Pura Vida in Costa Rica

fig treeWe’ve been busy. Busy with fun!  It has really been an incredible couple of days since we left Grenada, which was its own wonderful world of fun. Our latest adventure was absolutely born out of a miserable day at the border. Every time we  change countries, we label it Border Crossing Day almost as if we’re identifying in advance that it is bound to be a difficult and frustrating day.  All the way to the border, we call out the name of the day – attempting to invoke some kind of patience we know we don’t have; to draw upon our better, more adventurous selves that can meet any obstacle with easy going, happy sentiment.  We actively try to kid ourselves.  It took us FIVE HOURS to get across the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border.  We stood in line after line with busloads of Mollytourists and locals – waiting for tiny little official pieces of paper to shuttle from one counter to the other – a signature here, an inspection there, and mostly just someone dragging the cheese around for us to follow through the maze of desks behind windows.  It was, to date, our worst border crossing.  We survived, and we successfully imported the bikes and had them fumigated, and were off to Flamingo Beach in the dark.  Because we apparently always ride in the dark, despite our best intentions. The landscape (what we saw of it before the sun went down) was beautiful- the road wound through lush hills and past beautiful volcanoes.  The roadside was incredibly clean – a marked difference from Nicaragua. The road itself was lined and had reflectors – its the little things that we take for granted that make life so much easier down here.

At the end of our day we landed at the Flamingo Beach Resort in Guanacaste, met by my brother (James), sister-in-law (Becky), niece (Molly), and three cousins (Chris, Monica, and their daughter, Sarah).  We were at the resort Thursday through Monday and had such a fantastic time.  First and foremost, it was such an absolute treat to have familiar faces waiting to meet us. We got the chance to share some adventure with friends other than just ourselves and spend time with dear family that we rarely get to see- it was awesome.  The hotel itself was right on the beach and the constant breaking of waves became the backdrop for our weekend. We spent the first day wandering around the beach and lounging in the pool.  That afternoon we went out on a catamaran a ways and went snorkeling. It was my first time and I wasn’t sure how I would do with the whole “we’re all in the water together” thing.  I’ve seen plenty of marine life and been perfectly happy with that 5 inch pane of glass between us. It was fantastic.  The water was murky but our guide did everything he could to find us things to check out – he found a sea cucumber, Monica and Sarah!starfish, and blowfish, all of which we got to hold. The blowfish was bright yellow and as I held him in my palm I could feel his eyes looking around anxiously to try to figure out what the hell was going on. When the guide let him go he shot like a bloated rocket into the murky depths, a dimming yellow lightbulb sinking into the rest of that vast world.  We got back into the boat and sailed out to watch the sunset on the open water. Just for a moment, dolphins swam with us just beyond my feet dangled off the front of the boat. The clouds looked more like paint then reality that evening  and the sun settled down to the bottom of the edge of the world.  It was a sunset I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

On Saturday we headed to the Buena Vista Lodge with our tour guide, Johnny, who probably knows more about the history and environment of Costa Rica then you can imagine. At the lodge we did a canopy tour, we went down a (concrete) water slide, bathed in volcanic mud, hot springed, and rode around the property in a tractor. It was a strange combination of activities but it was a lot of fun and dusted off memories of summer camp.  The canopy tour was really the highlight- swinging through trees with our guides Gary and Javier who took every opportunity to shake the cables and scare the hell out of us. The views were so verdant and full- it took the edge off the reality of our defiance of gravity.  And we got to wear some awesome looking helmets.nice

The last evening of our stay Chris, Monica and I went with another family from California and two of the guys from the scuba shop at the hotel to a bull-riding rodeo that was going on in the neighboring town of Brasilito.  Alex and Pablo bought us tickets and took us up to the rickety bleachers lining the ring.  We sat and waited from maybe 20 minutes before the show started – Pablo explained that they had to wait for the ambulance to arrive before things got underway.  We saw why almost immediately.  These bull riders aren’t wearing helmets or kevlar- they’re bare-headed in t-shirts and jeans.  When they go down, and many of them went down brutally, they’re grabbed by the arms and legs and dragged to a portion of the ring that is painted with a red cross and shoved through the first aid hole in the wall.  My jaw dropped, but the Californians turned green.  I don’t think it was quite the cultural experience they were expecting.  It was really interesting for me to be next to my cousins who are from Colorado and are familiar with US rodeo and on the other side, Pablo, who could explain the customs and announcements as they were coming.  It was a pretty brutal evening for bull and rider – nobody came out of the ring unscathed.

