Thursday, January 12, 2012

Our Costa Rica Gift Of Happiness: Pura Vida!

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:


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!

Recognizing Colin
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.

Thank you!
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.

Barbara: A huuuuuge thank you to all our hosts, to the hotels and staff, to the Costa Rica Gift of Happiness, and to all those involved in making our trip such a stunning success. 

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, happy.

Yup, her too.

Beautiful gardens at The Harmony Hotel.

Beautiful flowers.

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.

Anniversary night!

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.)


  1. Sorry for the delay in posting this one, folks. This was a larger task than we anticipated! But here it is for your enjoyment!

  2. This is terrific. All the photos look so restful. You all look terrific. I loved the signage. When I traveled to India, Japan and China the English signs cracked me up. I have photos on my blog. I just loved traveling along with you all and so enjoyed the stories and the adventure you all had together.

    1. Madgew...I can vouch for the funny Indian signs...Ive got pics too :D

    2. glad to hear your exams went well :-) so you mind my asking what you are studying?

    3. sorry that above was stuck in the wrong place , it was meant for Shalaka ! trust me to make an eejit of myself :-)

  3. Still love all the photos. Thanks for sharing the journey with us. I still love the photo with Deb and the puppy dog. So cute. And I love the photo with Barb and her horse. It waz so pretty.

  4. Loved the pix !!!!!
    underwater love scene.....hmmmmmm :P
    Loved the pix of you gals with your cute smile....teehee
    the pix of Colin and Deb during dinner at El Silencio is so cute...!!!!!!!
    And yeah....Deb, Barbara,Phil and SHALAKA just really liked Colin's beach pix.
    Loved all of them...but most importantly the Anniversary night pix....AWHHHHHH!!!
    Deb and Colin having a little love scene huh ?? ....So adorable....Especially Colin's smile !!!!!!! such an UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT !!!! <3

    ohk .... i really have to go now....ive got exams in like two hours.....but i couldnt resist i had to come....Il give you detailed feedback later..Barb!!!! (lol you told me its ok to bug you :D) Love xoxo

    1. good luck in your exams !

    2. Awhhh....Thanks Linda...!!! Its was great btw :)

    3. glad to hear they are going well Shalaka . do you mind me asking what you are studying ?

    4. Hey Linda....not at all...ask me anything !!! And I am getting my Bachelor's degree in Basics of Film-making ,Animation and VFX... I love animated movies...but honestly I am doing it for the digital painting and sculpting....

      And thanks exam went well...well it had to..coz i had to sculpt digitally...:D

  5. What a week you had!!! No, we had, thanks to you.....So many wonderful experiences. Hard to believe that it was all packed in to one week, thank you so much for taking us along and for providing the most beautiful pictures!!!! Your faces and expressions say it all. I loved all the food shots, the snuggling shots, the huge smiles. Thank you so much for sharing and taking us along so beautifully. No wonder your blog, no,you Barb and Deb with your hard work won that trip! You are awesome! xo

  6. A wonderful trip indeed. So glad that you came away with such fantastic memories. Traveling can at times be so frustrating and exhausting - but you four seemed to have not experienced any of that! Cherish the wonderful memories and the photos - I know you will!

    Love that bio-degradable water bottle, btw . . . how friggin' cool is THAT? ;-)

    Cheers and love,
    Laura in ATL

  7. Awesome. Just awesome. :D

    Love all the pictures, the tips, the do's and don'ts and whatever. Wellies...heeheehee!!! ^__^

    Deb, just stop! You and Colin just STOP BEING SO ADORABLE!!!! :P I can't take it anymore!!!!!!!!!! jk... :] Now time to brace my Snickerdoodle coffee and prepare for a cold day of classes and work.

  8. Thanks Madge, I'm so glad you enjoyed the trip. And yes the signage is a riot isn't it? I love that you have posted similar signage things! Lyndsie if you look closely you will see that the puppy has a different pose in this one. The other I was lifting his tiny puppy face to look at me and in this one I am petting the top of his tiny puppy head. He was soooooooooooo cute. Wanted to snatch him up. Shalaka I am so glad you loved the anniversary stuff. It was such a great day. Hard to top. And GOOD LUCK IN THE EXAMS!!!! You know it's funny Mary-Jo, when I looked back on the blog this week I thought the same thing "wow we packed a lot into six days!" Glad you enjoyed it! Laura we so lucked out by having nothing frustrating,you're right. And yes-COOL water bottle. They are all over it those Costa Ricans. Kelly hope the classes and work go well for you today. When you pass the 50 year old mark, it does your heart good to be called adorable, so thanks for that girl!

