Central America

A Drive Along the Countryside

It’s morning in La Fortuna. I sit in a wooden rocking chair on the porch of our hostel and stare into the morning fog at the sprouting palm trees and red-roofs below. I am only one story above the world, but few buildings are taller than that here. I am one of the few awake at 6:30a.m., and a small brown bird sings me a song from a nearby rooftop.

One 10-hour car ride, one three-hour plane ride and two, two-hour bus rides after leaving our home in New Orleans, Louisiana, we made it to the wet bar and hammocks of La Fortuna’s Arenal Hostel Resort. The trip was long, exhausting and beautiful.

If I could choose three words to describe my first impressions of Costa Rica, they would be friendly, green and yummy.

Friendly: There was no mistaking it. We arrived in San Jose looking like the epitome of three confused Americans. Between our lack of sleep, huge hiker backpacks and lack of recent exposure to the Spanish language, we may as well have had a neon “TOURIST” sign floating above our heads. But, the kindness of the Costa Rican locals got us through. It seems that every person who knew English went out of their way to offer help.

“Where you going?” they would say to us as we wandered the small bus stations, eyes squinted in deep thought as we all attempted to read the Spanish signs. Even those with broken English offered a good balance to our broken Spanish, and upon our response of “La Fortuna” they would exclaim “ah!” and point us to the correct bus or ticket counter.

As we rode the countryside yesterday afternoon, a Costa Rican local sat on the bus aisle floor just inches from Julie. She kept turning to me in confusion about why the young man chose to sit so close when his conversation focused him in another direction. I simply replied that “Americans have some of the biggest space bubbles” before I turned to take more photos out the open bus window.

Green: Not only is the landscape green, but it radiates the brightest color green imaginable. Grass and leaves overpower the countryside, and each mile we pass I wonder about the names of each new plant and tree I see. On several occasions, we passed pastures of at least two dozen white cows – all entirely absent of any black or brown coloring – grazing against a backdrop of green vegetation. When additional colors accent the land, they are also vibrant. Red flowers, orange fruits and blue butterflies compliment the green backdrop, while brown tree trunks and tan houses trim the brightly defined vegetation in the most subtle of ways.

Yummy: I cannot stop smelling the air. It sounds normal enough, but the outdoors present constant aromas of chocolate, fruit and coffee. These sweet smells fill the air of both the city and the open country roads. All I can think about is eating, and if I could eat the air I would. We devoured our first Costa Rican meals of rice, chicken (for the meat-lovers of the trip) and vegetables, along with a couple piña coladas dressed with fresh pineapple. I even purchased a bag of Slim-Jim looking “banano pasa” – packaged dried bananas that tasted exceptionally delicious.

Loose chickens pluck around front yards. Public bus stops and roadside fruit stands pop up in the most unexpected of places, including the hilltops and what appear to be desolate country roads. Somehow, though, people take advantage of the services almost each time.

After our day of traveling, while sitting in the poolside seats of our hostel wet bar, the bartender, Manuel, taught us the Costa Rican saying. “Pura vida!” he toasted as we drank our free welcome cocktails. The slogan is used locally as a greeting and farewell literally meaning “pure life” or to be full of life.

So, as we begin our La Fortuna adventures, I wish a good day to my singing bird friend and all my readers near and far…

Pura vida!

Leave a Comment