Deb and Barbara: “Pura Vida” literally translated means "pure life", but it swings many ways too. For example, "How are you?"..."Pura Vida!" It falls into the category of all things lovely in feeling and tone and greetings. It holds its own with the Jamaican "Irie", the Australian "No worries", or even the Italian "Dolce far niente", which of course means, "How sweet to do nothing”. So this is a tribute to Pura Vida, which was our experience and our heart in Costa Rica. We would like to share with you some wonderful random and not so random tidbits from our trip. Some fact, some funny, some silly. And, of course, more photos!
Tico and Tica
Barbara: This is how the Costa Ricans refer to themselves and each other (tico for males, tica for females). What I love about these words—which are used by everyone here, even officially (as we noted yesterday, the English newspaper is called The Tico Times)—is that this got its start because of the common use of the suffix-endearment “tico” (or “tica”) on every word. So, on the one hand, it’s kinda like “gentleman” or “woman”, but on the other, it’s a bit like saying “sweetie” all the time. This is a practice after my own heart, sweeties!
Packing for your trip to Costa Rica
Deb: As you all know I love clothes and I love a good pack. I think I bragged ad nauseam about my stellar Newfoundland packing. This time I was a tad off the mark. So you won't be when you go to Costa Rica, I will share the following tips.
1. Rainforest, as shocking as it may seem, means rain. So make sure you are prepped with layers and rainproof clothing. We were. But ... we did not know that we would need it for the entire time in the rain/cloud forest. Now, this is not always the case, but ... be prepared. Check the weather! And take good waterproof walking shoes. We lucked out on our tour day, but we only had a drizzle. Others weren’t so lucky. Yet it is still delightful if you are prepped and dry.
2. We OVERDRESSED. By that I mean too dressy. These were elegant dining rooms and top-of-the-line service and quality, but they were also ... Pura Vida ... whatevs! We could easily have shown up in khakis and a clean t-shirt and fit right in. So ... no pressure to pack dresses and fancy what-have-yous. Our last hotel, The Harmony Hotel, offered a wash, press, and delivery service for $1.50 a piece. WOW. Bargoon, I am thinking.
Barbara: These are the clothes I would most recommend for a multi-ecosystem Costa Rican stay: 2 light-weight sweaters (for layering), 1 hoodie-type sweatshirt, 1 light hooded raincoat, several t-shirts, several tank tops, 2 long pants, 1 pair casual shorts and 1 pair capris, 1 casual skirt, 1 sundress, 1 lightweight scarf, 1 or 2 sunhats, 1 pair comfy walking shoes that can be hosed off, 1 pair water sandals, 1 pair nice sandals, 1 travel shirt (for return trip), bathing suit(s) and cover-up. Of course, don’t forget the sunscreen and bug spray! Many hotels in the rainforests will lend you wellies for your hiking, but these are only necessary if the rain is really heavy or the trail really muddy (the rain we had when we were at El Silencio was more of a mist and their trails very well maintained; we were fine with our rubber-soled Mary-Janes and running shoes).
|Barbara insisted on this photo -- so impressed was she with the lack of mud on our shoes after the rainy hike! Never be afraid of a rainy hike. Magical.|
Is Costa Rica safe?
Barbara: Don’t let people scare you into thinking Costa Rica is unsafe or scary. We saw no signs of crime nor did we hear any untoward stories. The people here are so very decent and proud. They are helpful to and respectful of each other. One example: we were stopped on a roadway because of construction and our driver rolled down his window and extended his bottle of water to the worker manning the stop-and-go. The worker—who was baking in the hot sun—gratefully accepted. It’s a small gesture, maybe, but typical in its gentle kindness. Of course there must be crime here—these are still people after all, with all our foibles and failings. But we never ever worried about our safety … because there was nothing to worry about. Consider also that Costa Rica is the leader on the Happiness Index and maybe you can understand that crime is less an issue here than elsewhere.
