PART ONE: PURA VIDA COSTA RICA
There are so many extraordinary places in the world. Thanks to the endless supply of travel magazines, articles and guidebooks; television shows and documentaries; and personal accounts from friends and family, I keep adding more and more destinations to my never-ending travel bucket list. The list only grows, it never seems to shrink. I feel I have barely scratched the surface.
So, some might think it strange that I find myself back in Costa Rica once again. A country that I have visited six times already and a country that we called home for eight months in 2008/2009. But it is not strange at all. During my very first trip I fell in love with the landscape: the mountains, the volcanoes, the coasts and the forests. I loved the bright vivid colours and the sounds of the howler monkeys and the birds. I loved the warm tropical breeze, the luscious fruits, the friendly, smiling Costa Ricans, the waterfalls and hot springs…and I loved the incredible diversity of plants and animals. It was the immense trees, covered with moss, vines, bromeliads and epiphytes that took my breath away. So massive and so green. And when I witnessed my very first nesting leatherback turtle in all her glory—I felt I could die happy.
Costa Rica’s landscape is diverse and breathtakingly beautiful. The forests are so lush, they drip with green. They are alive!
Costa Rica is a biological hotspot that never disappoints. It is difficult to pass up any opportunity to see such unique species such as the fruit from a cannonball tree, a hawksbill hatchling, a red-eyed tree frog, and the infamous fer de lance.
It was the end of 1998 and I was working at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada. The director of our International Program had offered to take any interested staff members on a trip to Costa Rica to see our conservation and development efforts first hand. Five of us signed up without hesitation. We spent a week in the cloud forests of the Monteverde/Arenal region staying at three ecotourism lodges that WWF helped establish with the Costa Rican government and community-based partners. We also visited other conservation projects including shade coffee, arts and crafts, rubber tapping and tree planting. And then three of us spent another week exploring the dry forests of Santa Rosa National Park in the north-west region and then down the Pacific coast to Tamarindo.
Eco-lodges like this one in Monte Los Olivos, have been a popular choice for tourists, providing vital income for local residents, and helping to protect the region’s forests.
Horseback riding in Tamarindo with colleagues who were great friends.
Since that very first trip, there has been a special place in my heart for Costa Rica. I knew I had to return. And return I did…less than a year later, only this time to a different region—the Atlantic lowland rainforest near Torteguero—and this time, with Josh. And he too, fell in love with the country, and has been back almost every year since, usually with students in tow.
Josh and I at Cano Palma in 1999. A view of San Jose from the top of the Cacts Hotel.
And so, 10 years and two children later, it was no real surprise that when we needed to make some big modifications to our lives, it was to Costa Rica that we moved.
When the boys were young, I often felt like a “married single parent.” Josh worked so much, he was rarely around. He worked 6 or 7 days of the week, often gone for 15 hours of the day. His commute was long, and to avoid some of the crazy Greater Toronto Area traffic, he would leave early in the morning and come home late at night. The boys would already be in bed. Sometimes several days would pass before they would see him. And with Josh’s demanding schedule, I couldn’t work outside the home, so I never got much of a break from constant child care.
It seemed like a waste of precious time to continue this way. So, after careful deliberation and discussion, we decided to make a dramatic change. We sold our home, our car, and many of our belongings and moved to a remote biological research station near Torteguero, Costa Rica.
The boat dock at Cano Palma, a Canadian-owned research station accessible only by boat.
Some people thought we were crazy and some people thought we were brave. We thought it would be an amazing way to reconnect with each other and nature; to live simply, away from the pressures and distractions of life in a big North American city; and to make a difference by doing something worthwhile, something for conservation.
And it was…until life changed again. My mother’s health declined and required us to move back to Ontario. We have been living in Lindsay ever since, but we’ve never stopped visiting Costa Rica. We have been to other places as well, of course, but Costa Rica remains a favourite.
Priceless memories of a time when the boys were little and we embarked on an epic adventure—living at Cano Palma, a remote research station near Torteguero, Costa Rica.
Perhaps the best part about returning over and over again to Costa Rica is sharing the experience with others who have never been before. That is one of the main reasons we find ourselves back here once again. Josh has organized an 8-day trip to Costa Rica’s lowland rainforest for a group of 11 people (Amelia, Brett, Jeff, Joe, John, Heather, Randy, Sarah, Scott, Teresa and Tracy). And what a great group of biologists, birders and wildlife enthusiasts they have turned out to be. When they don’t have binoculars glued to their faces, they can be found pouring over field guides and scrolling through their photographs in order to identify the things they have seen.
They compare notes and add species after species to their growing lists. They are all curious and eager to see, photograph and learn as much as possible. They are appreciative, easy to please, and take advantage of every opportunity to get out there and see more! “I’ll sleep when I am dead!” is the mentality of this group.
Josh leads the group on multiple hikes each day and night, never failing to find new things of interest to marvel at and photograph, like this awesome little coral snake that Brett is shooting.
It is a relief to travel with like-minded people who have not come for the grand five-star resorts, but who have come for an authentic experience—a little taste of Costa Rican life in a small coastal community.