Costa Rican magic

Rosa pops her head out half way up the ‘Faraway Tree’. Pictures by Charlotte Ellis
Inside the tree before Rosa started climbing.
Rosa at the bottom of the Faraway Tree getting ready to climb her way to the top.
Beautiful wildlife in Costa Rica.
Waterfalls and swimming holes in La Fortuna. The secret cave is in there too.
There were sights that looked like they came from fairy tales.
Beautiful street art in Monteverde.

Gisborne traveller Rosa Briant takes us to Costa Rica where she finds ‘beautiful, immense, magical places . . .’

On one hand Costa Rica is loud, chaotic, and without much resemblance to the rich latin and indigenous cultures of surrounding countries. It is a place filled with Americans who, due to their inability to talk about anything other than US politics, are so very hard to like. Not to generalise of course — every rule has exceptions and I met one or two exceptional Americans.

However, on the other hand, there are such beautiful, immense, magical places out in nature where you completely forget you are in the most touristic country in Latin America.

Monteverde is one of those places. With incredible flora and fauna the biodiversity took me back to my childhood, reading about the Enchanted Forest and The Faraway Tree in my favourite Enid Blighton novels. That resemblance was solidified when I stumbled across what could only be described as the actual Faraway Tree — a giant ficus which had wound itself around creating a secret tunnel over 30 metres high right through the middle of the tree. I climbed it, of course, and when I got to the top of the progressively narrowing tunnel, I popped my head out of a small opening and was met with a view over- looking the canopy of the entire forest. That is where magic lives. Check the photo above.

La Fortuna is another one of those places. It was there that I met a beautiful local man who showed me how to dive from a log through a waterfall and end up in a secret cave on the other side. Most people who have travelled in La Fortuna probably went to those same waterfalls and swam in those same waters without ever knowing there was a secret cave hidden behind one. It was such a magical moment for me being enclosed behind the might and power of the rushing water, which was so loud that any other noise was rendered nonexistent.

It was an experience I never would have encountered had I not been a traveller who is open to meeting and getting to know the locals. That is the best advice I can give anyone who wants to travel anywhere in the world. Open your arms to the locals and you will receive insights into the countries and cultures that the “stay in large, safe groups” tourists could never dream of.

In La Fortuna you can also find hanging bridges, hikes, volcanoes, crater lakes and natural hot springs which run like rivers with currents and mini waterfalls. If I had found a hostel to work at there, I would have stayed much longer.

But without work the long-term travel life cannot be sustained, so I decided to move on.

The ‘not-so-nice’ side

I finished off my Costa Rican wanderings in a little paradise on the Caribbean coast, called Puerto Viejo. Anna and I had gone our separate ways as she had a flight out of Costa Rica and I was about to cross the border into Panama.

Puerto Viejo is home to the Salsa Brava surf break and a jaguar rehabilitation centre, as well as having beaches of both white and black sand, coral reefs, shipwreck dive sites, rainforests, wetlands and mangroves. It is a magical wonderland where you can find many an aged ex-traveller who settled there and never left.

There is usually a ‘not-so-nice’ side to beautiful places and Puerto Viejo was no exception. The main streets are lined with market stalls and local vendors selling knick-knacks. Every single stall sells the exact same, mass-produced stuff and the vendors are relentless in their pursuit to make a sale. Not only will they yell out to you as you walk past, but half the time they will follow you down the street and continue hassling you until you tell them to bugger off.

And, on par with anywhere which has experienced a massive influx of tourism, the rubbish in the streets was an unbearable sight. I have spoken with a few people who did the Gringo Trail (travelling through Latin America) 20 odd years ago, and the places they described to me as being the most beautiful, pristine places, are the same places which I experienced as being run-down and full of rubbish.

It is so easy to blame the local people for the mess, to blame ignorance and lack of education, but at the end of the day it is the tourists who go to these places and consume, consume, consume, without ever bothering to think about where the rubbish they create might go. The local people in these countries don’t consume like we do. They don’t buy packaged food every day, or ask for straws in their drinks, or a plastic cup with their beer or coke can. We do.

There are so many little things we can do to make a difference but first of all we need to lose that mentality of “one little thing isn’t going to hurt the world”. If every single one of us gets a plastic bag for the apples we just bought, and we each think “oh, just this once, it’s not going to hurt anyone”, that is millions, billions of plastic bags being used and discarded. And it really does matter, especially in countries which are not equipped with recycling centres and functioning waste management systems.

