Notes From Abroad: Living The Pura Vida Life In Costa Rica, If Only For A Few Days

09.27.16 6 Comments


As someone who lands somewhere between atheist and agnostic on the spectrum of religious beliefs, I wasn’t expecting to contemplate prayer during my trip to Costa Rica in September last year. Yet, here I was being chauffeured by a guide in a cargo van up the side of a mountain, my eyes clenched firmly shut, because I couldn’t bear to look out the window for another second, contemplating prayer.

“What do I have to lose?” I recall thinking. “Praying can’t hurt. Just in case there is a God after all.”

I’d wanted to vacation in Costa Rica for many of the same reasons most people want to vacation in Costa Rica: to get away from it all, to relax a bit, to lay eyes upon scenery so beautiful that it seems computer-generated, etc. But there was another reason I wanted to visit Costa Rica: to conquer some fears.

To get more specific, I’ve long been terrified of heights and drowning. I’m the kind of person who can barely stand to approach a window in a really tall building, and for just about as long as I can remember, I’ve had recurring nightmares about drowning; sinking below the surface of the water, lungs screaming for air, only to become a meal for crustaceans or sharks, or both. By the time I sat cowered in a van, making a plea for mercy to God — who I’ve commonly referred to as “an invisible folk hero living in the sky who was invented by pre-science storytellers” — I’d already raced through the sky over mountains and rain forests at 60+ miles an hour on a cable no thicker than a common garden hose, dove off a cliff into a river, whitewater rafted, and hiked up the side of an active volcano.

At no point during any of this, however, had I contemplated prayer. Yet here we were, almost high enough to touch clouds, with rocky cliffs thousands of feet tall just outside the van’s windows, moving briskly on wet, narrow roads. Looking up at me squirming through his rearview mirror, my guide, Edgar — a 40-ish, stocky, gruff-but-nice native Costa Rican — tried to reassure me and, in the process, ease my fears.

“Don’t worry. In Costa Rica, everybody drives crazy,” he said. “So it’s okay.”

Did I mention that it was raining? Quite hard. Like, rainy-season-torrential-downpour-hard.

In the end, Edgar appears to have been right. In my entire time in Costa Rica, when I took note of several “WTF?!” moments on the roads, I never saw a single accident. Upon returning home to the U.S., it took me roughly five minutes after leaving the airport to encounter a multi-car pileup. Go figure. As cheesy as it may sound, seeing the pileup was a subtle reminder of how everything in life can change in an instant, and I felt fortunate to have had the experiences I’d just had in Costa Rica.

With all of that said, here are some of the things I did/saw/heard/felt when I spent a week in Costa Rica in September 2015.



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