Livin’ la Pura Vida
As we walked through the drizzle, the Little Man subjected me to the usual queries: “what kind of plant is this, Dad?” … “is that flower edible?” … “do you think there’s giardia in that river?”
And I didn’t know — not once. It was a uniquely disconcerting experience, not having an answer for pretty much anything. In the Los Padres when one of my Cubs make similar queries, I can usually drop the scientific name, ethnobotanical history, idle trivia, and an engaging anecdote or two for every tree, flower, or bug they point out or bring to me.
But here, I was a stranger in a strange land, and my slate was blank. And that was no bueno.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here, so allow me to explain.
In the summer of 2014, Li’l Professor G was awarded a partial scholarship to partake in a Girl Scout “Destination” program, studying green sea turtles off the coast of Panama in a joint Girl Scouts/Outward Bound excursion. And so rather quickly the clan’s plans for a short sojourn to the UK were superseded by a 10-day exploratory of Costa Rica. This is our story.
We landed in San Jose as do nearly 99% of international travelers arriving in Costa Rica by air, and headed north toward the Arenal region. My lovely bride — the inimitable finder of bargains (have I mentioned her $499 nonstop LAX-AKL roundtrip fares a few years back?) — had booked us at an off-the-beaten-path, off-the-grid accommodation just outside the southwest edge of Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal, and so we enjoyed five hours of driving through tropical two-lanes through torrential rain, finishing on a rutted and muddy road to the banks of the Rio Cano Negro and toward Rancho Margot.
Now, to be fair, my lovely bride is certainly not part of the shoestring-budget “Lonely Planet” crowd. She won’t do hostels, she won’t share a common bathroom, and though as green as can be, she likes her comforts. So her willingness to embrace the carbon-neutral, chemical-free, and uber-sustainable accommodations at Rancho Margot I suspected would be a stretch.
Upon arrival, Little Man (who’d been patient with the long car ride, but needed to go burn some energy) extolled me to go explore. And so we wandered off a few hours around the river banks and grounds.
I’ll not sing the praises of the Rancho Margot staff, amenities, or great food overly, lest this chronicle turn into a thinly-veiled endorsement. (I but humbly recommend you check it out.)
After a steady night of rain, we enjoyed a lazy morning at the dining common sipping coffee and watching Little Man chase various bugs. Soon afterward, we headed along the Mirador trail for our first full-family hike of the trip.
With muddy boots and soaked clothes, we wandered back to base and sat through another squall of tropical rain. The kids busied themselves on the small rain-slicked playground while the missus and I enjoyed mug after mug of coffee beneath the awning.
That evening, the frogs and toads came out in numbers. A huge chorus of amphibians sang to us during dinner and our evening wanderings.
It rained all night. In fact, so as to allay any suspense, I should let you know it basically rained the first 6 days we were in Costa Rica. All. Day. Long.
The next morning, acknowledging getting wet wouldn’t be a change of course, we headed down the muddy rutted road in the shadows of the volcano for some hiking on the grounds of the Arenal Observatory Lodge.
The kids discovered new trees, uncovered snake skins, enjoyed views from the Arenal Observatory, and — on the way back to the car — spotted their first coati.
A lazy lunch in Castillo, more rain, and by the third day we were well into the groove of la pura vida. I probably had more uninterrupted conversations with my lovely bride over the course of our week in northern Costa Rica than I’d had in the past few years. (And mind you, this is on holiday with the wee ones in tow.)
The next morning, we were up early for a behind-the-scenes tour of the workings at Rancho Margot, from the methane recovery system used to fuel the cooking stoves, to the vegetable gardens, to the hydroelectric system used to generate the resort’s electricity.
But the monkeys were excited to further explore the local grounds, and so another hike was organized, and we spent the mid-day wandering the tracks in the hills above.
It rained all night. The next day, we were up early to travel down the rutted road back to the highway, enjoy some lunch in La Fortuna, and — at Little Man’s request — go ziplining. Neither the missus nor I were too keen on that last part, but we figured what the heck. We navigated fallen trees, debris, and high-water flotsam getting back to town, our sojourn occasionally punctuated by fly-bys of chestnut-mandibled toucans. All very entertaining.
It was rain, rain, beer, and more rain. It was awesome. Then, to sate the adventurous appetites of 8-year-olds, the weather gods acquiesced just long enough to allow a thoroughly entertaining afternoon of ziplining through the jungle canopy at the foot of the volcano.
After 5 days wandering northern Costa Rica, it was time to pack up and haul our Girl Scout back to San Jose, where she would head off on her adventure with other Scouts from across the US. We enjoyed a relaxing return to the “big city,” dropped Li’l G off with her Outward Bound escorts, and soon enough our party of three was westward bound, headed for Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast.
For the Little Man, it was lifelist overload. Crocodiles in the rivers beneath the highway en route, cold coconut juice at will, sloths and iguanas and monkeys, days spent in the surf and meals with insane views … his only regret was not finding an eyelash viper. (Neither his mother nor I had similar regrets, thank you kindly.)
On the whole, a supremely relaxing and restorative time. Pura Vida!
Recommended reading: Lonely Planet Costa Rica (Travel Guide) and Lonely Planet Costa Rican Spanish Phrasebook & Dictionary and Tropical Plants of Costa Rica.