It all matters and it is up to each of us as individuals to actually think before we consume, understanding that every tiny bit makes an impact.

Gisborne traveller Rosa Briant takes us to Costa Rica where she finds ‘beautiful, immense, magical places . . .’

On one hand Costa Rica is loud, chaotic, and without much resemblance to the rich latin and indigenous cultures of surrounding countries. It is a place filled with Americans who, due to their inability to talk about anything other than US politics, are so very hard to like. Not to generalise of course — every rule has exceptions and I met one or two exceptional Americans.

However, on the other hand, there are such beautiful, immense, magical places out in nature where you completely forget you are in the most touristic country in Latin America.

Monteverde is one of those places. With incredible flora and fauna the biodiversity took me back to my childhood, reading about the Enchanted Forest and The Faraway Tree in my favourite Enid Blighton novels. That resemblance was solidified when I stumbled across what could only be described as the actual Faraway Tree — a giant ficus which had wound itself around creating a secret tunnel over 30 metres high right through the middle of the tree. I climbed it, of course, and when I got to the top of the progressively narrowing tunnel, I popped my head out of a small opening and was met with a view over- looking the canopy of the entire forest. That is where magic lives. Check the photo above.

La Fortuna is another one of those places. It was there that I met a beautiful local man who showed me how to dive from a log through a waterfall and end up in a secret cave on the other side. Most people who have travelled in La Fortuna probably went to those same waterfalls and swam in those same waters without ever knowing there was a secret cave hidden behind one. It was such a magical moment for me being enclosed behind the might and power of the rushing water, which was so loud that any other noise was rendered nonexistent.

It was an experience I never would have encountered had I not been a traveller who is open to meeting and getting to know the locals. That is the best advice I can give anyone who wants to travel anywhere in the world. Open your arms to the locals and you will receive insights into the countries and cultures that the “stay in large, safe groups” tourists could never dream of.

In La Fortuna you can also find hanging bridges, hikes, volcanoes, crater lakes and natural hot springs which run like rivers with currents and mini waterfalls. If I had found a hostel to work at there, I would have stayed much longer.

But without work the long-term travel life cannot be sustained, so I decided to move on.

The ‘not-so-nice’ side

I finished off my Costa Rican wanderings in a little paradise on the Caribbean coast, called Puerto Viejo. Anna and I had gone our separate ways as she had a flight out of Costa Rica and I was about to cross the border into Panama.

Puerto Viejo is home to the Salsa Brava surf break and a jaguar rehabilitation centre, as well as having beaches of both white and black sand, coral reefs, shipwreck dive sites, rainforests, wetlands and mangroves. It is a magical wonderland where you can find many an aged ex-traveller who settled there and never left.

There is usually a ‘not-so-nice’ side to beautiful places and Puerto Viejo was no exception. The main streets are lined with market stalls and local vendors selling knick-knacks. Every single stall sells the exact same, mass-produced stuff and the vendors are relentless in their pursuit to make a sale. Not only will they yell out to you as you walk past, but half the time they will follow you down the street and continue hassling you until you tell them to bugger off.

And, on par with anywhere which has experienced a massive influx of tourism, the rubbish in the streets was an unbearable sight. I have spoken with a few people who did the Gringo Trail (travelling through Latin America) 20 odd years ago, and the places they described to me as being the most beautiful, pristine places, are the same places which I experienced as being run-down and full of rubbish.

It is so easy to blame the local people for the mess, to blame ignorance and lack of education, but at the end of the day it is the tourists who go to these places and consume, consume, consume, without ever bothering to think about where the rubbish they create might go. The local people in these countries don’t consume like we do. They don’t buy packaged food every day, or ask for straws in their drinks, or a plastic cup with their beer or coke can. We do.

There are so many little things we can do to make a difference but first of all we need to lose that mentality of “one little thing isn’t going to hurt the world”. If every single one of us gets a plastic bag for the apples we just bought, and we each think “oh, just this once, it’s not going to hurt anyone”, that is millions, billions of plastic bags being used and discarded. And it really does matter, especially in countries which are not equipped with recycling centres and functioning waste management systems.

It all matters and it is up to each of us as individuals to actually think before we consume, understanding that every tiny bit makes an impact.

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