Adventures in America – Part 3
After a chilly week in Boston, we woke up at the crack of dawn to catch our flight to Costa Rica, arriving mid-day and greeted by stunning vistas of green mountains and low hanging clouds. Lush tropical vegetation grows in abundance everywhere and the warm weather makes its way into the smiles of the Costa Rican people. Tropical climates have a way of cheering people up and it shows in the culture and vibe of this country.
Situated between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is a country of roughly 5 million inhabitants, surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on other. The scenery can only be described as A scene out of Jurrasic Park, Tropical paradise, filled to the brim with abundant flora and fauna, prehistoric plants litter the landscape with lush greens and brilliant colors popping out at you everywhere you look.
About CostaRica and it’s history
Most of the Central and South American continent was part of the Spanish empire, but in the 19th century events elsewhere around the world had weakened the control of the imperialists and Costa Rica was able to achieve independence from Spain in 1821, joining the newly formed Federal Republic Of Central America, along with its neighbors, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. But very soon after that, the states disagreed on their foreign policy and social structures and Just 17 years later, in 1938 they dissolved the federal pact and declared themselves independent.
Unlike its neighbors Costa Rica adopted a socialist policy of free and compulsory education for all classes of society, paid for by the state, and also offers its inhabitants welfare schemes and pensions. This resulted in a country with less crime, compared to its neighbors and the social security net allows the citizens to focus on living better, and enjoying the present moment, a philosophy captured well in the local slogan ‘Pura Vida’.
What struck me as most amazing was that in 1948 they abolished their army, and chose to direct those funds instead towards progressive national policies, infrastructure and social welfare of its citizens. In 1983 they went a step further and declared that CR would remain perpetually neutral and not support armed conflict anywhere in the world. We might not be able to replicate it with our geography, but in my mind it serves as a lesson in peace for nations everywhere.
Along with the native population Costa Rica also supports a large Afro-Caribbean population who made their way to the country in search of work and land, building the railroads to the Atlantic and helping establish the plantations.
Costa Rica incorporated these immigrants willingly and from 1978 onwards, celebrates their contribution to society with August 30th of every year, declared as the day of Afro-Carribien culture. Along with their hard work they also introduced to this country the musical styles of Calipso, reggae, Chachacha and Rumba.
Life in the capital
The city Of San Jose is clean, urbanized and feels like what I imagine a sanitized Mexico would look like if it were annexed by USA. In almost every way it feels like a part of the United States, you see most of the same brands, strip malls and shopping complexes that dot the USA and you’d be forgiven for thinking you never left America.
It rained almost like clockwork during our visit here, everyday from 1-4pm and the rest of the day is cloudy, overcast and overall very pleasant. The highs hit an easy 26 C and even at night the temperature rarely drops below 18C, making it an ideal vacation for us Bombay dwellers.
We spent our first night at home with family in San Jose, then drove off the next morning into the rainforest to begin our exploration of the many national parks and waterfalls that the country offers. Our first stop was La Tigre national park, 3 hrs drive north of the capital, known for its lush rainforest, ornamental plants and the Arenal volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
The drive there could be its own attraction entirely, a well maintained national highway, offering stunning views of the countryside, where roadside stalls dot the landscape offering soda(meals), homemade honey, and a variety of local snacks. We made a quick stop at a stunning local cafe along the way and enjoyed a great cup of local coffe, served with lovely smiles by the 3 women working the cafe. The girls got chatting with the staff, while us non Spanish speakers quietly surveyed the surrounding farmscape with awe, before packing up for the rest of the drive uphill into the mountain.
The forest lodge we stayed at for the night was right out of a postcard, very reminiscent of our dear Kerala, with log cabins set amongst a nature trail offering beautiful hikes and trails into the rainforest where one can spot a myriad of tropical plants, frogs, birds and butterflies. They offer many adventure activities like Mountain bike tours, zip lines over the forest canopy, ATV trails and picturesque hanging bridges.
We tried to avoid the tourist trail and after studying the map, set out on our own to find the marked viewing spots, but maybe we bit off more than we could chew because after an hours worth of slipping and sliding down the forest path we found ourselves, huffing and puffing, back to the same spot where we started, having completely missed the trail we set out to find, but it was beautiful in its own way. With its thick blanket of vegetation at the base and covered entirely by a canopy of trees, the rainforest truly is one of natures greatest miracles and needs protecting.
Luckily the Costa Ricans are a smart responsible bunch and very conscious to the needs of their environment. They promote responsible eco tourism, trash is well segregated everywhere, recycle bins are ready available and easy to spot every few meters, and there is a clear, shared focus amongst all people to preserve the environment and conserve resources with a view to protect the diverse natural habitat for future generations, and limit mans footprint.
That being said, many parts of Costa Rica can be quite touristy and since it caters primarily to American tourists, local culture can be harder to spot amidst the western style billboards and strip malls that dot the urban landscape.
We spent a night at the lodge and the next day set out to see the famous LaFortuna Hot Springs. When I heard of the Hot Springs I expected craters of natural rock, like the surface of the moon, bubbling with steamy sulphury water and brimming with strange wildlife, life but upon reaching them I was met with a more domesticated sight.
The pools have largely been monopolised by large resorts, who charge visitors a steep entrance fee, but to their credit provide all the necessary amenities of a modern water park, like fresh towels, changing rooms and lockers, food, wine and the overall safety and cleanliness that makes the hot springs friendly and accessible to people of all ages, and I was pleased to see that it was full of local families enjoying the medicinal properties of the water.
Pools are separated by temperature and you can swim up to a wet bar and enjoy a nice drink while you vegetate in the bubbly water. Remarkably they have even taken care to provide wheelchair ramps leading right into the pools so the less mobile amongst us can also be brought along on holiday and enjoy the healing and medicinal properties of the hot springs.
I wish we could have spent more time exploring La Fortuna, but it’s always good to leave a place wanting more, so we packed up the next morning and made the journey back to San Jose, but this time we picked a path through another natural park, a slightly longer route, but it would take us up a mountain, through local farmlands offering a less urban view of the country that we thoroughly enjoyed.
Kritika requested a bathroom break and we pulled up to an unassuming local dive bar, but it turned out to be one of the greatest moments of the trip and the warm friendly demeanour of the local barmaids, enticed us to stay back for a meal. Fresh local greens, topped with salty ham and two delicious beef patties were stacked into mountain of a burger, which were devoured hungrily and it turned out to be one of the best meals I’ve ever had, Kudos to Kritika!
We had many questions for our host, but it turned out that she was from the neighbouring Nicaragua, having arrived there only a month ago, looking for work, so her guess was as good as ours and so we said goodbye and stuffed our much heavier selves back into the car for the rest of the journey back to San Jose.
Our final day in Costa Rica was spent in the comfort of home with family, and after many days of eating out we really enjoyed the lovely home cooked meals, and warm company of our host family. We quickly re-packed and soon were off on our way to the next flight, luckily this time the Airline gods were quiet and we suffered no cancellations or diversions on our flight to the next destination Guatemala, the heart of the Mayan world.
It seems like we have been on the road forever, but are only halfway into our trip and now will spend two weeks exploring Guatemala, before hoofing it back to Boston, and then onwards to home.
Lovely pictures attached, courtesy of the Batras who’ve been the kindest companions on this trip and work hard to document in photos what I can’t begin to capture in writing. I feel really blessed to be on this journey and in the company of such warm people and would like to thank our hosts the Guptas and Chabbras for lighting up our way with their hearts. More to follow…….