Note: As you read this log, you'll see this symbol scattered throughout: (w). Those symbols are links to Wikipedia articles giving more in depth information about places we went and things we saw, for those who are interested.
How It Happened
Our original plan had been to spend a week in Puerto Rico. Then Hurricane Maria came along, and that was the end of that idea. So we cast about for another idea, and decided to go to Costa Rica (w). We had already made plane reservations for the trip to Puerto Rico; fortunately, the airline was very accomodating about making the change at no charge.
Terry had been to Costa Rica once before. Her junior high school Spanish teacher, who had spent a couple of years in Costa Rica as a Peace Corps volunteer, encouraged her students to write letters to students in Costa Rica. She sent the letters to a friend in Costa Rica, who distributed them to friends of hers there. As a result, Terry became pen pals with a young Costa Rican woman named Yadira. Then, when she was seventeen, she travelled to Costa Rica, and spent a week with Yadira and her family. Ever since I've known Terry, she's talked about going back one day. So we went.
One thing about this trip that made it different from most of our trips was that we didn't go by ourselves, as we usually do. Two friends came with us - Guillermo Robles:
...and Don Pitsenbarger:
Don, in particular, was a very interesting travel companion. He comes from a more blue collar background than we do - he's been a construction worker, truck driver and bus driver - and as such, was able to observe and point out many details, particularly architectural details, that I otherwise would have missed entirely.
Some general observations
Central American countries have a reputation for being politically unstable, and dangerous for travellers - a repuation not entirely undeserved. But Costa Rica is an exception. It's a stable democracy, with a decent standard of living, and no standing army - according to the Lonely Planet guidebook that we bought in preparation for our trip, it's known as the Switzerland of Central America. It's government is fairly progressive, especially in terms of environmental issues. It has a large number of National Parks, and to quote the guidebook, "No other tropical country has made such a concerted effort to protect its environment." Accordingly, it's one of the primary places in the world for eco-tourism and wildlife watching.
Costa Ricans - known as "Ticos" - tend to have a laid back attitude towards life. Everywhere you go in Costa Rica, you hear or see the phrase "pura vida." This literally translates as "pure life," but its meaning goes deeper. To quote Wikipedia, it suggests "translations such as 'full of life', 'this is living!', 'going great' or 'real living'. The phrase can used both as a greeting or a farewell, as an answer expressing that things are going well, as a way of giving thanks, or showing appreciation." (w)
A word about Costa Rican food: This is Costa Rica, not Mexico. Rice and beans are staples here - often mixed together in a dish called "gallo pinto" (w):
...but the similarity To Mexican food ends there. Costa Rican cuisine doesn't have anywhere near the spiciness of Mexican food - it's well seasoned, but much milder. Also - at least in our experience - it tends to get repetetive after the first few restaurants. Most restaurants serve casado, a plate of rice, beans, meat and salad. Ceviche, a dish of raw, marinated fish and/or other seafood, is also popular. This Wikipedia page has more information.
One local item that Terry tried, but I never did - and I wish now that I had - is called chifrijo. The name comes from a combination of the words chicharron - fried chunks of meat - and frijoles - beans. Mixed with rice and salsa, served with chips. She says it was good.
I, on the other hand, had a very interesting dish that Terry didn't have - a taco. But not like any taco you've ever had in a Mexican restaurant. It consisted of corn tortillas laid flat on the plate, with meat and onions laid on top of the tortillas, then cheese laid on top of everthing else - and then, apparently, placed under a broiler, so that the cheese melted and then baked into a solid shell covering the whole dish. Here's a picture:
It tasted a lot better than it looked.
Costa Rica is a tropical country, of course, and so is very green - at least, when you get out of the city. One thing that particularly struck me was the abundance of flowers. I took a lot of pictures of flowers... and here they are:
We were warned that October is the rainy season in Costa Rica, so Terry and Guillermo and I all went out and bought raincoats. As it turned out, though, we got lucky. The weather was mostly pleasant - warm and humid, but not to the point of suffocation. And it only rained a few times, and it was usually just a light rain. Usually. On one occasion, though... well, we'll get to that.
And that's it for the introductory material. Click here to start reading the trip log.