Sunday, November 21, 2010
I didn't have a chance to catch photos of some of our more exotic sightings - the six-foot-long iguanas were either too high in their favorite trees or too quick for my reflexes (I feel a bit better having learned that the spiny-tailed iguana is the world's fastest running lizard), the hummingbirds the size of crows moved unpredictably through the flowers, and the monkeys dashed across the road and into the bush before I could get my camera out the window of our truck. What's more, most of the time I was happy to leave my camera in my room, close my eyes, and listen. There is very little silence in Costa Rica. Everywhere, the sounds of birds, rain, cars, frogs, monkeys, thunder, and dogs keep you from feeling alone. Even high on a hill, overlooking a foggy valley bordered by the Pacific Ocean, the air was thick with the noises of life and movement.
Costa Rica is a country of micro-climates, where you can drive an hour from rain forest trees dripping with thick jungle vines to cowboy country in the north, with welcome dry air and African Savannah-like trees. There had been a hurricane a few weeks prior to our visit, so the rivers and ocean were ruddy with mud and debris, and several towns were battered by floods, but the country buzzed with the knowledge that the dry season was rushing in, cutting down on the rainy days and aiding the rapid growth of every green thing. To look at a hedge or bush was to find hundreds of tiny leaves, shooting out so quickly you could almost see them move on their own. Animals seemed to be thriving as well. Dogs were everywhere, loved by everyone but with a wild side. As we ate lunch one afternoon in a small open-air cafe by the ocean, no less than four dogs roamed under our table before wandering back out into the neighborhood. In fact, we saw more cows than dogs on leashes, though there were plenty of cows and horses wandering free on the side of the highway and in towns. Chickens could be found in many yards, or helping out as part-time staff at road-side fruit stands - when we stopped for some watermelon, the sweet old man paused while showing off his mangoes and melons to throw some birds a few scraps of rind, sending them flapping up a hill to chase after their good fortune.
Around 25% of the country is officially protected as national parks or nature refuges - more than any other country in the world. This appreciation of the environment seems less a conscious effort of the population than a tacit acknowledgment of the sheer density and power of nature in the country. The animals will ignore your fences, the vines will creep into your trees, and the winds and rains will blow through your home, so costarriqueños build and inhabit their spaces accordingly. You hear and see the phrase "pura vida" - literally pure life - everywhere; it's a frequent response to the question "how are you?" I loved being able to soak in a bit of that laid-back energy, and I'm happy to be able to show you some glimpses of the natural world that inspires it. Enjoy!