Our move from Nicaragua to Costa Rica was a matter of much trepidation. Our phones were constantly warning us of the bad weather over the whole country, that we even considred changing our plans and going to Honduras or El Salvador, or even cutting our trip short.
Nevertheless we decided to press on, ignored the Weather Channel and as soon as we crossed the very chaotic border, we were met with sunshine and stunning mountains lining the Pacific Coast. As our bus meandered bumpy roads to Monteverde, there was even a rainbow to welcome us.
Unlike Nicaragua, where the tourist trails leads though interesting cities and places you can simply walk around, in Costa Rica, we were instantly made aware that the way to ”do” the country and its wildlife was to book dozens of pricey-ish tours. Ever dutiful tourists, we let our friendly Swiss-Tico host list all the options to us and we sketched out an itinerary including night tours of the cloud forest and ziplining (Monteverde), volcano hiking and swimming in a thermal river (La Fortuna), white-water-rafting (Pacuare) and then, finally some relaxing on the Caribbean Coast (no tour needed, but why not squeeze another sloth sighting when there?).
The tours were impressive of course: I thought I would die traversing a valley tied on a single cable 200m ini the sky, I took photos of cool animals to last me for a lifetime and and saw wonderful scenery white avoiding smashing my on the rocks in the Pacuare river. Nevertheless there was an intense feeling that while we “did” Costa RIca we didn’t really see what Costa Rica was really about. For all of their outdoorsiness, Ticos, unsurprisingly, did not spend their time ziplining around, and our only contact with the locals were transactional exchanges with guides and tour-salesmen. Most of our company were fellow tourists on the trail, who ranged from great (L., an Italian PhD from Paris) to very annoying (special prize goes to a Swiss/Dutch duo who spent the night tour in the jungle talking loudly about their travels, only stopping to make fun of the guide.
I felt like was in a theme park, jumping from a wonderfully designed-ride to the next. It was our fault: we skipped San Jose (“there is nothing to there” was the general consensus) and Cartago (where we were invited by a cool Costa Rican couple in Granada), because they would have slowed us down, so we were basically limited to tourist towns. This led me to resnt all tours and sights, no matter how good, and I even started seriously considering adopting Daniel Kalder’s antitourism manifesto as my creed and spend the rest of my life going to places where nobody really wants to go.
Still, even there the most memorable things happened when we were not “doing” things. While we confirmed that Monteverde forest reserve is stunning and lush, we actually saw more life walking from it to the tiny town of Santa Elena then following it’s trail. The thermal Tabacon river in La Fortuna was more relaxing than the beautiful pools in a resort where we paid to relax.
By the end of it, I loved Puerto Viejo the most because it did not have things to “do”. It is an exhuberant costal town, where locals and tourists are united in going to the beach, going out and smoking up. We had fun negotiating our bike rental in with a guy so high that he could not say what day it was at 10am, we suffered through an awful tourist-organised improv music performance and destroyed our backsides cycling on ancient bikes 30km to see sloths. Throughout our stay, and even on the bus to the Panamanian border, ganja was wafting in the air.
On our last night, we spoke to a guy at our hostel who we decided to call Quebec Jesus. Roughly our age, with long blond hair and with a habit of going around the streets barefoot he spread his gospel to us while we were hanging in hammocks. He talked about how he drove with his preganant girlfriend from Alaska to Panama and how he roamed the Peruvian jungles alone to Macchu Picchu. After expressing my instant-fanboyish awe as he was what (I pretented?) I wanted to be, I was converted by his preaching, which for this purpose could be summarised as: “Tours and guides? Fuck them. Weather reports? Well fuck those too. Just do what you feel like.”