Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pura Vida

Costa Rica has long been on my list of must-go places to visit, enticing as it is for consisting largely of protected nature reserves brimming with an amazingly diverse wildlife.

By luck, it was also on my close friend Giorgia's travel list and we went for a week's holiday, renting a 4x4 with a rather simple itinerary - flying into San Jose before setting off for the Arenal Volcano National Park, followed by the Cloud Forest in Monteverde and finally Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast, spending just a few days in each area. I feel restless if I stand still for too long so this hectic trip, across such different parts of the country, was perfect for me and full of incredible memories.

Driving a small section of the Pan-American Highway (famous for connecting Alaska to Chile) while on our way to Arenal - trying to avoid running over the pedestrians, dogs and cyclists who also frequent it. Driving for hours on narrow, sinuous dirt roads riddled with potholes and complete with impressive precipices. Few road signs to help us find our way and the ones present usually reporting wildly different mileage to our destination. Going through small villages clinging onto mountains, posh houses next door to run down cabins, all drowning under tropical foliage and flowers. Witnessing a group of teenagers forming a circle around a cock fight by the roadside.

Amazing food. Enjoying our first Costa Rican lunch of marinated beef, rice and beans at the Arenal Observatory Lodge to the sound of crickets, birds and monkeys while watching the mist slowly lift from the rumbling volcano. That same evening being treated to the sight of bright red lava spurting out while having dinner. Having the best tapas in the world in a tiny restaurant in Monteverde. Endlessly enjoying the freshest fish and seafood at the Gaia Hotel restaurant in Manuel Antonio.

Countless wildlife encounters. Crocodiles, iguanas, large lizards, boa constrictors, banana spiders, bats, turtles, too many types of birds to mention and colourful butterflies. Plenty of monkeys too which is what I was particularly looking forward to and we even had a particularly dramatic encounter with an injured sloth that we found on the side of a trail and helped rescue with our guide.

Adventure in the form of zip lining. Adrenaline and excitement pumping through my veins, my entire body shaking while I whizzed through the mountains and rainforest in Monteverde for two and a half hours. Finally taking in the incredible view of the sprawling valleys once I was done screaming on the 750 meters long line, reaching speeds of 40 kms an hour. My heart jumping out of my chest as we did a mini bungee jump (if some of you remember what I did last year, this was a thousand times harder!). The fantastic sense of adventure I felt when I boarded the tiny propeller plane taking me back to San Jose - feeling like a traveler from another era.

Relaxing. Swimming in the emerald sea on a near deserted beach in Manuel Antonio, leafing through my book while surrounded by iguanas and hoping that the boa constrictor our guide mentioned seeing earlier was not sleeping in the branches of tree I had taken cover under. Enjoying a luxurious and indulgent 90 minutes chocolate massage. Sipping a robust Argentinian Cabernet Sauvignon in the open air, colonial style, bar at the Gaia Reserve to the sound of local music, watching a breathtaking sunset turning shades of pink, orange and glowing crimson over the rainforest and the sea in the distance.

And everywhere, marvelling at the incredible friendliness of the people. Smiling at their surprise when Giorgia and I had to explain that I am French but live in New York, she is Italian but lives in London ... and that we met in China. And envying the country's motto - "Pura Vida", the pure life in more ways than one as Costa Rica is one of the very few countries in the World without an army or a defense budget ...

Costa Rica pictures

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