Steamy and Sensational
San Jose Travel Tale
by Lorry Patton ...
Exquisite orchids entwine themselves around lush vines and branches; they creep up tree trunks,
hang from leaves,
sprout on fungi and crawl along the forest floor. The beauty of the Guaria Morada, Queen of the
Orchids, is so
profound, its origin so pure and ancient ( its name was chosen by the pre-Colombian races), it has
been the national
flower of Costa Rica since 1939. Besides blooming in the gardens of Central Valley, the delicate
pink clusters hang on
rough drab adobe walls in parts of Alajuela like expensive wallpaper.
Coffee beans, banana, and sugar cane thrive in Costa Rica's sunshine; papaya, mango and
pineapple are as common as
the North American apple.
Every Saturday morning (daily in some), in almost every city in the seven provinces of the
country, before even a hint
of sunshine streaks across the darkness, the farmers gather at the market square. With just the
stars for light, they
silently sort their harvest, on uneven makeshift tables, in cardboard boxes and in weathered
Store merchants and hotel cooks are the first to appear. They come, some carrying sacks, others
with huge baskets, to
pick through the ripened bounty. By daybreak the whole village is awake -- squeezing,
comparing, sampling and
buying, among other things, the sweetest, tastiest fruit this side of the equator.
Costa Rica's woods -- oak, teak, almond, laurel, the nearly extinct purple heart and butternut . . .
hum with the sounds
of eight hundred and forty-eight chirping and cooing birds ( more than in the United States and
Canada combined ) and
flutter with 10 percent of all the world's butterflies ( more than in all of Africa ).
Over thirty national parks and refuges protect Costa Rica's wildlife species, from the endangered
jaguar to the
magnificent emerald and ruby-colored long-tailed quetzal.
You can get a glimpse of these exotic animals and the forest they call home while fishing creeks in
the bush, while
hiking to a volcano, while horseback riding in the mountains, or while riding on bus.
After a bumpy ride along a less-than-smooth highway through mist-shrouded rainforests, past
acres of cocoa beans and
pineapples, the tour bus stops at a banana plantation. The passengers step off the bus, their eyes
riveted to the men at
work in the fields. Swish, swish; the mud-splattered workers swing their machetes through the
thick stalks of bananas
as if slicing paper piatas.
The group listens with interest as the tall ( most Costa Ricans are of average height ), dark and
explains the harvesting steps and passes out tasty samples of sweet bananas. A furry creature
scurries across the muddy
row and disappears in the underbrush. An agouti, explains the guide to the excited tourists. He
recognizes the rodent,
about the size of a small pig, although only seeing him briefly. He can name any bird or animal
spotted by the
binocular-toting sightseers. In fact, he usually spots them first.
" Oh, no. Not another sloth! " he says, shaking his head feigning boredom. Sure enough. A lazy
sloth dangles from a
tree top on the banks of the Tortuguero Canals in the Tortuguero National Park on the second
portion of the tour.
Like most Costa Ricans, the guide is relaxed and genuinely friendly and kids about his people and
his country as if in
the company of good friends.
" Sometimes we are too relaxed, " he says, adding, " Don't send a Costa Rican on an errand if you
are in a hurry! "
Although deforestation continues and is of great concern, although their national debt is of huge
proportions and the
roads are in need of repair, Costa Ricans are generally happy, confident and proud of their
accomplishments. They are
proud of their impressive 93 percent literacy rate, their universal medical coverage and the fact
that since 1948 they
have had no army.
After a stop for a "cerveza" and "boca" (beer and tidbits) at a local tavern, the tour bus speeds
back to the city skirting
pothole after pothole. The passengers hardly notice. They are noisier than the howler monkey's
in the jungle,
chattering about the exciting and enlightening day's events.
| Travel Tales in Related Destinations|