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Linda Ballou Shares Part One of Her Costa Rican Odyssey: From the Lush Rain Forests to the Shining Sea

By Linda Ballou, NABBW’s Adventure Travel Associate

Linda and fellow adventurers, Laura, Patricia and Pelar enjoy rafting Sarapique River. Photo courtesy Linda Ballou.

After enduring hours of cramped airplanes, air-conditioned hotels, and buses, being immersed in nature once again finally settled my molecules into place.

My tired body came alive as we rocked and rolled down the Class III Rio Sarapiqui, a tributary of the San Juan River. While surging over rapids, and being splashed with their cooling spray beneath a baby blue sky, the stress of travel fell away, sort of like a snake shedding its skin.

Towering trees draped in epiphytic vines and fanning ferns of all shapes and sizes formed a wall of green that framed the river valley. Heron stood stock still along the shore, while white egrets took flight at our approach. Paddling through the crystalline water and breathing deeply of the oxygen-rich air left no question that I had arrived in Costa Rica—The land of Pura Vida!

Perhaps this is one of the red-eyed tree frogs which serenaded Linda at night. Photo courtesy Michael Barrantes.

Back at the Sarapiqui Lodge, I hit the rocking chair overlooking a tranquil pool and a dense forest highlighted by a bright orange flamboyant tree. Hummingbirds flitted about searching for the sweetest nectar.

After a soothing swim and a wholesome meal of fruits, vegetables, and fish, I drifted to sleep listening to the croaking of frogs, hum of insects, and the huffing of howler monkeys in the distance. Yes, it was humid, but a fan overhead with the option of a cooler afforded me a good rest.

Linda took this photo of the Sarapique River while standing on a suspension bridge, as it swayed back and forth with the movement of the many people walking on it. She admits that she feels like she took her life into her hands to get the shot, but says she loves how it shows off the area’s lush foliage.

 

The next morning, our guide, a biologist with encyclopedic knowledge of flora and fauna, took us for a nature walk in the nearby Tirimbina Biological Reserve. But first, we had to traverse the 860-foot suspension bridge spanning the Sarapiqui River valley.

On our walk we spotted a three-toed sloth and met “the old man of the forest”—a 600-year-old kapok tree. We avoided stepping on armies of leaf cutter ants soldiering their way to their nests. I am happy to report that even here in the damp depths of the rain forest I did not see one mosquito. In fact, I saw only one mosquito on the entire 13-day journey around Costa Rica which is about the size of the state of Virginia. That was at a chocolate farm where mosquitoes are the pollinators for the cacao trees that are organically processed into chocolate bars.

A section of the Hotel El Tucano Resort and Spa which features trails as well as a series of hot springs pools and a hot spring sauna. Linda Ballou photo.

After a long drive, the El Tucano Resort with its hot tub, fitness center, sauna, hot spring bath, and three outdoor pools was a welcome respite. Built in the 1930s, the hotel had an Old World feel with modern amenities.

Breakfast on the terrace overlooking a boulder-strewn creek ensconced in tropical foliage felt a bit like what heaven ought to be. Breakfast buffets at all our hotel stops offered mounds of papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and mango, accompanied by scrambled eggs, plantains, and sausages.

Costa Rica is often thought of as a third-world country, but in fact it is leading the way in clean energy with many progressive ideals at work. The entire country has electricity powered by hydrology, wind, and solar, as well as thermal energy from the many active volcanoes. It is a young country that is still forming.

In 1948 the army was dismantled, and the funds used for defense were channeled into a medical program to serve the people. An additional 9% percent of Tico’s (natives of Costa Rica) earnings pay for universal medical coverage that incudes elder care. Education is mandatory. Costa Rica enjoys a 95% literacy rate. Everyone seems to have a cell phone and is internet savvy.

This does not mean they all speak English. You should brush up on your Spanish before arriving. Ticos, if I may generalize, have a sweetness about them to the point of temerity. They are extremely polite and gracious. And they are on “Tico time,” so check your impatience at the door.

La Fortuna is a tourist town that lies in the shadow of the imposing Arenal Volcano. This volcano is no longer puffing fire and lava as it did when I visited here in 2015, but it remains the central attraction in the region. From our eco-lodge nestled in a luxuriant garden we could walk to town, but instead we preferred to dine at Mary’s, a nearby open-air tavern enjoyed by locals on balmy nights. Some of the guests on our tour flew through the forest on the Arenal zip line while I lingered by the pool. We all enjoyed the hike though Arenal National Forest to Arenal Lake with a cooling breeze off the water and a stirring view of the volcano.

Napping White Faced Capucian monkey at Rio Firo. Photo courtesy of Linda Ballou.

A day trip from the lodge garnered a cruise on the Rio Frio near the border of Nicaragua, the neighbor to the north. I was glad to have my monocular with me. We spotted howler monkeys, white faced capuchin, and spider monkeys swinging through the treetops. Birds, bats, and the occasional caiman (small alligator) lined the shore of this sleepy rust-colored river.

Linda shot this pic and suggests this young dancer at Las Brisas School might have a future as a professional dancer. Watch out, Jennifer Lopez!

Overseas Adventure Travel is a tour company that believes people visiting a region should not just experience the geographical highlights of a country but should get to know the people who live there. In that spirit we visited a school where we danced with children ages 5 to 12 in a conga line and witnessed a budding Jennifer Lopez enthusiastically doing her moves. The school was immaculate and the children polite. Each child receives a nutritious meal which may be the only one they will receive that day. We also visited the home of a family living a humble existence in a rural area. Neighbors came bringing home-cooked fare. It was a delightful day of sharing that proved many hands make light work.

A side excursion brought us to the home of a woman who is a member of the indigenous Maleku (meaning “Indian in love”) tribe. She is the daughter of the last living shaman of the tribe and is passing her knowledge on to her son. Like many indigenous people around the globe, she is working hard to keep the traditions of her culture alive. She does artistic carvings on gourds with a technique handed down by her elders.

Here’s mask maker Gerardo Montoya, with one of his creations. Photo courtesy of Linda Ballou.

It also happened to be the 70th birthday of Gerardo Montoya, a gentleman we visited in his mask-making workshop. He creates masks in the fashion handed down to him by his grandfather for a celebration called “Masquerade Day” that takes place each year on October 31st. He danced for us and told us that the world gives him trouble, but that he finds joy in his workshop.

In part two of this article, I take you across the continental divide to the Pacific Coast in this small country with a big heart. Pura Vida!

Adventure travel writer, Linda Ballou, is the author of three novels and numerous travel articles appearing in national publications. Linda’s is the first installment in her Lost Angel Adventure trilogy. It is an armchair traveler’s delight filled with adventures to whet your wanderlust. Linda loves living on the coast of California and has created a collection of her favorite day trips for you in Lost Angel in Paradise. Lost Angel Unleashed, the third book in her travel series, is travel memoir that takes you on her most meaningful journeys and some destinations to die for… Learn more at www.LostAngelAdventures.com

 

 

Linda Ballou Freelance Writer

Top Senior Adventures Blog Linda's mission is to experience as many beautiful places on our planet as she can before they are no more. Travel tales relating her experiences while kayaking, horseback riding, sailing, birding and hiking about the globe have appeared in numerous national magazines. She had great fun collecting travel stories, and profiles of people she met in “naturally high places” for her book, Lost Angel Walkabout-One Traveler’s Tales. Her latest book Lost Angel Unleashed is the third book in her Lost Angel Trilogy

Go to LostAngelAdventures.com for more adventures.

For more about Linda’s novels and media offerings go to. www.LindaBallouAuthor.com

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