Costa Rica, oh Costa Rica
Costa Rica, a beautiful tropical country, was good to us. Rainy and sunny, sultry and uplifting, and above all pleasing to both eye and soul. This year, we took our family to this beautiful tropical country, located in Central America. Although we had previously visited Mexico, and there are parallels between the two countries, Costa Rica has its own unique character. Costa Rica is considered a “third-world” country – a developing country – but every so often, one could see the sparks of the modernity, creeping in little by little. We had been told that the citizens’ primary difficulty is the corruption of the leadership, which invests not in the country but in its own pockets.
I loved Costa Rica’s landscapes – endlessly green, filled with thick jungles. I loved its human landscape – good, simple folk, quick to offer aid at every opportunity, kind-faced and kind-hearted. I loved, too, Costa Rica’s unhurried pace: Everything has its own proper time, which we Westerners fail to appreciate, and sometimes even to comprehend. The pace of life in Costa Rica has a calming deliberateness, which is afforded a central role and inspires a relaxation missing from most of our lives. It is not for nothing that Americans arrive at Costa Rica once retied to build their home, and not for nothing that we met Israeli families who chose to make it theirs. There is in Costa Rica a leisureliness: the world can wait as nature displays its unique charm.
We started our trip near Arenal. This volcano had been inactive for centuries, but a massive 1968 eruption destroyed a small town called Tabacón. This area is rainy throughout most of the year. Despite the downpour, we toured the region, including a hike in a black, volcanic landscape, during which we wandered upon a sugarcane juice extraction plant, where that delicacy trickled directly into our mouths. In Tabacón we visited the hot springs. I have no particular love for hot springs in general, as their warmth is often accompanied by the smell of rotten eggs, but lo and behold – these hot springs in the mountain’s shade, warm and restorative and calming and inspiring the soul to marvel at the splendor of nature and the world at large, and how blessed we all are. It is regretful that we all commit the sin of forgetfulness of the good in the world and its magnificence, and Costa Rica awoke and illuminated these sympathies and an appreciation of what we have been given. We took a day trip to the singularly unique Israeli ranch run by amazing people who save animals and gift them a home – Lands in Love (see the accompanying link to the late Moti Kirschenbaum’s film about Costa Rica). The ranch is pleasant, as are its people – a highly-recommended experience to any Israeli traveler in the area.
From Arenal, we continued to the mountainous Monteverde, which was also (despite our longing) not exactly flooded with sunlight. Monteverde is a fascinating town, reachable only by unpaved roads (like most roads in Costa Rica – that which we take for granted is not always the case; this trip served as a reminder to appreciate convenient roads as well). In Monteverde we attended a nocturnal nature tour, which was in my opinion one of the greatest experiences of the trip. We saw sloths sprawled upon great trees, and for the first time I saw where birds hide away at night. We saw an especially venomous snake, and generally prayed that nothing bites or stings us.
From mountainous Monteverde we descended to the Pacific coast, which provided a familiar-to-Israelis heat and humidity that I, having lived in Seattle for many years, was excited to feel once more (hard to believe, but even unbearable heat and humidity are something you come to miss). We spent the next few days on the beach in Manuel Antonio. The beach is enchanting and filled with a variety of birds, with crabs that stroll around everywhere (including your bathroom), and with discourteous monkeys who break into balconies, open refrigerators and help themselves to food. The days we spent in Manuel Antonio were the first days of Hanukah, and one of the two local Israeli families has opened a wonderful falafel shop. Every day we came to eat the delicacies and bask in the kindness of the hosts, and even light the first candles of Hanukah with all the other Jewish and Israeli travelers in the area. The reception was exhilarating, and included sufganiyot (an Israeli donuts) and their familiar taste – truly a delight.
In the final days we traveled outside the capital of San José, where we once more toured the endless jungles and entrancing waterfalls, and in the final day had an unsettling experience touring a coffee-growing plantation. During the tour we learned about coffee-making processes and even watched the simple machines at work. There is extensive use primarily in human machines in this industry as they come very cheap. We learned that the salary of the laborers (including young children) is paid out according to the number of baskets they fill. On average, the wage is $15 for a day of work. Most laborers arrive from a much more problematic developing country – Nicaragua. The meager salaries and child exploitation are heartbreaking, but on the other hand, without this scarce income the laborers might starve. Whether or not to purchase coffee from this type of plantation is quite the dilemma. On one hand is the issue of supporting an establishment that exploits children and other weak populations and pays them pennies, and on the other hand is the tragic poverty and very real threat of starvation of those very populations. It is a dilemma I’ve yet to form an opinion on, but the complicated sights are heartbreaking, and once more remind us to appreciate what we have in life, hold our children close and thank God for the opportunity to gift them with a better future.
On the final day we bid a regretful farewell to Costa Rica. It will remain in our hearts forever, stunning and untamed and warm and rugged, volcanic and absolutely gorgeous.