A sample Teen Vision
Published in Southwest Florida Parent & Child, 2005
The Pure Life in Costa Rica
Koster Walton writes about travel, food, and now a teen, whom she thinks she understands perfectly. Aaron Walton, a typical
teenager, 15, retorts at his mother’s view of his world.
Pura vida. Pure life.
Isn’t it exactly what we all want for our children in all its many forms
Costa Ricans romanticize their country, themselves, with the unofficial national
motto, but not unreasonably so. It wasn’t the reason we took our teen son to Costa Rica last June, but it’s the
reason we’re glad we did: So that he could discover the purity of life without TVs, video games, skateboards, AC, junk
food, you know – all that stuff on which teens thrive. OK, there is junk food there – can we ever really escape
Burger King? – but not in Dominical, our home for three of the five nights we spent in Costa Rica.
He couldn’t wait, teen-antsy, for our flee from the city the morning
after our dusk arrival. A proper arrival it was though, to the country and its gentle attitudes. Jose picked us up at the
San Jose airport, speaking little English, for our short drive to Pura Vida Hotel, a lovely little oasis with a scattering
of casitas (perfect for families) and rooms. Like most of what you find in Costa
Rica, it’s priced for family budgets plus offers the convenience of free airport pick-up, rental car delivery, and full
American breakfast. Aaron had fun playing with the two resident German shepherds, tossing them limes from the garden to fetch.
The long drive down the gulf and Pacific coastlines took us past awesome mountains,
rickety villages of stucco and corrugated tin, ox-drawn carts, palm oil plantations, rice fields, and finally within eyeshot
of the Pacific waves for which Aaron had been foaming -- much like their whitecaps -- at the mouth.
As a native Floridian, he had regarded the mountains with muy gusto enthusiasm, but the waves almost visibly made his heart pound. We had to stop the car at a particularly
scenic overlook so he could snap pictures to show his friends.
Our arrival to surfing town Dominical was slowed by a rutted, unpaved 20 km
of road. Surfing had to wait til the morrow. Oh the agony of teen impatience! Surfing was of course the highlight in Aaron’s
estimation, but the eco-zipline canopy tour of the rainforest undoubtedly commanded equal instant-messaging cyber time, I’m
willing to bet, upon arrival home. I’m not sure whether he mentioned feasting on the peanutty taste of termites.
In Dominical, we stayed at Villas Rio Mar, named for its situation at juncture
of river and sea. Aaron and Dad spent days shredding the waves on Dominical Beach, known for its year-round surf and dark
sands cluttered with smooth rocks the size of a computer mouse. Rob, my husband, spotted whales while he was out waiting for
the perfect wave. Aaron eventually wore him out, though, and soon he joined me on the beach.
Their second day of surfing I hit “downtown” Dominical, which pretty
much consists of one dirt road that turns to tortilla soup in the summer rains. Small stores, surf shops, hammock casitas,
and youthful restaurants selling American and local fare line the road to the beach. Because of its reputed, year-round surfing,
Dominical attracts a young, beach-bum crowd. Aaron liked that vibe. I could see him planning a trip in his head for the day
he and his buddies could afford such a getaway on their own. Made him think twice about learning more Spanish.
I made Tortilla Flats my hangout for the day, a local bar with cheap food and
a great view of the surfing action. (OK, I admit: I am a surfing voyeur. I’ve actually gotten up on the board a time
or two, but like with sailing and some of those other high-energy sports, I find the most romance in the on-looking.) It was
Sunday, a big day for soccer in quiet (the stretch of washboard road deters massive tourism) little Dominical, which filled
to the brim with Ticos (Costa Rican folk), cheering, frying up pork and plantains, and hailing one another in rapid-fire Spanish.
For our ziplining adventure, we drove a short distance to Hacienda Barý National
Wildlife Refuge, one of several nature preserves in the vicinity of Dominical, along the south Pacific Coast, a couple of
hours north of the Panama border. We played Tarzan in the rainforest for more than two hours, getting soaking wet, spotting
toucans and poison dart frogs that looked just like the rubbery ones I used to buy Aaron when he was little, and gasping with
exhilaration. What an experience!
