Third-world Adventures in Costa Rica

Jeff loves writing about things that are different than him 

I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica yesterday and was fascinated to learn that Costa Rica is home to cities called “San Jose”, “San Francisco”, and “San Diego”. Did the person who built Costa Rica just survey a map of California and think “these sound Spanish enough. Let’s go with that?” Quite possibly.

Everything is different in Costa Rica, so exotic, so third-world. It’s like a time warp has sucked me back to the 1800’s to give me a lesson in industrial development. Free-spirited children play football in the streets, their bare feet mixing an uncontrived palette of mud and rust. How lucky we are in America to live in a country free of mud and rust! Poor Spanish immigrants (are Spanish-speaking people ever indigenous?) holler at us from their storefronts, soliciting our business for a fresh plantain, mango, or t-shirt with a monkey on it. They can smell the American money tucked away in the deep recesses of our fanny packs, I just know it.

The national motto of Costa Rica is “Pura Vida” or “pure life”, which can serve in place of “hello”, “good bye”, or “peace”, just like “Shalom!” does in the other language I know. Spanish and Hebrew are so similar. It really is a beautiful phrase, so optimistic and Zen. It goes to show that Ticos (not a slur) are a happy people, free of the burdens of Western materialism and cynicism.

It rains a lot in Costa Rica, which is typical in a rainforest climate, I suppose. It’s amazing how the locals have become so used to it that they don’t even use umbrellas or ponchos. Not a pair of galoshes in sight! I guess when you grow up with 200 days of rain a year, you just become immune to it.

I did a lot of adventuring today – zip-lining, canyoneering, and rappelling through the rain forest. My guides, Sergio and Julio, traversed the treacherous terrain without so much as a burden or bruise. They navigated the swinging vines and slippery rocks, the waterfalls and narrow gorges, with Tarzanian elegance. I had the grace of George of the Jungle. I wonder if local Costa Ricans also go rappelling recreationally or only as a mode of travel. Does everyone own a harness and cables the way I own a Metro card?

My hotel [really, a cluster of villas (pueblos?)] is situated in the middle of a lush, verdant rain forest in La Fortuna, a sleepy little tourist town surrounding the 4-years-dormant volcano Arenal. Amenities include continental breakfast, static-y TV, a pool, and all-natural hot springs (owing itself to the volcano). Vegetation and wildlife abound on the premises. Wild white-faced monkeys play on their coconut jungle gyms and toucans take post-breakfast respites on the bare branches of milk trees. I peel the sweaty t-shirt off my moulting body and chance a dip in the molten springs.

Today is a beach day in Costa Rica, my chance to vegetate on the black sands of playa Manuel Antonio and ride the calm waves of the salty Pacific. I unfurl my first-world towel and rest it atop the third-world sand, feeling slightly ashamed of polluting the unsullied coastline with my pasty form and my privileged linens. Inevitable comparisons with the shores of New Jersey spring to mind. Where are the throngs of overweight men and the contrasting smells of saltwater and hot dogs? Where is the backdrop of wood and kitsch and the din of shrill Italian mothers? Serenity and taste are local commodities of which I eagerly partake with my new-world appetite. A local beach-goer does a somersault on the summer salt, a vendor peddles his fruity wares, and I gaze from a distance, admiring the unfailing joie de vivre (or should I say pura vida) of the native poor.

As I drive to San Jose in my rickety Chevrolet to catch my 1 pm flight home, I stare out the window at the rolling hills and the cotton forests, at the oily children and the road-side workers. “This is paradise”, I think to myself. I meditate on that deep thought as I commend myself for braving vacation among the noble savages and unpredictable jungles of the rich coast.