Pura Vida!

In the indigenous Bribri-Cabécar tradition, spirits make a person sick for violating the established norms or because society has lost its balance. Well, I’m not sure what specific conventions I may have inadvertently infringed, but I certainly felt I was being punished when the dreaded second line materialised on my Covid test less than 48 hours after returning from Costa Rica.

In the various tribal traditions of the rainforest, healers used to dress in animal pelts, carrying carved wooden sticks in the shape of the aiding spirits of alligators, snakes, monkeys and birds. The shaman put tobacco (and other, ahem, plant-based substances) into nasal inhalers; and the healing rites were accompanied with musical interludes from ocarinas, maracas and drums. Mujer chamán, or female healers, would cover themselves in elaborate body paint, evoking the skin of jaguars and reptiles, and dance in earmuffs and thongs.

I tried all of this, of course. But in the end it was the Paxlovid anti-virals, couriered over from Guy’s Hospital, that saw me right. At the time of writing, I have had my first decent night’s sleep since our return from Central America, and writing this blog post feels like a minor victory. Sure, there are plenty more useful things I could be doing with my Sunday, now I’m able. Help my husband with the backlog of washing, for instance. Or get on the phone to Virgin Media to argue against their extortionate £11 price hike (is TiVo really worth it?!). But I’ve chosen to indulge my desire to sift and edit holiday photos. Surprise, surprise. Or at least to make a dent in the process!

So, where to start? Well, controversially maybe, I’ve decided to start at the beginning. Which was the capital city, San José. But I’m not going to dwell there long, because I’m sorry to say I didn’t like San José all that much. There were some nice parts, and true to form I enjoyed perusing the brightly-coloured murals around the university neighbourhood and old railway. We also really loved both the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, housed in a brutalist subterranean building next to the diminutive opera house, and the Museo del Jade, which happily happened to have a Salvador Dalí exhibition alongside the world’s largest collection of green mineral. Both collections feature a fascinating and bewildering range of erotic statues, glittering ornaments and cultural artefacts; and you can while away hours in their cool embrace. But, in general, I found the capital uninteresting and a little unloved. Which was a shame.

Before leaving for the Caribbean wetlands, we did however enjoy a noteworthy meal at Jaguar Negro, a predominantly Mexican cantina, where I celebrated my birthday with seared tuna steak, shrimp risotto and cortezas de cerdo (giant pork crackling!), washed down with a tequila and ginger cocktail. Not much to complain at there.

The next morning, though, we were up early to head east to Limón province and start the holiday proper. After a hearty breakfast of gallo pinto (rice & beans, a staple we would come to know intimately throughout our stay), we made our way to La Pavona (an approximate 3 hour journey) to board a motorised passenger boat to Tortuguero. With our luggage safely stored on a different vessel – and with assurances we’d see it at the other end – we sat back and enjoyed the 90 minute ride through scenic mangroves and rivers, watching for wildlife and gently sweating in the 80%+ humidity.

Parque Nacional Tortuguero is one of Costa Rica’s 34 national parks, a staggering number for a country that’s slightly smaller in size than the state of West Virginia (or about the same size as Denmark). It’s a popular area for seeing sea turtles hatching, but you need to visit in the wet season for that; we were there instead to see the abundance of wetland fauna and to experience a genuine “jungle cruise”.

Our home for the next two nights was Laguna Lodge, a basic but charming hotel with sprawling grounds and a great situation – the Caribbean coast easily walkable on one side and an al fresco bar overlooking the titular lagoon on the other. After a short mosey round the local village – where we gaped in awe at a 40ft parade of leaf-cutter ants – and an essential watermelon daiquiri, we felt justified spending the rest of the day relaxing by the pool, as Montezuma oropendolas (a type of weaverbird) and bright yellow kiskadees sang out from the surrounding trees.

The main event, of course, was the next day’s boat safari along the canals and waterways. Fortified with a salad of papaya, melon and cassava (yum!), we let our guide navigate us through the stunningly lush verdant green river habitats, fringed with palms, wild mango, crabwood, fig and breadnut trees. The protected park comprises 19,000 hectares of rainforest, beach, mangroves and lagoon, with over 300 species of bird, 100 different reptiles, and around 60 species of mammals. We obviously only saw a small part of it, but were surprised at the range and volume of critters to be seen. I’ve pasted some of my favourite snaps of the wildlife below.

Our chaperone, though quiet and somewhat humourless, was clearly incredibly knowledgeable, with an uncanny ability to spot even the tiniest flash of colour, indicating the presence of a lizard, warbler or other rare delight. I loved every second of the trip, gleefully taking in the reserve’s wonders, learning about conservation efforts, and snapping away with my camera. It was disappointing to head back to the hotel’s private dock three hours later, but I consoled myself by immediately getting out my dorky ornithology guide and contentedly ticking things off whilst munching an empanada and sipping ‘toad water’ (agua de sapo, a sludgy but delicious mix of sugar cane, limes and ginger).

After another swim, we got out our binoculars to explore the grounds of the hotel, including a ‘tamed’ area of rainforest in which we almost got lost in what looked suspiciously like a raptor cage from Isla Nublar. Amazonian kingfishers, yellow-throated heroes, and grey cowled wood rails were added to the tally. Later that evening, we were also lucky enough to spot some red-eyed leaf frogs in moist vegetation near our chalet. See my upcoming dedicated frog post for photos!

I’m going to stop there for now, and pick up the story another time. Leaving you with the image of us bouncing away on a boat taxi the next morning, the sun beating down mercilessly on Paul’s encroaching bald patch, joyfully spotting caimans, vultures and iguanas along the marshy banks.

Pinnated bittern

Howler monkey

Jesus Christ Basilisk

Little blue heron

Neotropical cormorant



Plumed basilisk

Green ibis (credit: Paul Adnitt)

Bare-throated tiger herons

Northern jacana chicks

Montezuma oropendola

2 thoughts on “Pura Vida!

  1. Jean Gilmour

    Very interesting blog and pics, Vix. Thanks for sharing them. I look forward to hearing about the rest of your trip and seeing more of the amazing wildlife. X

  2. Pingback: Rivers, ranches and (lots of) rice | Victoria's Secret Blog

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