What I liked best, however – for me and Aaron and Dad alike? The understanding
and acceptance gained of a new culture. A loss of arrogance that comes with speaking another’s language, slaughtering
it though we did. Time together as a family without electronic competition. An appreciation for our middle-class lifestyle,
which often seems lacking in the American context. A brush with the pure life.
When I think of Costa Rica I think "Pura Vida" and "Nice Surf." Which is probably
all you need to know, or at least that’s what I thought.
I was very excited to finally take on bigger sized
waves, but more excited to brag about it when I got home. Costa Rica is a whole new experience, excluded from the sort of
"civilization" we’re used to. Pura Vida Hotel was a perfect example, no television or AC. It was fun, a little hotel
with cottages as rooms and in the morning we had a delicious breakfast.
Well, after we stayed there we took our
five-hour ride to Dominical through mountains, mini-waterfalls, and true Costa Rican villages. When I first got a glimpse
of the surf I was instantly stoked to actually get to ride it. To my disappointment, we didn’t get to go surfing right
when we got there, which drove me crazy. But finally I got my Costa Rican ride I had been craving.
The surf at
Dominical was great -- it was constant and had much more form than any Florida waves. It was an exotic ride to remember.
The food was a little different, but good. At Villas Rio Mar, for instance,
I had a scrumptious feast of "eyelashes," a sugary dessert made with tortilla chips, ice cream, and strawberry sauce. And
a restaurant in town called San Clemente Bar & Grille, where we ate often, had broken surfboards on the ceiling. Apparently
if you give the restaurant a broken board you get a free taco and a coke. Messages were written on the boards such as "this
was a $600 taco and coke." Also the restaurant constantly had surf movies rolling on the TVs around the place. It was a very
"surf-y" place, I liked it a lot. In fact, I got a surfing T-shirt from there.
After a two-day surf session we were ready to head out but there was one thing
I wanted to do. It was a zipline tour and it was awesome! The first time I took off on it, I was a little paranoid on doing
it right since there were so many requirements to do it correctly. After I got the hang of it I had a blast checking out the
various trees and wildlife. The best ride was the last one where we went backwards.
Finally we went back to San Jose. This time we took a more scenic route through
"woah" mountains. The Pan-American Highway took us to the top of some really high mountains where the temperature had dropped
enough for us to turn on the heat in the car. Later on we arrived back at the Pura Vida Hotel.
I had the most
fun cultural experience in Costa Rica. The thought of almost no technology had dampened my excitement a bit at first, but
in the end I didn’t miss any of it at all. I flew back with visions of that nice ride I had caught. It really is Pura
Vida. For evidence of my memorable trip to such a wonderful island I took a rock from the beach and painted on one side "Pura
Vida" and on the other "Costa Rica."
IF YOU GO:
Getting There: US Airways flies
non-stop out of Fort Lauderdale to San Jose. TACA/LACSA airlines flies direct out of Miami.
Information: www.dominical-costarica.com, www.tourism-costarica.com.
- Hacienda Baru National Wildlife
Refuge, 506-787-0003, www.haciendabaru.com. Flight of the Toucan canopy tour, $35 each.
- Pura Vida Hotel, Alajuela,
506-441-1157, www.puravidahotel.com. $75-$110 a night for two in its rooms, suites, and casitas. Rates include free airport transportation and breakfast. The
restaurant serves a nice three-course dinner for $15 each.
- Villas Rio Mar, Dominical,
506-787-0052, www.villasriomar.com. Rooms run $55-$70. Junior suites sleep up to four with AC and TV, $80-$105 per night.
- San Clemente Bar & Grill,
Dominical, 506-787-0026. American-Mexican food at about $4-$6.
- Tortilla Flats, Dominical,
506-787-003. Local and American cuisine. Sandwiches $3.50; dinners, $4.50 to $7.