Part One: Jungle life
It’s 12:30 p.m. and we are waiting in the customs line at the San Jose airport, the capital of Costa Rica. We are restless after sitting on a plane for five hours, growing even more restless as the customs line barely moves and our taxi plane taking us to our destination is schedule to depart at 2:00 p.m. With twenty minutes to spare, we finally make it through customs; we do a mad dash through the airport to check-in and go through security all over again, and then continue to run to our boarding gate. We are out of breath, but make it just in time. We hand out ticket the boarding agent, she smiles at us as we catch our breath, and says, “You made it! Pura Vida.”
This is not our first time in Costa Rica, so we know the Pura Vida saying, which simply translates to Pure Life, but said for everything. People greet one another by saying Pura Vida, they say it as a term of thanks, good luck, what’s up, and more. It is a phrase that is interchangeable.Our little 19-seat plane takes us to Quepos, a small tropical inlet backed by rainforest, where we meet my cousin and her partner for a tropical week in the jungle. We jump into the rebuilt 1991 Toyota Land Cruiser that is the pride of my cousin’s partner as we make our way up to the jungle. There is a bit of car talk, and the mention that 4x4s are a must in the jungle as we zoom by palm trees, a palm oil factory, homes, shops, restaurants, and hotels. “Look at the lines on the road” my cousin says; I look and they are just like ours – yellow on the outside, white dashes in the middle. Then she adds, “the lines on this road were recently painted, all by hand. Before, this road was dangerous. Cars would drive all over the road.”We enter the small town of Ojochal, where we say goodbye to paved roads, and hello to dirt. We slowly bump our way along the road: I see children playing soccer, chickens running on the side of the road, a mother feeding her baby on her front porch, and a man driving a young woman somewhere on the back of a little dirt bike. Shockingly, everyone that we pass smiles and waves – we are definitely not in Ontario anymore. We drive through a small river, ascend a scarily steep hill, descend another, and then climb one more before we get to the casa in the sky. Now I know why this truck brings my cousin’s partner so much happiness!Just after 5 a.m. the deep sound of howler monkeys stirs us from our slumber, as do the twittering birds, and the beginning of the sunrise, which turns out to be our alarm clock for the rest of the week. There is exactly 12.5 hours of sunlight in Costa Rica, no matter the time of year; the sun rises just after 5 a.m. and sets after 5:30 p.m. Left to our own devices we laze through the day by the pool with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. For dinner, our hosts take us to a nearby Italian restaurant, Mamma e Papa, where I enjoy the best homemade pasta I have ever tasted. The owners, born in Italy uprooted their lives and moved to Costa Rica to open a restaurant in the jungle. Seating is under a covered balcony, and part of the building serves as a hotel. During our meal, a tropical rainstorm entertains us and causes the electricity to flicker, which doesn’t bother our hosts as flickering lights is a norm during tropical monsoons.The next day in 35° weather, we lace up our hiking shoes and venture to Cataratas Nauyaca. After a sweaty 4km uphill hike, with panoramic views that leave me breathless (that or being out of shape), we find what we are looking for: Nauyaca Waterfall, and to our surprise, two majestic waterfalls cascade in front of us. The Upper Falls is forty-five metres high, and the Lower Falls is twenty metres high with a tiered fall. After marveling at the indescribable beauty of the Upper Falls, we quickly rush to the Lower Falls, where swimming is a must. It’s an easy 4 km downhill hike back, where we replenish our electrolytes with coconut water straight out of coconuts that we purchase from a nearby fruit stand. A mother with her three children happily talk to us and laugh at how excited I get over the beautiful produce. We leave with a couple of bags bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables.Swimming in the pool no longer felt the same after that, so the following days we explore the land by ATV and go waterfall chasing! We find two incredible gems: A secret waterfall that is in someone’s backyard (visitors are welcome for a small fee), and Cascada El Pavon, a small but unique waterfall with a big rock in the middle. How did it get there?Because one must go dancing in the rainforest, we head to the Bamboo Room for dinner, drinks and dancing. The local entertainment keeps us boogieing until the early hours of morning – the smooth tequila also helps. Recently opened by a St.Catharines resident (I thought John looked familiar!) and well-known musician, the Bamboo Room is where tourists and locals go for their entertainment in the jungle.We spend a lazy day at a secluded beach, where hidden caves and a sand bar have us swimming, floating and exploring. Overhead, vibrant scarlet macaws freely fly from tree to tree, while unbeknownst to us, crocodiles were swimming in the marshy river 2 km away. One thing we quickly learned is to always watch where you are walking and to be aware of your surroundings – tourists (Gringos) walk with their head up high, where locals (Ticos) always watch where their next step will land.
And just like that, our week in Costa Rica ended, but not before buying a hammock to remember our week long siesta in the jungle.
Stay tuned for Part two: Resort life in Costa Rica.
Breakdown of costs for for two people:
Car rental + gas: $300 + 200
House rental with pool (7 nights – enough room for two couples): $850
Day trips (includes a day of zip lining for 2): $250
Extra spending: $100
Exit tax: $29 USD per person
Total trip: $4,158
This trip is super doable, especially if you split rental and food costs with another couple.