Surprises from Costa Rica | Pura Vida!


Spoiler alert. If Toucan Sam was part of your childhood, keep reading at the peril of your innocence.

We recently returned from leading a retreat called Say Yes to Life at Peace Retreat in Costa Rica. If you are looking for a recommendation on retreat centers, we did indeed enjoyed Peace Retreat. Once our fabulous retreat was over, the two of us (Larry and Cynthia) traveled about northern Costa Rica, covering several climate zones and delighting in what it offers.

As you probably remember, when we come back from a country, we like to sit down and talk about the things that surprised us or stuck with us. We usually try to keep this to a top 10, but there were a few more than that for Costa Rica, and we suspect you will find them all interesting. The free hotel breakfasts totally grabbed our attention because well free food is the most important aspect of any trip.

  • Costa Ricans love horses! They love cattle! The herds are healthy and vital. In fact whenever we saw a stray cat or dog, they were even well cared for.  Truly we have never seen so many fields of horses and cattle, and we are from the Midwest.
  • In the past 40 years, woodland area went from 21% to 75% by reclaiming the cattle and horses range land. Wow! And we thought there were a lot of active grazing land right now.
  • The population of the entire country is only 4 million people.
  • This is a democratic country (we knew this before we went but suspect many people don’t) and generally has a low crime rate although some people we came in contact with indicated crime has been on the rise due to spill over from other countries involved in drug trafficking.
  • Hotels are wonderfully quirky. These small adventures are unpredictable in style, unstaffed at night and covered in wood. Wood is everywhere as they love wood. In fact, lumber companies got into trouble using and exporting so much of the country’s timber that much of old forest/jungle was destroyed in record time. Presently existing jungles are protected and wood production is now sustainable. You can expect wood ceilings, walks and floors.
  • The free BREAKFASTS!!!! Someone will actually wait on you. Then they actually prepare your food. Yes, it is a limited menu but there is nothing pre-made. This is fresh food.
  • Because eco-tourism is a major focus for the entire country, there are specific certification programs in tourism related jobs. The country is well educated but appears to have less focus on degree programs which in our opinion is a good thing.
  • There is wonderful national pride in how eco-friendly they are. They boast of good water and exemplary recycling.
  •  On the Western/Pacific side of the country there were very few paved roads. This is washboard, spill your guts, drop in a hole and crawl your way out driving. A driver told us this was to keep tourism down.
  •  Laying down an oily or tar-like substance to decrease dust is a common practice in the U.S. on fine gravel or chat roads. In the town of Playa Negra in the Guanacaste region, we saw this same practice except it smelled like molasses. And well, it really rather was molasses as the substance  is a by-product from their sugar cane farming.
  •  Hunting is banned. Period. No hunting. This makes the jaguar that was seen on infrared camera in the town on the Island of Tortuguero particularly interesting. On main street, when all had gone to bed, the jaguar was chasing a dog. The second night, he got the dog. A guide told us that there are too many jaguars now in the forest and not enough food sources. Owners will need to lock up their dogs at night for awhile as the jaguar food source won’t increase for a couple of more months.
  • Toucan Sam isn’t a real. But if he were, he wouldn’t eat Fruitloops. On the other hand, he will be willing to eat baby birds in front of you and your children (tour guide true story).
  •  Houses were well kept and colorful but most often small. We were in a number of areas and this was repeated. So while we also saw some nicer housing, at least in the northern part of Costa Rica housing was what we would call somewhat poor.  We live in what is considered a small house in the U.S. so we have a decent reference point.
  • This is is a diverse and good country to challenge our ideas of what a Hispanic or Latino people look like. And a surprising number of Chinese have settled here. Beautiful variety from the customs lines and throughout the country. It was another reminder of that most of the world’s population does not actually look like the two of us (we are aren’t only referring to skin color). Actually literally every human being looks so very different and beauty should be a very fluid concept.
  • We heard a couple of times about annoyance that the word Americans has come to mean citizens of the United States. And why not! Costa Rica is part of the Americas and we are ALL Americans if you live in the North, Central or South America.

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