Our third port of call: Costa Rica

Puntarenas Beach

Our third Viking port of call was Puntarenas, Costa Rica.  As usual, several excursion choices were offered.  We chose one entitled “Walk in the Clouds.”  We boarded a bus for an hour’s drive from the coast up to the highlands of the central valley running through the country.  Our Costa Rican tour guide spoke for the whole hour as we traveled, providing many details about his country.  I remain very interested in Costa Rica, having heard that it is a popular destination for retired Americans wishing to relocate to a foreign country less expensive than the US and having a great climate.  I’m happy to continue to live in Reno, but we might want to visit Costa Rica again for a more in-depth visit.

Our “walk in the clouds” was located on the ridge covered with clouds.

Here are a few of the facts we learned during our bus trip to the “walk in the clouds.”  Costa Rica is perhaps best known for its coffee.  But coffee is only its fifth largest export.  Number four is pineapples, number three is bananas, number two is computer chips(!), and Costa Rica’s number one export is medical products—pharmaceuticals and medical devices.  Pfizer has a manufacturing plant in the capital, San Jose.  (But this factory does not manufacture covid vaccines.)  But even larger than exports is Costa Rica’s largest industry: tourism. 

Orchid greenhouses surrounded by coffee fields and other crops.

Costa Rica is richer than its northern neighbor Nicaragua. Thus, many Nicaraguans perform farm labor and other undesirable jobs because they can earn three to four times as much working in Costa Rica as in Nicaragua.  The minimum wage in Costa Rica is based on monthly salaries, not hourly wages.  That minimum is $500/month.  All workers in Costa Rica pay a standard 10% tax which entitles them to health insurance as well as 60% of their annual wage at retirement.  Employers match their workers’ 10% tax with their own tax rate.  The Costa Rican government encourages business development by waiving taxes to many businesses.  (Their employees still pay taxes along with the employers’ contributions.)  Costa Rica does not have a military.  (What a wonderful policy for a small country.)  Thus, all its government’s expenditures are focused on infrastructure, business development, and their citizens’ welfare. Because the government sees benefit in attracting retirees from the US, tax laws are very favorable for immigrating Americans. 

Our guide provided two interesting linguistic items associated solely with Costa Rica.  (I’ve confirmed this with my Spanish teacher in Reno.)  First, the word “soda.”  This is not a soft drink.  Instead, it is a designation of a restaurant of no more than ten tables that provides local cuisine at a very cheap price, usually just the day’s featured meal.  The word “restaurante” for Costa Ricans refers to larger eating establishments with more extensive menus.  Only after our guide mentioned this fact did I start to look for examples to photograph (difficult from a fast-moving bus).

The second Costa Rican linguistic specialty is “pura vida” = “pure life.”  This phrase can be the answer to many different questions, such as:  How are you?  How was your vacation?  How is your family?  How is your job?  How do you feel? How was your dinner last night?  What are your plans for tomorrow?  This and similar questions may simply be answered, “Pura vida!”

Costa Rica’s eastern Caribbean coast is wet because of frequent storms.  It’s western coast is dryer due to prevailing dry weather patterns.  In the middle of the country is a central valley and a mountain range that divides the east from the west weatherwise.  That Costa Rican central valley is where coffee is grown in the higher elevations.  There are also numerous greenhouses in which tropical  orchids and flowers are grown for export. 

Our “walk in the clouds” tour took place in a high altitude tropical rain forest.  The central mountain range is typically covered by clouds, and this was the case for part of the day of our excursion.  Our tour was facilitated by metal suspension bridges that crossed the rushing streams and the lush surrounding vegetation.  Besides many hummingbirds, a large boa constrictor snake was spotted resting in some tree branches.  (He was too far away for a photo.)  Jaguars are also present in the rain forest, but luckily we didn’t encounter any.  The same resort offering the rain forest tours also offered ziplining.  But that was not attempted by any of our fellow cruisers.

