Costa Rica's Pura Vida!

Published: February 9th 2019
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It is pouring outside this morning, but we are in the rainforest, so even though this part of La Fortuna in Costa Rica is fairly heavily built up because of its being close to Arenal Volcano National Park, we are still in the rainforest and can expect such drenching rains. While we have stayed in many luxurious and beautiful lodges and hotels on this trip so far, this lodge is not my favorite; the rooms are dark and very cold, and in my first room, tucked back underneath the upper level rooms, my windows didn't even open, adding to the oppressive feeling of being enclosed in a cold tomb. Hearing my dismay while I stood in the open doorway trying to let some warm air and light come in, Esteban, our very young but most excellent guide, offered to switch his and our friendly bus driver, William's, room with mine. A bit smaller, away from the rest of the group, this room had windows that opened, letting in the fresh humid air, and enough light for me to feel like I wasn't buried in a cave. And when darkness fell I was able to see the beautiful full moon right outside one of my open windows (although clouds covered the eclipse later on that night). When people asked why I had moved and I explained about the lack of natural light, one prickly woman asked if my room's lights weren't working. For most people I guess it doesn't matter, using electric lights when it's bright daylight outside, but for me I feel the difference physically. Sunlight and fresh air are requirements for life.

Fifteen travellers are now on this main trip to Costa Rica (with OAT): our original pretrip group of six plus three more couples and three additional singles. It's a pleasant bunch of people, but still it is so much easier travelling with a mate. Many couples don't want a third person joining in with them, especially a woman, but in this group there is only one couple like that, who stays by themselves, eats separately from the group when possible, who always seems to have a desperate need to be together. It is quite comical sometimes; even when we all are just standing and listening to Esteban or a local guide, if this couple becomes separated from each other the husband scurries to again be right beside his wife. Insecurity perhaps, but both seem to be intelligent and competent people, have been married for decades, so it's hard to understand their constant need to be together and not open up to mingle with the group. I don't know their story; this is just what I am observing on this trip so far. Maybe later on they will feel comfortable enough to expand their friendship into the larger group, or become interested in learning what some of us are like. I hope so. I'd like to learn about them too. We all seem to be somewhat intriguing people, and have certainly lived long enough to offer glimpses of our fascinating histories from our multi-decaded and multi-layered lives.

Today is our seventh day in Costa Rica. This tour has been very active, exploring San Jose, meeting and speaking with locals, visiting coffee and flower and pineapple fincas, biological reserves, nature centers, the rainforest, organic farms, Arenal Volcano National Park, and going white-water river rafting. I was not going to ever go white-water rafting after my less than enjoyable experience in Bhutan over a year ago, but I thought perhaps I'd like it better this time. No, I didn't. But now I know for sure. It's hard to figure out just why I don't enjoy it; I'm an excellent swimmer and love the water; I just don't like sitting precariously up on the edge of a raft, or bouncing into rocks and riverbanks, or floating along a river backwards, or thinking of the possibility of falling off and bashing my helmeted head into a rock. None of that is appealing to me. Now that I've tried it twice I am sure I don't need to ever go white-water rafting again. But I'll go canoeing or snorkeling or swimming any day.

There has been a lot of water on this trip, certainly in the rainforest, plus twice we have had the very good fortune of bathing in natural thermal pools. Similar to what Bill and I experienced in Iceland a few summers ago, the biggest difference here in Costa Rica is that when one gets out of the pools, the air is lovely and warm, not chilly as it was in Iceland. Here I was able to relax and sit and dry in the beautiful sunshine, allowing the warmth to soak deeply into my very bones, finally thawing me out from the brutal Maine winters; in Iceland both of us pretty much raced to the hot showers inside after bathing in the pools. Life in Costa Rica is so much easier, just about a perfect place to live.

We also had two opportunities to swim in the North Pacific Ocean, once in animal-filled Manuel Antonio National Park, and then on our very last day at a private beach on the Golfo de Nicoya, after a very lovely period of paddling in two eight-person outrigger canoes. These times were incredibly gorgeous, dreamlike. I love swimming in a warm ocean; it's one of my most favorite things to do on this earth. I felt like I could swim for miles and miles in this soft, welcoming water. Is it sensory deprivation or the opposite that makes ocean swimming so addictive, so desirably perfect? Only one other person swam out as far as I did, but too soon he turned back, worried about staying out in the water reflecting the strong sunlight too long. My ears were burning so I understood his concern; the sun truly is much stronger in the Caribbean. I had gotten burned fairly badly last June in Jamaica, thinking that I wouldn't burn while swimming, therefore I didn't wear a tee shirt over my bathing suit. Very quickly I learned that this was not true. And after seeing me come to shore tucking large leaves into my swimsuit straps to cover my shoulders, one of our guides offered me his sunblock; even though I never use it at home (it is not needed in the pale Maine sunshine and so I never think to pack it when I travel), I spread it over the tops of my ears. He seemed pleased.

After swimming we had a private picnic on a private beach; as usual everything was provided for us. This was heaven: stunning scenery, golden warm sun gently enveloping us both in and out of the water, the deep blue-green ocean beckoning us to swim out further and further and further, lovely soft sand beneath our feet when we swam back to shore, ice cold water to drink when we were thirsty, and peacefully paddling in a stable outrigger canoe, surrounded by friends, the sun, the ocean, birds, warmth, and happiness. These were perfect days. This is what "pura vida" means, not just simply living a pure life, but appreciating and showing enthusiastic optimism for everything; it's a greeting too, a response to "How are you?" or any other question, a wish, and an intentional way of living that's healthy, respectful of the environment, of all life. Eternally optimistic in all ways, that's what I've learned Costa Rica is all about. Who wouldn't want to live here in this thoughtfully aware, gorgeous green country? Pura vida!


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