95-degree heat, intense humidity, and 480 descending stairs create quite a bit of exhaustion and sweat. Luckily the plethora of stairs led to a magnificent, 229-foot tall crystal-clear waterfall with cascading frigid water. Talk about refreshing! That is right; swimming is allowed in this breathtaking waterfall! La Fortuna is its name, and is located in La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica.
I was in Costa Rica with the Spanish Department from my high school. There were 30 students, including myself, who have passed at least two years of Spanish, and there were also five chaperones, four of them being teachers. The fifth chaperone is a native Costa Rican who is the spouse of one of the teachers. The Spanish department goes on a trip every other summer, and while on the trip, students are expected to speak Spanish as much as they can while immersed in the new culture. The key phrase of Costa Rica is “pura vida.” The literal translation is “pure life,” but it is meant as a cheer for Costa Rica and also a word equivalent to English’s “good” or “awesome.”
The culture in Costa Rica has similarities and differences compared to the way Americans live. People buy their food in mercados, or markets. Markets have separate stands or booths that sell a cornucopia of things. We saw fruit, vegetables, poultry, fish, and candy stands. Also, there are miniature diner-type stands that sell made to order meals, and there are stools to sit on in front of the stand. When we went to the mercado, each group was assigned a tropical fruit to buy and show everyone. The most unique fruit was called mamones chinos. These fruits look like a reddish, spherical sea urchin. Though difficult to eat, the delicious taste is incomparable to any other fruit.
On our way to La Fortuna, we stopped at a house where the owner creates crafts and tourist souvenirs. He cuts tires and uses them to form animal shapes. Then he paints the animal shapes to look realistic and lively! He also makes stained glass window hangings and carves figurines out of wood. He showed us his garden where he grows Costa Rican vegetables such as yuka. Yuka is similar to a potato in its texture and shape. However, it possesses an orange coloring and tastes unlike the potato. As well as the yuka plant, his property was covered in a commonly known plant, called dormilonas, which can be seen all across Costa Rica. While it may appear to be a simple weed, once touched, the miniature leaves shrink in, and the plant “sleeps.”
In contrast to the countryside, we explored the capital, San JosÃ©, where there are busy streets full of cars, bicyclists, pedestrians and vendors everywhere you look! Walking amongst the many buildings and homes, we noticed the diverse arrangements – wealthier-looking homes set next to poorer-looking homes. There did not seem to be a distinct status for specific areas like you might see in America.
At one of the hotels, we saw two toucan birds! Our loony guide, Carlos, got out his telescope binoculars to let everyone see. The bird was quite large, maybe the size of a bald eagle, and its beak was thick, curved, and colorful just like the toucan on the Fruit Loops cereal!
I will never forget my experiences and adventures in Costa Rica. My mind’s view of the world undoubtedly expanded while learning all about Costa Rican culture and customs. The people of Costa Rica may live differently than Americans, but they absolutely live “pura vidas!”
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