A friend of mine just got back from vacationing in Costa Rica – while there he sent lots of photos showing sumptuous beaches, hotel spas, gourmet dining and excursions into the rainforest, butterfly park and the Arenal Volcano National Park. It struck me that based upon what I was seeing, Costa Rica tourism has evolved quickly, as my visit in 2007 was a no frills experience – but my breathtaking, once in a lifetime and soul-enriching escapades left indelible marks both high and low . Let me take you through my journey there.
Background: Ecotourism was just starting to take hold when a group of us from work decided to take a trip to Costa Rica, a relatively tiny Central American country sandwiched between Panama and Nicaragua. Bordered by both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica has an incredible abundance of flora and fauna, landscapes and diverse climates – rainforest, jungles, volcanoes, vast sandy beaches and more. The dilemma for the locals was how to boost tourism (and their economy) and yet maintain and nurture the environment – how do they provide hotels and other amenities without accelerating the destruction of the natural surroundings. A brilliant idea was formulated: “Ecological Tourism” – Costa Rica’s version was entitled “Costa Rica: It’s only natural.” The notion of coming to see the beauty of the land while learning of the importance of protecting the land and animals may seem matter of fact today – at the time it was ground breaking.
Our first stop was the Real International Hotel in the heart of San Jose, the capital and largest city in the nation. Little did we know while relaxing in this expansive hotel, with its large spa, outdoor pool and air-conditioned rooms that this would be our last time in the “modern world” for the remainder of our stay in Costa Rica.
Our first inkling that we “weren’t going to be in Kansas” anymore came when we boarded buses for our excursion to Monteverde where we were going to stay for a few days. This 4.5 hour trip started on a paved road but soon became a winding, bumpy dirt road with some unusual traffic jams:
After closer to 6 hours we finally reached our hotel – or should I say “rustic lodge.” Lush grounds for sure, a profusion of orchids, bromeliads, ginger, lilies and more. Lots of areas where hammocks were set up in bunches so we could have conversations while reposing with a tropical drink – that looked most promising.
The compound was set up with a series of quad huts – each hut unit housed four “rooms” – basically a sleeping area and a bathroom. The big surprise – no air-conditioning – the country was not yet sufficiently wired for electricity – but no worries – they had cleverly built the rooms so that the walls did not reach the ceiling – thus creating (hopefully) a conduit for a breeze. There were ceiling fans so it seemed like a good plan. More to come on those not-quite walls.
After a magnificent dinner of local food and lots of drinks we retired as we had an early trek to the Cloud Forest Reserve for zipping through the rainforest canopy (how cool is that)! Or, I should say, my daughter who was 17 at the time and I decided to go to bed early. The duo of gentleman who were occupying one of the adjoining rooms in our quad did not- and at 3 or 4 in the morning regaled us with a drunken rendition of “Men, Men, Men.”
N.B. I am an extremely light sleeper who will awake at the sound of someone sneezing next door in a place that has FULL WALLS. Needless to say I did not sleep at all until these men, men, men passed out. But just as i was drifting off, this.
I am not a fan of primates as my readers will know from this post‘s description of my visit to the Orangutan Sanctuary in Borneo. These howlers not only became our raucous alarm clocks each morning – but were also rather nasty creatures who tried to destroy our scenic ziplining through the rainforest – you will read about in just a few moments.
I usually don’t sleep more that 5-6 hours per night so at this point in time I was not too tired. THIS TIME. Unfortunately, this routine was repeated every single day – so at one point I got so deliriously tired from sleep deprivation that I actually skipped the visit to the Butterfly Observatory so I could sneak in a nap.
But for now, I had enough adrenaline in my system to keep me buzzing – for our next adventure was upon us – in the Cloud Forest Reserve, we climbed up INSIDE a tree up to a platform at the tip of the canopy – and zipped across on a line to a series of four other platforms and eventually rappelled back down to the forest floor – this was unbelievably exciting – even the howler monkeys who were annoyed at our intrusion and tried to throw feces our way (none connected) failed to dampen our fun:
Our trip was far from over – I have touched upon MEN but not MUD as well as some scary moments traveling through the jungle – but for that you will have to wait for Part 2 next week.