Costa Rica Travel Diary

16 August 2010

Arrived in a misty and rainy but beautifully green San Jose, Costa Rica, after my 15 hour bus ride from Panama. Can I claim bus-lag? Now in San Jose at the delightful Hemmingway Inn. Painted jungle scenes on the walls, water features in the courtyard, and birds in the trees.

17 August 2010

Enjoyed a wonderful Costa Rican dinner of fried plantains with a bean and cheese dip. Loving the art galleries, but they could bankrupt me!

18 August 2010

Pura Vida! What a great Costa Rican mantra – meaning pure life, full of life, purified life, this is living!, going great, cool I agree!

I am in Costa Rica now, or I should say San Jose. I immediately feel comfortable here, and I am trying to figure out why. Partly, it must be that I just love the tropics – the lush vegetation and colourful wildlife. And somehow that ‘pura vida’ rubs off on the people, who are friendly and helpful. Another reason must be that this country and this city wears its colours on its sleeve. By that I mean that there is art everywhere – on the walls as murals, in painted tiles, and with the vibrant rainbow textiles.

21 August 2010

I am on my early flight from San Jose to Mexico City – a bit bleary-eyed, as I had to wake up at 4 am. Yesterday was an interesting day of meetings and interviews. It is so inspiring to see so many people all working in their own ways to make the lives of others and the state of the environment a bit better. One consultancy I met yesterday is working with the indigenous community (which makes up about 10% of the population) to make and promote their handicrafts. The Rainforest Alliance is also doing amazing work, not only with products like coffee, but also in forestry and tourism (plane is bumping now). You must look out for their logo (the green frog) in the supermarket.

I am still high on my visit to the rainforest on Thursday. Not only is it full of life and growth, but it is wonderfully undisturbed by humans. About 35% of Costa Rica consists of protected natural forest. I learned so many new things on the tour. First, the ants – bullet, army and leafcutter. I think you know already that the gigantic bullet ants get their name from the severity of their bite. The army ants are the ones that are more aggressive though, and will eat virtually anything in their path. Our guide told us that when they see a line of army ants coming into their house, they just leave the house for 2 hours and when they come back, the ants are gone and the house is completely clean – no more cockroaches, spiders or presumably food. That’s one way to save on housework!

With the leafcutter ants, they often travel long distances because the trees and bushes let off a toxin when a certain proportion of their leaves have been eaten. So the ants never completely wipe out the vegetation. Also, we saw one ant having a ‘free ride’ on top of a leaf that another was carrying. In actual fact, he is protecting the leaf from parasites that lay their eggs on the leaf and could destroy the whole nest if they hatched inside. At one point we had to walk very quickly because we were walking across a ‘river’ of ants on the path, and they were army ants!

We saw some orchids as well. Did you know that the name comes from the Greek meaning testicles?! That is because the species that the Greeks discovered have leaf buds that bear a certain resemblance to balls. Also, did you know that vanilla pods come from a type of orchid? I could go on and on (but I won’t). We didn’t see much other than some butterflies, a few birds, cicadas and ants. But I did spot an ant-eater climbing a tree we went past on the chair lift. I will leave the forest now, before you think this is a biology lesson.

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