One quarter of an adventure

Well, we’re a little over five months into our two-year adventure.  As we near our first trip back to the States, it is strange to think about the time that has passed since we’ve been here.  When we think about the last time we were home, it feels like an eternity ago.  When we think about the first day we arrived in Costa Rica, however, it feels like it was just a couple of weeks ago.  Then, we start to think about all we’ve done in these last five months – and it is pretty remarkable.  As we get ready to pack up and head home for a couple of weeks, we wanted to reflect on some of our most memorable experiences.

Favorite town/place we’ve visited:

This is a tough one because not only have we seen so many beautiful places, but for such a small country, Costa Rica is unbelievably diverse.  You could be standing on a beach with nearly white sand and crystal clear calm water, then travel a couple of miles down the road and be standing on a black sand beach looking out at ten foot swells. It’s not just the beaches that are diverse.  It is only about a 60 mile trip for us to the beach, but in those 60 miles, there is over 5000 feet of difference in elevation creating extremely different landscapes and climates.

Cahuita - Caribe Sur
Cahuita – Caribe Sur

With that being said, my favorite location so far is the Southern Caribbean (you can see our detailed post about it here: Caribe Sur ). It may be slightly cheating to choose this whole area, but the towns are so small and close together, I think it counts.  The Southern Caribbean of Costa Rica as we see it includes Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, Punta Uva, and Manzanillo.  This was our favorite because of the picturesque jungle lined beaches, wildlife, and the mix of culture and privacy.  In Puerto Viejo you can find as much culture as anywhere we’ve seen in Costa Rica: At night in town it’s impossible not to hear the thumping reggae coming from the numerous bars.  On the other hand, it is also amazingly easy to drive (or bike) a few miles out-of-town and find your own private paradise on a completely secluded stretch of beach.

Most scenic place that is not a beach:

I thought it was only fair to recognize a place that is not on a beach because there is so much more to Costa Rica than just the sand and surf.  Our choice for scenery inland has to be Orosi.

Orosi Valley Lookout
Orosi Valley

Coffee fields don’t sound all that impressive, but looking at them in perfect rows lining the Orosi Valley and the surrounding mountain sides is amazing. This little village is nothing more than a small farm town with a few hotels that can’t be seen from the road, but is a worthwhile day trip for any one staying in the Central Valley.

Biggest adjustment:

This one may be a bit obvious: the language.  Torie and I have started Spanish lessons and are making some progress, but we have a long way to go.  When we travel to the beach, it’s hardly a concern because nearly everyone there speaks English because they cater to tourists.  Where we live, however, it is rare to meet someone in the neighborhood who speaks English.  Interestingly enough, language wasn’t an easy choice here.  It is hard to put into words what driving is like on these roads, and it almost overtook language as our biggest adjustment.  When we go home next week, it will be very hard to resist the urge to drive like a Tico and pass cars at will or have to stay inside designated lanes or even drive in a straight line – pot holes here make that an impossible task.

Biggest accomplishment:

I’m not sure I could narrow this down to one specific event, but I would say it has been the fact that we haven’t refrained from doing anything we’ve hoped to do.  No matter how bad our Spanish has been or how unsure of ourselves we’ve been, we have just done it anyway, whatever “it” may have been.  Whether it was buying a car, travelling across country our second week here, or hopping on the buses, and occasionally getting lost on the buses, we haven’t let our lack of familiarity with our surroundings hold us back in any way.  We’ve figured the only way to learn and figure it out has been to just give it a shot.  So far, it’s worked for us.

Biggest surprise:

The biggest surprise for me has been how understanding people have been when trying to communicate with us.  We do not expect them to speak English, so we try our best in Spanish, and 9 times out of 10 they are extremely helpful and patient.  It is rare that a person seems irritated or frustrated by our inability to speak the language of the country in which we’re living.  I can only imagine how much different this would be if I were trying to live in the States with the same level of English. I think the perfect example of this would be getting our driver’s licenses.  I don’t even want to think about how the already grumpy DMV workers would be in the US if I walked in there to get a license and didn’t speak English, but here it was never an issue.  We tried our best to speak Spanish, and they tried their best to speak slowly and use a lot of gestures.  Overall, it was a surprisingly smooth process.

Biggest disappointment:

The lack of uniquely Costa Rican food. Everywhere you go you can get an order of french fries or fried chicken.  Don’t get me wrong, I love fried chicken, but there are not many authentic Costa Rican dishes.  We’ve had “Olla de Carne” (literally pot of beef), but it’s just beef stew.  We’ve had gallo pinto (literally spotted rooster), but it’s just fried rice and beans.

An especially good casado with trout (not a common casado dish)
An especially good casado with trout (not a common casado dish)

Yeah, I know there is more to it, and it does taste good, but at the end of the day, it is still rice and beans.  In terms of food, I am grateful for the abundance of cheap, delicious fruit, fresh fish, and good bread, but I am talking more about actual dishes.  Casados are cheap and filling, but they’re rarely anything to write home about.  If I had to describe Costa Rican cuisine, it would be a somewhat bland, non-spicy Mexican. One plus about living in Central America, many other cuisines are prevalent here – such as El Salvadoran pupusas – which are absolutely delicious.  I am pretty sure an artery clogs with each one I devour, but it is totally worth it.

Adventure we’re most looking forward to:

For me it is definitely going to Corcovado, which is a large, completely wild national park on the Osa Peninsula.  This is the one National Geographic described as the most biologically intense place on Earth.  There are no roads going here – you have to take a boat taxi. There aren’t even real hotels. Most lodgings are fancy, permanent tents set up outside the park.  I’m not sure Torie is sold, but she’ll come around, and I can’t wait.  Within the park there are day and night hikes, sea and river kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, and surfing.  All happening in a true, undeveloped, unspoiled tropical rain forest.

For Torie, it is Bocas del Toro, Panama and Arenal. When we return from the States in January, we are celebrating our 1 year anniversary in Bocas. Having a cabin over crystal clear water, snorkeling, and holding starfish seems like the perfect way to spend our anniversary. She is also excited to go to Volcano Arenal and La Fortuna with her family where we will go white water rafting.

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