this bug lived on my door. i called him grandfather. i dunno.And of course, I stayed for the party afterwards. Which was a fantastic time.  I could definitely go back to that place and hang out for a while.  We’ll see which way the wind blows in May…

Costa Rica really is an interesting country – it has the highest literacy rate in the western hemisphere, socialized medicine, and no military. It seems to be doing quite well off of its tourist industry and is working hard to preserve its natural ecosystems.  The ticos (Costa Ricans) are incredibly proud (which ,from what we’ve seen, they have every rite to be) and yet they are an easy going, warm culture.  It has easily become one of my favorite destinations so far on this journey and i find myself wishing we had more time to kick around the countryside looking for more adventure.  We’ve drifted around for the last two days through surf towns on the southern coast. Tomorrow we’ll probably head to Panama, and then start thinking about South America.  I can’t believe we’re all the down here!Pura Vida!



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15 responses to “Pura Vida in Costa Rica

  1. Rosie

    Sometimes Penny is like that yellow blowfish.

  2. Pat

    Molly’s the best looking one in that bunch-by far…

  3. mark miller

    It’s fun tracking you two along on your adventure and glad you’re having so much fun. Thanks for “bringing us along” 🙂

    More safe and fun travels to you!

  4. Yuriria Hernández

    Hola!! I am Yuriria from the white Toyota Van that you have meet in several borders in centroamerica. Congratulation for your awesome trip! nice blog. I just wanted to say “hola” and “buena suerte”.

    We are in Panama now, this border was far easier than others. Maybe we will meet at El Canal de Panama. Best regards!.

  5. Chris

    Heather, I loved the “Pura Vida” blog, however, I thought that all photos of me at the canopy tour had been erased! LOL. Honestly, I had a great time and found the people of Costa Rica to be genuinely warm and friendly. They have a beautiful country and are taking steps to preserve the natural beauty of the country. I would agree that the the bull riding was very different. I had never seen a square cut out of a corral, painted white with two big red crosses on either side. Any rider unlucky enough to not be able to pick themselves up off of the ground, (which by the way was as hard as concrete) was carried over to the square hole and passed through the fence for first aid. All to often this square hole in the fence is used. The Costa Ricans are a tough people, I have to admit. Pablo, one of our guides for the evening told me that a tourist decided to jump into the ring in the recent past, (most spectators sit on the top rail of the corral, as in the old west) and froze in the corral as the bull ran him down. Can you ever have enough insurance in another country….
    I loved visting with all the family and hearing the great traveling stories that you and Mike have. I will go back, and hopefully it will be with all of you.

  6. Kelly

    Hi Mikael (or Heather as I just found out from reading your blog :o) ). It’s Kelly Palmer – one of your former clients who is very sad that you’re gone and is putting off getting a haircut because I’m so scared to let anyone’s hands but yours touch my hair! I just came across the business card you wrote this web address on and decided to check out your blog. It must have been fate because I’m going to be in Flamingo Beach in just 2 short weeks – what a coincidence! I’m sure you have your trip all planned out, but if you have a chance, go to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica (specifically Puerto Jimenez, Corcovado National Park and Drake Bay). I loved reading about all of your adventures – enjoy it while you can. You’ve inspired me to someday take my own bike trip to the southern most tip of Argentina – hopefully it can happen sooner rather than later. Well, keep up the blogging – it’s really enjoyable and makes me dream of warmth and sunshine. Be safe and happy travels!

    p.s. Get to the Panama border early in the am if you can. It only took me an hour to cross when I went, but rumor had it that it can take up to 5 hours if you get there too late in the day!

    • heathermikael

      hey girl! great to get your message! we got in to panama yesterday and were super lucky – the border was so quick and easy! it took us five hours to get into costa rica and was a total nightmare. but we had so much fun at flamingo. where are you staying? you have to take this bike trip – you’ll have a blast! keep me posted on how you’re doing, please!



  7. Danell

    You guys look like you are having sooo much fun. I cannot begin to describe the jealousy! Although I can’t wait to see you in Argentina I wish I were with you every step of the way! Thank you for blogging so that we all can live vicariously.

    Continue the fun…..

  8. Clearly, facebook is good for something.
    This all sounds fabulous and will be good fodder for getting my gf to fix her bike.

  9. Bonnie & Dave

    Doesn’t look like my email went thru So here goes again!! We met in Dominical CR (the Canadians)
    Been following your blog. Sounds like your having a trip of your life. Your so lucky to share it with each other. Were back in the Great White North and it all seems like a distant memory! But a good one! Happy Trails —B&D

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