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Living the Pure Life in Costa Rica – Part 1

Living the Pure Life in Costa Rica – Part 1
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BY KATHLEEN HEINS

In Costa Rica you often hear the words “pura vida” or “pure life, used in lieu of “hello” or “good-bye”. It’s fitting for a country that prides itself on its love of all things natural and has no military. Twenty-five percent of its land is, in fact, protected and 11 percent is made up of national parks. Costa Rica, with over 800 miles of coastline, seemed the perfect destination for a vacation where I could immerse myself in the great outdoors but not to the extent where I would be one with nature 24/7. At night I want a hot shower, a comfy bed, central air and eight hours of quality sleep. So, with visions of exotic birds (52 species of Hummingbirds alone), iguanas, rain forest hikes, soaking in volcano heated springs and enjoying endless platters of fresh papaya and pineapple by unparalleled ocean views, I knew that Costa Rica fit the bill.

For the first time, my husband and I decided to vacation with a tour group. While we felt comfortable creating our own itinerary in the U.S., or enjoying the plans put into motion by friends living in other countries, we knew nothing about Costa Rica. We also wanted to see as much as comfortably possible in a little over a week and didn’t have the time or interest in pulling all the details together.

It was a great relief to have it planned out for us. We were picked up at the airport, hotels were selected, meals were provided, and the itinerary was in place. Transportation (a comfy, air-conditioned bus stocked with plenty of bottled water) pulled up to our hotel at the start of every excursion.  Although I glanced at the itinerary before booking the tour (and made sure the tour company had good reviews and endorsements), I didn’t even study in detail what we were doing until we were on the plane. We didn’t have to think about a thing. Isn’t that what a vacation should be all about?

Day one: We arrive at the airport and soon see someone holding a card with the name of our tour company. Thirty minutes later, our van was pulling up to our first hotel located in the capital, San Jose. My good friend from high school was waiting just outside the entrance. We had decided long ago to spend our 60th year together and here we were! Our husbands, who met two years ago in the couple’s native Brazil, had become fast friends.

Walking around the hotel grounds’ nature trails, I took in all the tropical plants that were new to me; excited about the days to come. A buffet dinner followed our welcome get together. While all meals were served buffet style, I found the food was for the most part plentiful, varied, fresh and delicious; particularly at our hotels where they offered a wide array of traditional foods. We immediately liked our guide who lived in Costa Rica, was very knowledgeable, accommodating and had a good sense of humor. Although I had been worried about being “stuck” with 40 others for a week, I found our group to be, for the most part, very pleasant; a few loud and compulsive talkers aside!

Day two: Our first stop was at the artisan village of Sarchi. There we visited an historic oxcart factory (located on a stream and using a waterwheel to power the machinery) where the carts were hand-painted in an array of colorful and intricate designs. You could find their designs in gift shops; on tabletops, plaques and even earrings. The oxcart, which is considered the national symbol of Costa Rica, was once used to transport goods such as coffee beans and sugar cane to market. The earliest date back to the 1800s and were built to be simple and functional. As time went on, craftsmen began painting them to distinguish them from other carts. Eventually a competition exploded among artisans who decorated the carts with elaborate patterns and color schemes.

We also visited a local coffee plantation. Of course, you can’t think of Costa Rica without thinking coffee. Its rich soil helps create some of the most flavorable cups of brew you can find but one interesting fact – most of Costa Rica’s highest quality coffee is exported so don’t necessarily expect an impressive cup of local java during your stay.

Day three: After breezing through downtown San Jose by bus, we visited a wildlife rescue center where injured birds and other wildlife are rehabilitated for release back into the wild. This gave us the opportunity to view some exotic creatures, including sloths and iguanas, up close

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That night we checked into Hotel Arenal Springs Resort and Spa in Fortuna. In the shadow of the Arenal Volcano, the resort’s prime attraction was its natural hot springs; rich in mineral salts and ions. Soaking in these waters, your skin is naturally moisturized and refreshed and the mind and body relaxed and renewed. The hot springs were created to give the feeling of soaking in a natural thermal river. The floor of the pools, which were surrounded by tropical gardens, was even made from limestone. The springs are heated by the Arenal Volcano and its underground rivers. You could even wade up to a wet bar set in one of the springs. I later learned that the springs are drained each night at 10 p.m. Scrubbed and dried to prevent the growth of natural algae and moss, and are refilled at 4am; all set to reopen the next day.

During our stay we caught many glimpses of the Arenal Volcano despite the tour literature warning that the probability of visibility was just about 30 percent. Each bungalow at the resort had its own outside patio facing the volcano.

I wanted to spend at least a few more days there enjoying the springs and taking in the view. In 1968, a major eruption of this volcano buried three villages and took 87 lives. It was difficult to imagine. Vacationing in its shadow, it truly seemed more like a Disney attraction than a true creation of nature.

Tomorrow in part 2 I will tell you about the rest of my trip!

 

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