Traveling on a world cruise is a great way to see many countries for a very short time.  Clearly, a one day visit is very superficial in terms of really experiencing a country.  Costa Rica has a larger proportion of its territory protected in national parks than any other country in the world.  Thus it is home to a tremendous number of bird and plant species.  It is home to several active volcanos.  It contains excellent eco-resorts featuring river-rafting, horseback riding, and other activities sought by tourists desiring to vacation in a nature resort.  This is why tourism is Costa Rica’s largest industry.  If Susan and I don’t want to take a future cruise, we might consider another visit to the lovely country of Costa Rica.

Below, one of the several suspension bridges, followed by two wild orchids from the Walk in the Clouds.

Hi, I'm Dallas Smith

My blogs offer the vicarious pleasure for my readers to learn of my travels and musical adventures.

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Comments (10)

  1. Shanna Carlson

    January 27, 2022 at 12:43 am

    I always enjoy your travel blogs Dallas…many interesting facts, great photos and a feel for the people of the area. Costa Rica does look beautiful (I know of 2 different families who have moved there within the last year or two and they love it).
    Looking forward to the next port of call! Shanna

  2. Aliza

    January 27, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    I enjoy your pictures. My friend Ira and his wife were in Costa Rica yrs ago and loved it!! So I will continue to vicariously enjoy your. trip. Misss you. both very. much

  3. jimiji

    January 28, 2022 at 12:34 am

    hey Cloud Walker’ such beautiful imagery. Be well’

  4. Saum Douglas

    January 28, 2022 at 4:41 am

    Judith and I spent some time in the cloud forest birdwatching.

  5. Rocky Tatarelli

    January 28, 2022 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Dallas, Great readings of your travels, did you bring your sax with you?

  6. Rocky Tatarelli

    January 28, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    I am enjoying your traveling the world and informing us of all the beauty you are experiencing. I hope you took along your sax, the harp would be a different story because of it’s size. Please stay safe, healthy, and strong.

    • Dallas Smith

      February 5, 2022 at 8:51 pm

      Hi Rocky and Judith! I’m glad you’re reading my blogs. I brought my clarinet and flute with me (easy to pack) but no sax. Susan brought a small harp, and she’s had to learn how to play it with one third fewer strings. We’re playing tomorrow evening for a “passenger talent show.” We’re last on the program because there was no one else on the program that wouldn’t suffer by having to follow us. So after tomorrow, many more passengers will know what we do. All the best to you both! Dallas

  7. Harriet and Al

    January 29, 2022 at 2:11 am

    Hi Dallas1 We had a lovely week-long visit in Costa Rica around 20 years ago.
    Al’s comments: I remember being very impressed with the lack of a military component to this society, and the overall prosperity and well-being of this society.
    Harriet here: We loved the time we were in Costa Rica, with Al’s sister Mickey. We saw San Jose, stayed in a resort on the west coast, close to Panama. I remember jumping on the beach saying “I’m in Costa Rica” and then (12″ away) “I’m in Panama”. We saw a volcano go off; walked (scaring me) across one of the less strengthened swaying bridges, scared stiff and holding on for dear life. There is a very intersting former Canadian family that has helped develop eco-tourism in that southwest area. The son-in-law of this famiy helps run a resort owned and operated by the family, and is an ardent surfer. His one requirement is that when a cyclone (or some other such major storm) is in Peru, huge surf comes up in Costa Rica and he will take off no matter what is going on! Yes, it’s worth a visit back! HBS & AMS

    • Dallas Smith

      February 5, 2022 at 8:55 pm

      Harriet and Al, So nice to hear from you. I’m assuming you’re getting all my blogs. Southern Chile is beautiful! We’re moving toward cold weather and tomorrow will be seeing two glaciers in a Chilean fjord. We’re still reeling from Frank’s demise. Susan has spoken several times with Pat, and she’s moving on, which indicated that they had had problems over the years. Love, Dallas and Susan

  8. Arthur

    January 14, 2023 at 6:39 pm

    You and Susan continue to amaze, my old friend. What a life! Do you have everything, or does the occasional cloud mar your eternal blue skies. I’m well. I’ve been immersed in music study, focusing on piano. I’m 75. Whoooda thought?

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