Friday, May 9, 2014

Costa Rica's allure includes howler monkeys, old trees, sky bridges

Orchids throw out their fronds on a gorgeous tree in full bloom on the grounds of Pura Vida Gardens, Costa Rica.


Pura Vida Gardens offers this colorful cafe on a waterfall.

I WAS SO nervous my palms were sweating and my legs were shaky.
But my coach and partner assured me everything was perfectly safe. I'd be fine.
So I accepted the walking stick our guide offered and headed toward the first sky bridge.
As I walked carefully across the swaying bridge, I saw glorious birds and listened to a toucan's glorious cry.  HOWLER MONKEYS screamed and century-old trees swayed and I watched parakeets take flight. Eco-tourists and bird watchers worldwide consider Costa Rica a mecca.
Hikers begin the up and down hike to several sky bridges in Costa Rica.
HORSEBACK aficionados love it, too, for its trails through the enchanting Valley of the Monkeys. White-water rafters take to the Corobici River for thrills.  Hikers follow the edges of the largest crater in the world.
And coffee lovers load up on bags of the world-famous Costa Rican coffee beans, maybe taking in a tour of one of the coffee mills and watching how it's processed.
WE SAILED into Puntarenas ("sandy point"), closest coastal town to the capital, San Jose, with its fine museums and shops.
Costa Rica is beautiful year-round, but the main,
non-rainy tourist season is November through April.
We headed for the wilderness, past miles of gorgeous beaches, into the lushest tropical rainforests we've seen since the Amazon.  We were to see birds, monkeys and more.
I'M AFRAID of heights and suffer from vertigo. But the skywalk was fun.  Here we were on suspension bridges, walking over gorges and ravines.  Beyond the rainforest, we saw the coastline and nearby Tarcoles River.
Costa Rica, bordered by Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north, enjoys two bodies of water -- on the east coast, the Caribbean Sea and on the west, the Pacific Ocean. Costa Rica is a booming destination, with surfing, beach vacations and ecotourism. Visiting is easy; U.S. citizens need a valid passport and a return ticket.
A bell pepper, perhaps? 
No, it's a cashew!
made us feel a pull to Costa Rica?
American ex-pat, right, David
Stannard, and guide, flank Cookie at
Pura Vida; below left, a monkey frolics.
First, the people are educated and school is compulsory, so Costa Rica feels more "first world" than third.
Crime is virtually nil.
Costa Rica has enjoyed interesting historical events, including a visit from Christopher Columbus.  Our country's own "discoverer" was so impressed with the colony that he lobbied, unsuccessfully, to be named its governor. The honor went to a rival.
An iguana cries for lunch -- and moments later -- get papaya slices.
The country had a civil war that led to the dissolution of the armed forces.
TODAY, Costa Rica is considered one of the most politically and economically stable of the Central American nations.
Without an army, Costa Rica doesn't participate in wars or conflicts.  And it's a pleasure not to be confronted with heavily armed guards at every turn, as happens to us in many other parts of the world.
A growing contingent of American and European ex-patriots is moving to Costa Rica, in search of cheap land and tranquil surroundings.
Cookie and Keller near the end of the last sky bridge!
We David and Cindy Stannard,  who invited us to their beautiful Pura Vida Gardens for a tour and lunch.
HE HAS knocked around in the real estate business, living in LaJolla, Calif., then moving to this lovely corner of Costa Rica. His kitchen prepared a typical Costa Rican meal of rice and beans, barbecued chicken and fish, plantains and pasta salad.  We had enjoyed fruit earlier in the day – beautiful papaya, melon and the sweetest pineapple I’ve had outside of Hawaii's Molokai and Lanai.
Since education is compulsory in C.R., ambition leads to accomplishment. In nearby Guatemala, youngsters are often recruited to help farm or  sell handicrafts and pulled from school after grade six. Young Costa Ricans with means and family backing travel to America or Europe for their educations, returning as doctors or other professionals.
“We know how important education is,” said our guide. “It is a ticket to a better life.”

Cartagena's sculptures and beach front are two draws.
COMING UP: Continuing our eclectic gambol through the Americas, we dip into Cartagena, one of South America’s prettiest port cities and a stronghold of Spanish galleons for years.  Today it is a haven for sexy girls courted by handsome guys, high rise Hiltons and Hyatts, and an old town out of another century with horse drawn carts and women sashaying with baskets of fruit on their heads. Come explore, learn and live with us Wednesdays and weekends at:

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