    1. Hey Deb...!!!Thanks for the wish ...the exam was good :) ....
      The puppy is really cute...!!!!! I was like....awwhhhh i wish i could pet him !!!
      LOL Kelly wrote exactly what i was thinking...Its so cool....I was like "these guys will kill me with their cuteness one day...." lol.....Deb, How can you and Colin be so ADORABLE ????.. your anniversary pic...almost killed me...!!! Trust me...If i didnt have exam i would be "AWWWWHHHH"ing all day !!!!!! :)
      Well and after reading your comment I think you will like knowing....You guys are one of the MOST ADORABLE COUPLES I KNOW AND LOVE THE MOST!!!
      muaah ! <3

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  9. What a wonderful experience thanks so much for sharing it with us all. I’ve loved all the pictures and stories you’ve had to tell over the week and getting the opportunity to learn a bit about Costa Rica vicariously through you. I always like to hear about the different regional sayings although I don’t think I will ever quite get “fatty” in the context of pillow talk lol. I love the rings, it’s nice you found something so pretty to take home and remind you not only of a great trip but of one another too. I love the water bottles, I avoid disposable bottles but the multi-use plastic ones still invariably crack or break eventually and I always end up thinking about the environmental impact of them. I would love to use this type regularly.
    Ok so I’m sure I could think of much more to say but I've got to run. Loved every post, picture and anecdote!

    1. Linda, these bottles are new to me, but definitely am impressed with the concept. They will be my go-tos now. Thanks for the love!

  10. Welcome home all! The pics are lovely. Thank you all for taking all of us along with you via your blog!

    Barb and Deb, those rings are lovely. What a sweet way to remember the great times you had in Costa Rica together.

    Loved the signage! I always look for that kind of stuff when I'm traveling. Barb and Phil just had to break the rules...tsk tsk tsk... ;)

    Colin and Deb, lovely pics of you together. So happy for the two of you, getting to have a fantastic anniversary. I agree with the others, you two are just too adorable!

    1. Thanks, Steph!! (oooh, I'm loving this new feature of the direct reply -- although wish the font was larger...) Wearing my ring right now :)

  11. One word: LOVE!

    Thank you so much for sharing these moments, adventures and experiences with us.
    It's amazing.

    I love the pics. You look so happy and relaxed.

    And the food looks delicious.

    These water bottles are really cool (you have to show us, when they decompose).

    I like the friendship rings. What a nice gesture to remind you of your friendship and that trip.

    Looks like a beautiful country. Maybe I go there someday. :)

    You're just awesome. Thank you!

    1. Becki, we were so happy and relaxed. Sadly, the relaxation doesn't last long when you get home. But we will take our 8 days of it! I definitely recommend it as a destination, especially if you love hikes and geo-caching.

    2. Awww, I looked it up. There are currently 105 geocaches in Costa Rica. :D

      I bet, every time you look at the tiny turtles, you have to smile. So maybe it helps with the stress.

  12. Hola from Costa Rica, Glenda here, just viewed your profile photo for the CR traveler magazine page. Where was this waterfall? Great, a “self-destruct” plastic bottle!! That’s a first for me!! Yesterday, the Volcano Turrialba spewed ashes and the park was closed…just in case….I has not seen the news today, but will soon.
    My boots never look like that after a rainforest hike!!! I am usually covered in mud and I look a mess!! My late beloved brother always said to me, “Glenda, you have the grace of an elephant.” He was right. My daughter says I am the Muppet chef. .that too is right. Who cares? I love life. The friendship rings… beautiful as is the idea! Will continue to follow your blogs and updates! Wonder if you dream of your experiences in Costa Rica? Oh, that Spanish book is just too funny!

  13. Hola, Glenda! I heard about the ash spewing. Hope it doesn't get worse than that. Muddy boots! I think the quality of the El Silencio paths made our trek so "clean". They lay a kind of black stone over it -- and while the rain does kick up dirt and mud, it seems to drain more quickly. I think boots would be a great addition to the suitcase, but they get so dirty and take up so much room...(suave, tigre)

  14. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE the pictures!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh my God, Deb, my heart might just give out because of you and Colin! So cute! :) I still can't believe I met your husband!

    I sort of wish I could make a quick getaway to lovely Costa Rica right now because as I write it is SNOWING and very, very, very cold outside! No me gusta!

    Anyway, I am so very glad that you all had a wonderful trip! :)))

  15. YOu guys are all so sweet for dubbing us with the cute! Yeah Holly, we got snow today as well. Really really pretty though. And mild.

    1. I want snow, too!

      But it's raining, raining, annoying.

  16. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into what to expect on our gift, we are going over the valentimes week

  17. Hi everybody!
    Wow I leave for just a few days and everything changes. I have to do some catch up here. A neew look and font for the comments.......takes some getting used to.
    I went to stay with my cousin and help with their new baby and they don't have WiFi and I just didn't have a free second to surf the web!
    But now that I'm here I have got to say:
    1st- yay you all made it home safely : )
    2nd- still getting used to this new font and look..
    3rd- so glad you all had a great trip and all of the photos and writings are amazing!!
    okay now I need to go unpack, I came right home and logged in to check the blog!

  18. Hello Debra and Barbara!

    We are writing from Pacuare Lodge in Costa Rica and we just wanted to congratulate you on your prize! We are so glad you had such an amazing time in Costa Rica! We also wanted to thank you for all the nice comments, it’s lovely to see you enjoyed your time in our beautiful country. Hopefully it will always be in your minds and hearts and we hope to see you back soon, and maybe come to Pacuare someday? =]

    Regards from Pacuare Lodge


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