The pure life in Costa Rica

Cover photo taken by Sara/Jenna at the Puerto Viejo animal rescue sanctuary, thanks girls! (If you want to travel purely- pun intended- to see a sloth in the wild, Costa Rica should be top of your list).

Even on such a strapped budget, I’d bet my bottom dollar that any interaction involving a Costa Rica starts, features or ends with the phrase, “Pura vida.” It’s said by locals as a ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘You’re welcome’ or as a ‘Let’s go!’. And as far as I can tell so far, life in Costa Rica is pure indeed. The land of the rich coast apparently tops the Happy Planet leader-board, which considers each country’s population’s quality of life, levels of equality and life expectancy. (The Norwegian and Canadian representatives that I’m currently travelling with contested Costa Rica’s top spot fiercely, and Google throws up many different results, so I’m not too sure on the legitimacy of this). Something that can’t be disputed is Costa Rica’s dedication to helping the environment; it has one of the smallest carbon footprints of any country and can run itself entirely on renewable energy for 3 months at a time. A few decades ago, the president announced that there was no Costa Rican army; something that still stands today. And to top it off, I can even drink pure water straight from the tap, a rarity on the continent anywhere south of the USA. Pure life indeed.

Our first stop was Monteverde. Hidden in the cloudforest, this hilly community has been built for, and now thrives on, adrenaline tourism. The majority of the group decided to experience the cloudforest by air; and a bus from 100% Aventura picked us up in the morning of our second day here, taking us to their complex of ziplines and Tarzan swings. There were 6 ziplines that mimicked England’s GoApe, and then the real fun started on Line 7, which was the first of the long lines, keeping us airborne for around a minute. Lines 8 and 9 were Superman-lines, and claimed to be the longest in Latin America (although I’ve seen this claim many times already!). These were the most fun, speeding through the air over the course of 1.6km at what felt like 30mph! Finally, you have the option to swing down to the bottom of the course on the Tarzan swing; a 45m drop down to the forest floor before you are swung back up over the trees. I didn’t give myself time to think about vertigo and just dropped off the plank, screaming all sorts of obscenities as the ground whizzed up towards me. Really good fun.

Whilst we had been ziplining, Langden and Jay had rented out quadbikes from the same company; and had been exploring the forest that way. Langden, a self-proclaimed motorhead (“I’ve never crashed one of these!”), edged too close to a gutter and found himself flying over a parked car’s bonnet, landing on his arm and sheepishly returning back to our accommodation an hour or two before Jay did. He got the Costa Rican doctor experience, who referred him to the hospital in San Jose after hours on the phone to his insurance, and luckily no bones were broken. Armed with my bottle of Savlon, his grazed arm healed and he could continue down for the remaining few days of the tour.

We also spent an hour or two at the Ficus Tree of Monteverde; a bizarre tree formation that hides deep in the forest. A tree, made up of vines, had wrapped itself around another tree, suffocating it until it was reduced to compost. What remains is a ‘hollow’ tree, that one can get inside and use the perfectly spaced vines as a natural climbing wall. It’s incredibly easy to get above your comfort zone and poke your head out around the canopy of the cloudforest; something that Yardley, Langden, Mia and Jay did. For me and James, we visited the tree after a rainstorm, and didn’t trust the slippy vines above 20metres. High enough for me after the vertigo shakes I got from Angel’s Landing.

A short ferry ride took us across scenic Lake Arenal to La Fortuna for our second stop. It felt weird to be surrounded by so many locals who spoke English with an American accent; if anything it added to my idea of Costa Rica as an additional State of the US. Like Monteverde, it was a town dedicated to adventure – this time kayaking and white water rafting. It was a pricey activity but, like paragliding in Guatemala, well worth it. We were picked up and met a Chicago father/daughter duo who used to live in Tilehurst, less than 10 miles away from our hometowns and two guys from San Diego, Angel and Yair. The Californians and ourselves (Jay, James and myself) got into a raft with our guide, Eric Andres, and started paddling downstream. The adrenaline rush that we got from crashing into Level 4 rapids was insane, and it was unspoken but agreed that having 6 under-30 males in the same boat, we would be the loudest, most testosterone-filled raft on the river; and inevitably we ended up capsizing first. A brilliant day out which you can read about here.

Langden and his girlfriend Mia had already spent a night in San Jose (albeit a hospital) after his quad-bike accident; but the rest of the group had to wait until the 15th December until we could visit the capital. From our day and night here, I don’t think that the Australians got anything out of their extra trip (apart from a hospital bill), or that we missed out on anything. San Jose seems to be a ‘waiting room’, full of people who have arrived and are heading off to the jungle/coast the next day; or travellers who are at the end of their trip and are getting a flight in the morning. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do other than spend money on food and drink (which is exactly what we did), and I don’t really enjoy being in cities just for a city’s sake. As Hannah ‘Cyclops’ put it, “I don’t think we’re ready for a big city yet.”

Once we said our goodbyes to members of the group who were leaving – and our group leader, Clare – those of us who were continuing south did so via Puerto Viajo. Even Yardley, who was convinced on heading to the Pacific coast, opted to join us on the Caribbean. Hannah was right, we weren’t ready for a capital just yet. Langden and Mia’s friend from home, Andy, flew down from Guatemala and met us in our hostel, Kalunai – a laid-back, rastafarian hostel filled with hammocks and month-old puppies; I bumped into an old friend, Lewis, from university after unwittingly rubbing shoulders at Outback Jack’s bar and grill; and 12 of us (describing ourselves as passengers on ‘Loose Lango’s Tours’) enjoyed a night of home-cooked burritos and mojito cocktails at Kalunai before going out to some bars. After leaving a tour of 15, it was weird- but nice- to immediately be surrounded by a dozen people again!

The highlights of Puerto Viejo for me were renting out a cruiser bike (Californian style) and cycling the 14km to Punto Uva beach with 7 of my current best friends; the burrito/mojito night, where we dominated the hostel social area; and surfing on the Playa Cocles beach.

With Christmas approaching, and with everyone now on different agendas, James and I crossed the border into Panama via a chicken bus and headed for the paradisaical islands of Bocas del Toro.

If you enjoyed reading this travelogue, please share it around on Facebook/Twitter; read through the other posts from this incredible journey so far; and make sure to subscribe via email at the bottom of the page. Thank you!



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