As for food and water: the water has been safe for a long time, but all of our resorts purified their water in ecological ways. We already described the water at El Silencio as being filtered for sediment and then purified with ultra-violet light. This is sound practice for destroying harmful microorganisms. We drank the tap water, baby, and never got sick (or felt even “off”). And I have a notoriously sensitive stomach.
Shopping in Costa Rica
Deb: Regards shopping. And this applies to our experience ONLY. We shopped at the Maleku tribe (without pressure) for tiny lovely handmade items! I bought one for me and one for the boy and his girl because I wanted them to have bracelets that were eco-friendly and authentic to the Maleku tribe, and to help the tribe out financially.
When we got to The Harmony Hotel, there were lovely, wonderful, chic, local handmade items in every shop in the minutes-away village. Our favourite shop was just outside the gates of our lovely Harmony Hotel. It is called BAZZAAR and it was so chic and bursting that we managed to pick up a few wonderful items that I already treasure. Barb and I fell in love with similar rings (different shapes and slightly different colours), but reflecting our own sizes and tastes. We love these rings because they symbolize our friendship and bond on this trip and will serve as a wonderful memory for us.
The areas we visited
Barbara: We realized too late that we didn’t really describe for you the specific areas where our hotels were located. El Silencio Lodge and Spa was located about 1 ½ hours north(ish) of Juan Santamaria International Airport (a very modern airport, btw) in the Central Volcanic Valley and is flanked by 2 national parks (and its own extensive reserve). The closest town is Sarchi.
Arenal Springs Resort and Spa (at posting time, I could not link to this hotel, stay tuned) is on the opposite side of the volcano from La Fortuna (the nearest town), but this is a mere 15-minute drive. There are many hotels in this ‘hood, but they are all discreetly hidden amid the forest.
And The Harmony Hotel is in the Nosara area—an area known for its amazing surfing and charming little towns and shops. Nosara is on the Pacific coast in the Guanacaste area (the warm, dry, golden coast) at about the halfway mark. Again, everything here is still pretty discreet, with no high-rises or massive condos. On the beach itself, you see virtually no sign of development. Hopefully, it stays this way! My husband is an avid diver, but it looks like you need the reef-filled waters of the Papagayo area (about 2-3 hours north of Nosara) for that. It might be partly due to the surfer ‘tude of the coastal towns or could be thanks to the Costa Rican traditional cooking around rice and beans, but Costa Rica is a perfect destination for vegetarians and vegans—tons of culinary choice for you!
Costa Rican Spanish
Deb: One of our favourite parts of the trip—which also became our running gag—stemmed from a book Barb gave me on Spanish language travel. When I got to the part about love and sex my day was made and the theme for our trip was established. The following is an excerpt from the book:
YOU CANNOT MAKE THIS STUFF UP! “DON'T WORRY, I'LL DO IT MYSELF”!!!!
We squealed and delighted and the theme of the trip became, "Easy, tiger!" We now wish we had executed it Spanish-style, a la "Suave, tigre” (swa-ve tee-gre), which we will henceforth adopt. We were searching for a replacement for, "That's what she said" and we think we have found it!!!!
Barbara: Funny thing … yeah, there are mosquitoes and other bugs, but we had so little problem with them. We hiked the rainforest, wandered the herb garden, horseback rode through forest and along beach, and have little pain to show for it. We used bug spray at the Maleku reserve because José cautioned us it would be mosquito-filled. So we did. But we forgot to spray on our horseback ride. We did feel bites, but the mosquitoes here seem to take only tiny morsels and leave the teeniest spots, which do itch for about an hour and then … nothing. Weird. I would still recommend spray as a precaution, but we were shocked at how rarely we used it or needed to use it.
Driving times in Costa Rica
Deb: Another tip we can offer to those making plans to head to Costa Rica is about the drive times. Do not be fooled by the kilometer mileage. Keep in mind the 60mph restrictions, slow trucks, and winding roads. Give yourselves true time, sit back and enjoy the scenery and the ride. Our trips were made much easier by Barb's nut and chocolate-rosebud bag of goodness! Thank you, Barb. Of course, I sat on a rosebud and had chocolate bud-prints on arrival at Juan Santamaria airport. Barb joined me in the loo and scrubbed it off––"Suave, tigre!"––See how that works? Now you can play!
