by Vivien Gnekow De Bernardi
Preparing our luggage tags for Costa Rica was already orientation. The closest I could get to an address was “30 meters east of Giardino Tropical”. As we landed in Liberia, the low mountains and neat green land plots reminded me of Ireland, but 28°C (82°F) and an open air arrival area with birds building nests in the rafters quickly proclaimed the tropics.
The drive through the Nicoya peninsula to the Pacific coast took about an hour on a paved road, passing mountains with palm trees on top, followed by slightly more than an hour on an unpaved road, winding through jungle with vividly colored flowers, orange, yellow, red, purple, magenta. The small surfer town of Nosara, in the Guanacaste Province, is an explosion of natural beauty. There’s not much to do, but such a panoply of sights and sounds that I felt like some kind of primordial sponge fulfilled by simply absorbing.
On the narrow trail to the beach we listened attentively to rustles and sounds made by unfamiliar birds and animals, until hearing the first soft rush of waves. Then suddenly, spectacularly crashing waves on a dark sand beach took our breath away, as what seemed like half the village of Nosara gathered to watch the sun set. Every evening a different performance as clouds or clear sky determined the fiery scenario and everyone hoped to see the famous flash of green light as the sun’s rim sank out of view, darkness only ten minutes behind.
Early morning we’d wake to the growling roars of howler monkeys and sometimes be outside in time to see whole families swinging through the trees, munching the tender top leaves. Then we were off for a long but easy walk on the flat pristine beach, passing only a half dozen people or being passed by someone on horseback. Now I know where they film the travel commercials.
The town is small with a surfing school and, surprisingly, two yoga institutes, locally made jewelry and crafts, and a plethora of good open air restaurants with beautiful ceilings made from the hard wood of the guanacaste tree. The food is simple, fresh, and delicious: fruit smoothies and shade-grown coffee to accompany a hearty surfer breakfast or gallo pinto, the tasty local stir fry of rice and beans. We’d check email at the café and perhaps get distracted by an iguana climbing a nearby tree, or the singing of a magnificently crested multi-colored bird. Afternoons are warm, inviting naps rather than lunch, and in the evenings we’d have salad, fresh fish or free-range chicken with plantains or pasta. The local Ticos are friendly and gracious and don’t like confrontation or anger. I was startled at first but then enjoyed being called “mi amor” by the server.
Costa Rica is an unarmed democracy, the only Central American country that has never been ravaged by war. There’s very little violence or abject poverty, although we were warned about stealing. With strong governmental support for education, 98% literacy, and a university, Costa Rica’s four million citizens have the highest standard of living in Central America. There’s an excellent health care system available to all of its citizens. The Hospital Nacional de Niños (National Children’s Hospital), supported by Costa Rica’s only amusement park and an annual telethon, is one of the most specialized medical centers in Latin America, freely treating more than 320,000 children a year without regard to immigration status. Above all, Costa Rica is a nature lover’s paradise. At one point it had lost almost 80% of its rainforest, when the government stepped in and, with the help of U.S.-sponsored debt forgiveness, reforested more than 50%.
In 2008, Costa Rica was ranked as one of the top five nations in the world for environmental conservation. As a bridge between north and south in the Americas, where the animal species from two continents mingled, Costa Rica has the highest density in the world of wildlife species per 10,000 sq. km. One evening we were entranced watching what someone called “a grasshopper on steroids”, perhaps 12 cm (4.7 inches) long, as it explored the condo garden.
The next day, driving again on an unpaved road, we passed a young man dipping his bucket into a barrel of molasses, which he then tossed onto the ground to cut down on dust in front of a popular restaurant. We forged three rivers to reach the turtle refuge at Ostional Beach. Baby turtles were breaking out of their eggs to begin the dangerous trek towards the sea, with flocks of vultures waiting to attack. The baby turtles have to struggle on their own in order to develop their lung power and the dozen or so onlookers tried to ward off the birds. It was so touching to watch these small creatures launch themselves into the immense ocean! Towards evening we had the incredible good fortune of seeing a 50kg (110 lbs) female Olive Ridley turtle struggle up above the shore line and proceed to dig a huge hole, frequently stopping to catch her breath, before depositing more than 100 eggs. It’s not by chance that when the Ticos want to use the superlative to say something is wonderful, they say “pura vida”. Pure life, Costa Rica, mi amor!
Vivien Gnekow De Bernardi is an American married to a Swiss, who lives in Ticino. She worked as a Special Ed teacher for 30 years and now gives her attention to her twin passions of reading and writing (when she’s not travelling!)
Turtle laying eggs
Running for the sea
12 cm grasshopper