Entering Costa Rica, it is immediately obvious that this country is different from most of the others in Latin America. In a region of the world historically plagued by internal strife and civil wars, Costa Ricans are proud, peace-loving, and have no army. Roads are in good shape, homes are water-proof and have floors made of something other than earth, and shops carry more than the basic essentials. And that is only what we notice in the first half hour.
Over the course of the afternoon and early evening, Miles tackles a rough, muddy, partially flooded road taking us along the northern shore of Lake Arenal to the tiny farming community of La Fortuna where we arrive a couple of hours after dark. Another sign of the country’s prosperity arrives as I begin to search for a place to stay. We are surrounded by swanky resorts. After using my best negotiating skills, I come up with a rate of a mere $75 per night (half the usual rate). This seems absurd now that we have become accustomed to decent accommodation for under $20. We continue the search. Miles spots a hotel that he somehow senses is the place for us. He’s right. Pulling into the driveway, we are greeted by the biggest smile we have seen in days. Miles develops an immediate rapport with this hotel-owner and the two of them quickly negotiate a price of $21 per night including breakfast. Seems like a deal.
We enjoy dinner at the hotel restaurant, sharing a bottle of wine and some fun conversation with our host, Florian. He barely speaks English but is eager to learn. Our Spanish is really quite pathetic but Florian is very patient with us. We have quickly gained an affection for this warm and welcoming man who has made us feel very much at home. He quickly taught us the expression “Pura Vida!”,Costa Rica’s unofficial slogan. Over the next few days, each time that we ask Florian how he is doing, “Coma estas?”, his response is always, “Pura Vida”. This is symbolic of the easygoing nature of this country’s people, politics, and personality.
Before retiring for the night, we undertake the challenging task of laying out all of our gear to dry. Miles’ feet have been treading water in his boots for hours and my gloves are beginning to grow mold. We use every possible hanging spot in the room and then sleep in dense humidity as we are surrounded by wet clothes, boots, and bags.
In the morning, we are blessed with sunshine and head into town visiting the central plaza, Catholic church, and some unusual shops. When it’s time to head out, we find our Ural parked in by a van. There is nothing to do but enjoy a cold drink while we wait. “Pura Vida!”
Now we are off to the Rio Fortuna Waterfall. As we head into the lush rainforest, I am hoping to see some of Costa Rica’s famed flora and fauna. I’m certainly not disappointed. During our hike down a steep path to the waterfall, we spot spectacular flowers and a tremendous variety of plant life spreading from the forest floor to the tops of the canopy. The trunks of the tall trees are hosts to all sorts of vines and bromeliads and other plants grow out of every crevice. Although we hear plenty of bird and animal noises nearby, we don’t spot any wildlife – other than several people enjoying a swim at the base of the waterfall.
On awakening the next morning, we enjoy the hotel’s amazing view of the Arenal Volcano. This is one of the world’s most regularly active volcanoes with frequent powerful explosions sending cascades of red-hot lava rocks down the volcano’s steep slopes. What we didn’t realize until arriving here is that the top of the volcano is almost always obscured by cloud and fog, so unless you embark on a dangerous climb, you are unlikely to see any of the activity. But on this clear morning we were lucky enough to catch a rare view of the top of the volcano spewing smoke from the hot lava rocks within.
Florian and his wife bid us a fond farewell with a final and enthusiastic “con mucho gusto”. We head south and into Talamanca Mountains. Reaching higher altitudes, we are once again driving through cloud forests where we face steep climbs, pouring rain and avalanches. But we make it through and in the western foothills, we arrive at our home for the night, San Isidrode El General. The next morning we are off again and heading south on a route that follows the Pacific Ocean. Despite the heavy rains, we enjoy views of the lushly forested mountains tumbling into the Pacific. On the banks of the many rivers flowing into the ocean were mangrove forests and swamplands and we watch pelicans and herons flying above, feeding along the silted banks, and nesting high in the canopy. A fitting end to our time in this eco-rich land.