By Gary More
My friends who had been there told me about the beauty of Costa Rica and how much I would enjoy my visit. They were right! I traveled for two weeks from coast to coast with a small group tour (16 people and an excellent guide) and found that the country is indeed beautiful and it is very environmentally aware with 100% clean energy and about half the land area set aside as parks or otherwise protected from development. The people are warm and friendly and welcome tourists, tourism being a very important part of the Costa Rican economy.
I went to Costa Rica with some serious misconceptions. First, I flew into San Jose expecting a small third world town. Wrong, it’s a modern city with two million inhabitants. I was expecting to drink bottled water and avoid salads during the entire tour. No, the water is safe all over the country and the salads are excellent. Also, I took three bottles of Deet to deter swarms of mosquitoes. Wrong again, I did not see a single mosquito in the two weeks I was there, not even in the rain forests. Finally, it was an Elder Treks tour, a tour for old people, so I was expecting a pretty sedate adventure.
No way! I did things I never thought I would do at age 80. This includes white water rafting, zip lining, horseback riding, and hiking through the rain forests in pouring rain. I swam in pools at the base of waterfalls, soaked in thermal waters heated by nearby volcanoes, and even took a mud bath hoping it would take some years off (it didn’t).
One expectation that came true is seeing the exotic wildlife of Costa Rica. There were monkeys, sloths, colorful birds, lizards, and in the rivers, crocodiles (you don’t swim in the rivers). Seeing, and for me photographing the wildlife was an amazing experience. Not so easy in a pouring rain, but I did manage to get some “keepers”.
The Costa Rican people, especially in the rural areas, don’t have much in the way of “things” by our standards, yet they seem happy and are certainly friendly. I think it’s because they live a relatively simple life and they have what matters most, family and friends. We saw how giving they are when Ollie, our tour guide, was kicked in the leg by a horse during a trail ride. Although in considerable pain he continued on as our guide. At one of our stops a man he didn’t know gave Ollie his crutches. Later a woman in a restaurant gave him a jar of horse lineament which Ollie said really helped.
For me the most touching part of my time in Costa Rica was having lunch in the home of a delightful rural family. A few of us in our group were hosted by a mother and her two young daughters. They prepared a feast for us, chicken, rice, beans, salad, fruit juice, rice pudding and tortillas.
Amy, the youngest daughter insisted that I help her make the tortillas. I did, but it was obvious that mine were not up to standard. Amy gave me a big smile anyway and said “Muy bien”. They didn’t speak English and I only know a few words of Spanish, but it was so much fun being with them. I felt a bond between us.
The girls were thrilled when I let them take pictures with my camera and after lunch they made pig sounds and pointed to a pen behind their house. We went back there and the girls showed us their sow and a dozen two day old piglets. They took my camera and photographed the piglets. I plan to make prints of the photos of our visit and, hopefully through Ollie, get them to the family.
If you plan to go to Costa Rica I would recommend a small group tour with a knowledgeable Costa Rican guide. If you go on your own be sure to do your homework because if you know where to go there is so much to see and do. The food is good, the water safe, and be sure to try the fresh pineapple. Eating a pineapple cut from the field just minutes earlier was my top culinary experience of the trip. Again, it’s a beautiful country with friendly people. Go there, you’ll love it, I guarantee it.