Personal Journeys

PERSONAL JOURNEYS

August 08, 2004|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Cozying up to nature in Costa Rica

By Peg Silloway

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The swirling, latte-colored water of the Sarapiqui River tugs at our low boat and tries to pull us toward the lush growth along the riverbank. Here on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, our guide Carlos says there are two seasons -- rainy and very rainy.

Lucky for us, today it is just rainy.

My husband and I, along with 18 others in this shallow craft, have come from Limon, where our cruise ship docked this morning. During the two-hour trip to the river, our small bus passed mile after mile of banana plantations. The palms are shorter than we expect, less than 10 feet tall.

Along the way, Carlos talked with pride about his homeland. This Central American country is a stable democracy with no military force and a 96 percent literacy rate. Never have we had a guide so knowledgeable about plants, animals, geology and history. Soon we learn why -- Costa Rica has a university-level training program for its tour guides.

Costa Rica is an eco-tourist's delight. Smaller than West Virginia, the country has set aside more than a quarter of its area as protected land. Here live hundreds of species of birds, and many more visit during migration to and from North America.

As our boat drifts by, sloths masquerade as clumps of brown pine needles in the trees. Above them in the highest branches are howler monkeys. Neither seems to notice as we point fingers and cameras at them from below. For ignoring humans, though, the champions are the iguanas. These reptiles lie along branches with their stubby legs dangling.

Carlos points to an iguana longer than my arm and says it is a male. The iguana will turn orange, he says, and we can see the blush beginning on the dorsal spines.

Further down the river, the forest recedes. Our boat noses in, and we climb wooden stairs up a flower-bordered walk to lunch. We enjoy barbecued chicken and steak, black beans and rice, salads, potatoes and corn tortillas made by hand as we watch. Dessert is warm fried plantains swimming in sweet honey sauce and rich Costa Rican coffee.

The requisite gift shop offers wood and woven and painted local handcrafts; I cannot resist a small domed box made from cocobolo -- a type of rosewood -- for my collection. Then it is back on the boat for the trip up the river and the bus back to our ship.

For a few hours, we have been transported to a simpler, more elemental kind of living. By staying quiet and open to the sights, sounds and tastes of the day, we learned about plants and animals and other ways of life. The rain alternated between drizzle and downpour but did not dampen our enjoyment or the wonder of the day.

Peg Silloway lives in Columbia.

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