Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small tropical country located near the middle of Central America, sandwiched between Panama on the southern border and Nicaragua to the north. It is a narrow nation, easily traversed by car to each of its borders at all points of the compass. These include the Caribbean Ocean on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west as well as the aforementioned countries to the north and south. Cost Rica is a varied land in terms of its populace as well as its terrain.

A blend of various degrees of indigenous peoples with Spanish peoples constitute the populace, while the topography encompasses expansive beaches affording sprawling sunset-lit vistas on the coasts to mountainous rain forest-clogged regions in the interior, which, in turn, contain jungle lands, some lakes and active volcanoes.

The first region we visited was the stunning coastal landscape of the Guanacaste Peninsula. This area, just west of San Jose, the capitol city, is home to a variety of beach communities with Spanish names as evocative as they are perfectly descriptive, e.g. Playa Hermosa (Beautiful Beach) and Puntarenas (Sandy Point). Sunsets here are some of the most spectacular I have ever witnessed and the beaches pristine as they are picturesque.

After the requisite lounging about, we (Simone and I again) turned our attention inland, once again seeking out the thrill of volcanic exploration. The roads in Costa Rica are ill kept and sometimes-enormous potholes fill many of the roads. You could drive in and you may never find your way out, as the locals were fond of saying. Besides the poor condition of the roads, livestock clogged the rural portions, sometimes to the point of impassability.

At one juncture, we came upon a herd of cattle lolling about untended in the middle of a country road. As we approached, these ignored us. After a little prodding with a honk of the horn, one of these ventured to put one of his long prongs into the cab of our rental, which unnerved us a bit, to say the least. Eventually he retracted his horn; then, the whole lot, mooing their protest, moved off, and we were able to continue unscathed.

After a few wrong turns – we were following an unfamiliar map, not to mention the hapless signage – we finally came to the turn off for Lake Arenal, our intended destination. This was the site of Vulcan Arenal as well. Arenal (the volcano) was active, last erupting in 1963. At the time of our visit (mid-1990s), it was reduced to a rumbling hulk but still capable of serious eruption at any time. The incessant rumblings were a constant reminder of this.

On the shore of lake, we found a cozy, rambling inn with a row of rooms facing the peak. When we first arrived, the weather was gloomy and overcast, casting a pall over the preferred object of our attention. The proprietor led us to an outdoor hot tub situated above the main house with an unobstructed view of the volcano, if the weather ever cooperated. Exhausted, bone tired and muscle weary as we were from the long bumpy journey, we quickly availed ourselves of this opportunity.

Sinking into the soothing waters, we tried to imagine what an impressive sight we would behold if the clouds deigned to part. Suddenly, on cue, the clouds did just that; the majesty of Vulcan Arenal appeared, smoking and oozing a steady stream of molten lava that seemed to dribble down the chin of this hulking behemoth.

Sitting there, in such close proximity to a dangerous natural phenomenon, we thought of the large chunks of cooled lava rock that lay about the premises. The innkeeper had alerted us that these were debris from the earlier eruption and that this detritus sat in the yard of the inn at a considerable distance from the peak as mute testimony to the enormous projectile-spewing power of the volcano. We spent the evening anxiously listening to the guttural rumblings coming from the throat of the colossus while watching molten plumes spew forth from that same seething craw.

From Arenal, we proceeded to one of the many eco-tourist facilities that abound in Costa Rica. More than a quarter of the country is devoted to the preservation of wildlife. This particular site was a haven for the most amazing butterflies, ones with iridescent blue wings. These fluttered about the grounds of the sanctuary in gleaming blue clusters, which glimmered like bits of the sky captured in their open wings.

Farther east the terrain began to level out as we approached the coast. This was banana country; Chiquita and Del Monte have major land holdings here. The major city of Limon sits on the Caribbean coast. Just south of this city lies the coastal town of Cahuita. There is a major reef at this locale, purportedly with excellent scuba and snorkel potential, which we decided to leave unexplored, as we had already over-extended ourselves. A major tortoise-breeding beach also remained unseen for the same reason.

Cahuita seemed a haven for humans out of other options in life, or perhaps resigned to their fate, a dead-end bunch at the end of their road. A crowd of ne’er-do-wells gathered at a local bar on the beach seemingly at a loss about how to proceed from there. Drug running, rumor had it, was a principle occupation of the area, with Panama, in close proximity, reputedly serving as a major conduit for this illicit commerce. We had no proof of any of this but appearances alone seemed to validate this opinion.

Eventually we wended our way back to the capitol of San Jose. I had selected a hotel from a guidebook for our last night before flying back home. This turned out to be the one big mistake of our trip as the hotel, while close to the airport, was somewhat cramped and dingy. We should have gone with El Presidente, a large hotel within the center of the city that once served as a convent; the nunnery aspect alone would have been worth the stay.

In all, Costa Rica certainly lived up to its billing as a premier vacation destination. What with cloud-forests full of multitudinous species, endless dazzling beaches for lounging and sunbathing as well as active volcanoes for the edification of inveterate explorers, there is something there for everyone, no matter how jaded and world traveled they may be.
© Stephen Alexander 2008

Costa Rica

stephen hewitt

Lanexa, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Travels to the tiny Central American nation of Costa Rica

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