Jersey when we returned. We didn’t see a volcanic eruption, but the sunsets made up for that.