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From Costa Rica (Grecia, La Fortuna, Arenal, Monteverde, Sarchi)

By Sahand Rabbani

from Costa Rica (Grecia, La Fortuna, Arenal, Monteverde, Sarchi)

Dear Friends,

After nearly seven hours of travel, I had arrived at San José's Juan Santamaría International Airport by early afternoon. It was a strange feeling to have traveled for so long and so far while still arriving in the same time zone as my origin. I was shuttled around to the offsite car rental where I picked up a rusty manual-transmission Toyota Yaris, my dutiful steed who would accompany me throughout the country for the next few days.

I received my first dose of San José's perpetual gridlock on my way to meet my brother in the nearby town of Grecia, where he was stationed for the month working at a medical clinic nearby. We grabbed dinner in town (ceviche and a typical meat and rice dish) before driving into the hills. We spent the night in a hilltop bed and breakfast, retiring early in preparation for our departure at dawn.

We awoke before five the next morning. Coked-up on coffee and peanut butter sandwiches, we embarked on a three-hour drive to the resort town of La Fortuna, situated near the Arenal volcano. We connected with my brother's medical school friends, who had arrived the night before, just as they were concluding breakfast. Now a group of seven, with one incapacitated from food poisoning, we set out for the day's adventures. Our first stop was a steep descent to a waterfall. Then the group split apart, some of us joining an ATV tour organized by our hotel.

The ATV endeavor proved far muddier than I had foolishly anticipated. Indeed, my white pants were thoroughly covered in dirt by the end. A good experience to have once, such recreational activities rarely excite me, and I am unlikely to find myself mounting an ATV again any time soon.

Despite the dense fog that concealed the volcano's picturesque peak that day, we went for an afternoon hike along one of the private trails. Afterwards, we wound down at the hotel sipping mediocre Costa Rican beer on the patio.

The next morning, our caravan departed La Fortuna for the fabled rainforests of Monteverde. With the original group's only manual driver still incapacitated, my brother took the wheel of the other car and the two of us drove the rest of the crew for over three hours and through winding roads of various terrains to a self-proclaimed "adventure park" in Monteverde. Trying hard to suppress the feeling that we were drones in a manicured experience of contrived ruggedness, we set out on a trail of suspension bridges that took us through the canopy of an adjacent rainforest.

The amusement was brief. Having served the purpose of our three-hour drive from La Fortuna, we rolled into a nearby town for a taco lunch and then set off again for another three-plus hours of driving back to Grecia. The drive was demanding, at the beginning a steep descent along a rocky trail littered with cartoonishly jagged protrusions and culminating in near standstill traffic along the Pan-American Highway as we neared San José. At times, the traffic was so hopeless that bus drivers would abandon their passengers to chit chat on the side of road. Local custom, however, eschewed frustration in such times. A pervasive disposition of pura vida, a national attitude of nonchalance, prevailed among the good and the bad. It ensured at once that my own transgressions would be forgiven while at the same time tempering my expectations of my surroundings. (By the end, I feared that the exertion of my left calf from the clutch would result in unsightly asymmetries come shorts season in the summertime.)

That evening, we returned to our original dinner spot in Grecia for more ceviche. I stayed the night in a hostel on the main square. For a small village, Grecia is surprisingly loud at night, with an interminable stream of motorcycles roaring around on the other side of the single-pane windows of my second-story room as if part of a parade for my exclusive benefit.

In the morning, I celebrated pura vida by attempting to shower under the drizzle of the showerhead's water heating element, a device that allows free choice along the efficient frontier of water pressure and water heat. In Costa Rica, it is well known that the product of the two is a physical constant.

Following this, my brother and I passed my final morning in Costa Rica in the nearby town of Sarchi, famous for its handiwork and, in particular, its vibrant and ornate oxcarts. We enjoyed a hearty meal of huevos rancheros, walked about town, examined some crafts, and made our way back to Grecia. From there, I drove to the airport and returned my faithful Yaris to Alamo (after an unexpectedly challenging search for a gas station). Relieved that my turbulent journeys had not resulted in any financial liability, I proceeded to the terminal.

I left Costa Rica extremely satisfied, having spent quality time with my brother while also experiencing a small dose of a new country. The country's ecotourism apparatus seemed a little too deliberate and overdeveloped for my taste, catering perhaps to families of American tourists who rely on the regimented guarantees of their regular getaway excursions. I have no doubt, of course, that a rawer experience is still attainable, but not for me, not this time.


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