So costa rica then, this is different.
Unlike most of the countries I have visited on this trip costa Ricas history is not dominated by civil ward, power struggles and conflict. When Central America celebrated its independence in the early 1800's and where as Guatemala and Nicaragua had civil wars to contend with Costa Rica focused on building an independent nation, roads, towns, newspapers and its own currency were all part of this. The 19th century also saw the Costa Rican coffee boom. Helping to stabilise and grow the economy much earlier than any of its neighbours. Then in the 1940s they had this epic president (in my view) who dissolved the military, taxed the hugely wealthy, nationalised banks, gave voting rights to minorities and women and established a welfare state. His decrees are regarded as the foundation of current democracy here. Forty years later another president, Oscar arias Sanchez reasserted the nations indepdance by making the country's neutral stance clear to the US and writing a peace plan which ended the Nicaraguan war and earned him a Nobel peace prize. He also started a foundation for peace and human progress and ratify the Central American fair trade agreement. He seems like someone to have a coffee with.
The result of all this is a country that is pretty laid back and whose national mantra is 'pura vida' - pure life. A mantra that jon has embraced, although i'm not sure smoking cigars is quite the epitome of it. There is little poverty or illiteracy here in comparison to other Central American countries. Education is both free and mandatory and the importance of their ecological heritage is taught from an early age along side a sense of national pride and mutual cooperation.
Their love and pride in all things natural is wonderfully evident. The country is considered a global leader in tropical conservation and more than 27% of the country is set aside for conservation. Being a good visitor here is about investing in Eco friendly and sustainable businesses.
Jon and I quickly left San Jose for tortugero. It's a national park on the Carribean coast only accessible by a two hour boat ride through the jungle. It's pretty cool and full of misquotes. We stayed in a jungle lodge in the middle of it all and were surrounded by wildlife. Spider monkeys, sloths, snakes, river turtles, caymen, three different kinds of toucans. It was amazing and awe inspiring, a notion captured in Jon's ever gaping facial expressions.
One evening we went to watch green turtles laying their eggs. We were delivered by boat to the beach most frequented and carefully protected. After explaining the rules to us the guides lead us carefully across the beach to where a turtle was beginning her trek up the shore. It was dark and we weren't allowed to use any lights so as not to startle or disturb the turtle which would cause it to return to the sea without laying. The first turtle stopped and began digging too close to the water so it turned back. Further up the beach we gathered to wait. As luck would have it a turtle made its way straight toward us. Determined, she walked right up to the group, walked around us and started to dig. We were so close the sand she displaced was thrown at us. It was amazing to see such a serene beast at work. Watching her lay her eggs was both cool and a little strange. They go into a kind of trance thing though when they do and then spend up to an hour and a half covering them up. It was absolutely amazing.
The next day we journeyed to la Fortuna and volcano arenal. The volcano is stunning and you can see it from almost anywhere in the town. Having learnt my lesson from the last volcano I visited we opted not to climb it (I don't actually think you can climb this one, honest!) instead we went rappelling - absailing down waterfalls. That was definitely one of the the coolest, funest things I have done. The last one was over 75m! We caved and did the touristy thing and purchased a cd of photographs which I will post in due course for your amusement.
We spent a few days here chilling in an amazing hotel and walking around the volcano. We also met lots of nice Americans which was a pleasant surprise. We then picked up a little 4wd jimny to get us through the next two weeks. Ok, ok, it's not the most environmentally friendly thing we could have done but its about the only way to see the things on our list and negotiate the roads and rivers. Plus it's a real test of orienteering skills trying I decipher Costa Rican addresses such as turn left at the oak tree and go three blocks. Or we're just past the old van a few down on the right. Brilliant!
Rio celeste was our next stop and the beautiful bright blue waters. It was a fair old jungle trek and Jons first but it was totally worth it. The Río Celeste’s colour is a true natural wonder. Local legend says that when God painted the sky, he washed his blue brushes in this river, and that is how its waters obtained their magnificent blue colour. Well, thats one theory, there is of course a sciency one to compare to. That is that the river’s colour is the result of the chemical mixture of sulphur and carbonate, which originate in the nearby Tenorio Volcano. However it happens seeing this sky-blue river flow through a dense rainforest is an undeniably amazing experience. The waterfall and lagoon are stunning and we carried on to the point at which the colour is created. Hopefully the photos give some semblance of the what it is like.