Barbara: A few of you wondered if Colin was approached by many tourists on our trip. We told you some stories, but kinda forgot the funniest part—he was often (very often) recognized by local Costa Ricans! I had no idea they got Whose Line here. I will also add that—apart from a gaggle of giggling local teens who passed us during our horseback riding tour—the tico/tica fans were so discreet that we had NO idea they knew him … until after our tour or meeting when they offered him a gentle thank-you for the wonderful gift of laughter he gave them over the years. Colin, of course, was his usual gracious self during these encounters.
Deb: We were each given a "Gift of Happiness" water bottle when we arrived at El Silencio as part of our package, but we had no idea until we read the "fine print"—in this case, a good thing—what a gift it really is.
And to The Harmony Hotel where we ate such gorgeous meals (choosing to eat at the hotel every night because the food and service kept calling us back), and where we had wonderful bamboo massages, and front desk service with such elegant laidback style—thank you. You offered free Sustainability Tours of the hotel and the garden. Who does that? People who have nothing to hide, I guess. People who are proud of their job and their life and are eager to share it with the world.
That is what we saw and what we experienced. I should say at this point that NO ONE from the Costa Rica Tourism Board on down asked us for anything in return or had any mandate whatsoever. They did not ask us to blog or to censor ourselves in any way if we did choose to blog.
They gave us a gift. We accepted and now we are giving one back. I guess the biggest compliment we can give to our hosts is ... we will be back. And we will send likeminded souls to you. You will continue to do what you do ... Pura Vida.
|Colourful ox-cart at Espiritu Santo Coffee Mill.|
|Plantains (which are fried and featured in every tipico meal).|
|More great goodies thanks to Costa Rica Gift of Happiness and El Silencio Lodge and Spa.|
|Hiking tour of El Silencio -- and staring in wonder at a Jurassic era fern.|
|Colin helping with the tree planting at El Silencio.|
|Yup, we totally represented those ubiquitous tech geeks who spend their holiday on their computers. We did it for you!|
|José of the Maleku tribe pointing out the iguana skin on the tribal drum.|
|Rigoberto, tribal chief, showing us how they wrap the fish in leaves for cooking (and which we later ate).|
|Deb best capturing just how bitter this herb was that Rigoberto had us sample.|
|Pretty shoes in the mud!|
|Meilyn showing us the red stain on her hands.|
|All of us on our wonderful day.|
|Interesting signage at Arenal Springs Resort and Spa.|
|And fun signage. The first regulation had us tittering for a while...|
|...And prompted flagrant rule-breakers Barbara and Phil from playing out a little under-water "love scene".|
|Yup, her too.|
|Beautiful gardens at The Harmony Hotel.|
|Fun at dinner at El Silencio.|
|Fun at lunch with the Maleku.|
|All of us driving from Arenal to the Harmony. Our most excellent driver, José, gamely put up with our antics.|
|The pristine beach near The Harmony Hotel in one direction...|
|...And the other.|
|Deb, Barbara, and Phil just really liked this shot.|
|Happy setter clearing the beach of birds.|
|We could never decide which of the two adorable shots we had of little Lucerno to post. Pic #2.|
|Another delicious breakfast at The Harmony Hotel.|
|And lunch (soft chicken tacos and grilled fish wrap. Those gorgeous beverages? Healthful -- and virgin -- elixirs at the Harmony. Soooo yummy.|
|This is fried red snapper, sautéed kale and carrots, and boiled yucca with roasted garlic at the Harmony. It was divine.|
|Barbara's gentle friend, Marta.|
|Getting into the mood right before our bamboo massages at the Harmony.|
|Wet but happy. (... Suave, tigre.)|