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Off the tour bus in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries in Central America. The country is known to be “eco-friendly” and has a thriving tourist business. Over two million people from around the world visit there every year.

Most of those two million go right from the San Jose airport to a Turismo bus or hotel shuttle, and are transported in air-conditioned comfort to one of many beautiful resorts on the Pacific Ocean, in the mountains, or on the Caribbean coast. They have a lovely vacation with memories that last a lifetime. There are guided tours to the rain forest, national parks, ziplining, wind surfing and many other tourist pursuits.

But most people who go there never see the actual country of Costa Rica.

Through serendipitous events in my life, I’ve met a special man who lives in Costa Rica. Since then, I’ve traveled there many times and every time, I discover more about this country.

Costa Rican roads. There are reasons why the Turismo shuttle business is so brisk. Costa Rica is extremely mountainous, with narrow winding roads that serpentine to the peaks and have no edges to speak of. You can literally look out the passenger window in your car straight down a cliff that can be as steep as 3,800 meters. Scary enough until you add Costa Rican drivers to the mix. They have no fear.

They can take a curve on two wheels sometimes because the road is really only meant to be one lane, not designed for two cars side by side. Other roads in low-lying areas, can still have six foot ditches where the shoulders should be. I have seen busses lying on their sides because they got too close to the ditches and went off the road.

Most of the bridges are also one lane wide, with cars taking turns going over them, in either direction. The rule seems to be, “Whoever is actually on the bridge at the time, has the right of way.”

But enough about roads. The country has been working on paving roads that had previously looked like the surface of the moon, and conditions have gotten better, if not even more daring.

Costa Rica is actually made up of towns that dot the mountains. The towns are connected by one or two of those zig-zagging mountain roads and each town has a church in the center of it. There is usually a park directly across from the church, and a soccer field not too far away.

No matter how small the town, Costa Rican women are extremely stylish. All age groups wear their skinny leg jeans with impossibly high heels and their cell phones are never out of reach. I don’t bring vacation wear, like shorts and sensible sneakers when I go there. I bring skinny leg jeans and heels. And I like it that way.

Everywhere are open-air “sodas”, which are tiny restaurants, sometimes in the front room of someone’s house. Always, it seems, they are situated on the edge of one of those mountain roads when we’re flying around the corner on two wheels, trying to avoid a sleeping dog in the road without running into an oncoming car or going over a cliff.

No matter how difficult to get to, they are still worth stopping for. The food is great, and always freshly made. It is always served with mayonnaise, which is the national condiment of Costa Rica. Coffee, which grows on the mountainsides behind the sodas, is the drink of choice.

Also located on the mountainsides are places to dance on a Saturday night. At night when you can see thousands of lights dotting the mountains, and the larger cities glowing like embers in the valleys, you can listen to a Cumbia band, and watch that particular brand of swing dancing, or even participate if you are brave enough.

As I make friends there, I’ve been trying to learn the language. Someday, I hope to be fluent, but for now everyone is patient with me as I stutter my way through.

The people have a saying, “Pura Vida”. Its literal meaning is “pure life”. It is what Costa Ricans say when you ask them how they are. And that is their philosophy.

It is a philosophy that I am willing to embrace, too, as I continue my life journey.

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