Places like Costa Rica have been calling out to me ever since I was a little boy who liked to wander around in the woods. I always hoped i’d find a jungle, with big cats, poisonous frogs, and beautiful waterfalls. While I did find those things in the Costa Rican capital of San Juan, I also found a unique urban city, that still, reminded me of where I grew up.
San Juan is luxurious, to say the least. It has clearly benefited from tourism over the years, and is quite the metropolis. Obviously, I avoided the city as much as possible in lieu of the beautiful outdoors, but conveniences befitting a large city are unavoidable. Everything is here; shopping, strip malls, traffic, restaurants, construction, crowds, suburbs, Uber and airbnb…my travel go-tos.
This trip centered around a friendship that I have had since my college days. A close friend that was celebrating his 30th with a host of others, and we all stayed in a large rented house. The grounds were beautiful, and completely equipped to handle lazy American guests looking for great photo opps and a novel experience. Large swimming pool, check. Massive sculpted outdoor garden, check. Sundeck, check. Surrounding neighborhood cloaked in dense vegetation, slowly being taken back into the wild by leaf cutter ants and massive spiders, check.
The highlight of my trip of course was the time I spent outdoors. I had the opportunity to go zip lining, hike through waterfall gardens, stop briefly at a zoo, and stroll through the compound surrounding our rented home. I ran into leaf cutter ants, a purple crab, a palm civet…..one of my FAVORITE animals, crocodiles, vultures, brown bats, orb weaver spiders and this was all outside of the zoo we visited. There was also TONS of great outdoor hiking, and beautiful scenic views all around. Costa Rica, when it comes to the outdoors, aside from some parts of the American wilderness, is nature heaven. When I die, just drop my corpse off here…anywhere really.
Something has to be said for San Juan, and my obligatory gay friendly or not so friendly experience. San Juan felt open minded, and a little conservative, but not bound. My large party enjoyed an amazing night out, hopped around to a few different clubs, and I even snagged a date with my impressive flirting in spanish. My best time in the city, per usual, was spent alone. Looking at the twisting streets in the backseat of a car, walking around to the different stores and shops, and trying to live a normal life by going to the grocery store and struggling through finding items I needed.
In Costa Rica, I was taught a phrase, something I was told they use to express their love for their country with a sense of unity, and cheer. It was “pura vida”. Now i’ve heard a lot of expressions, i’ve been to a lot of places and heard people say a lot of things, but there was something about the way Costa Ricans said this aloud. It was as if they truly meant it. And not in a, “lets excite the tourists” kind of way, but, in a true sense of solidarity. This experience gave me the same feeling as the beach in Hawaii, the temples in Thailand, or the food in Paris. Pura Vida IS Costa