Arriving in Costa Rica, the first thing I notice is the difference in smell. It gets stronger once we start moving away from the main hub of San Jose, into the mountains. Working our way into the countryside toward the Caribbean coast, the smells of the jungle hit you full force. This strong, earthy smell is so different than the city, with its distinct aromas of tar and concrete. The scenery is the second thing I notice upon arrival. Traveling through Braulio Carrillo National Park, you get to see the cloud forest. On a rainy day, you can look into the foggy abyss; on a bright and sunny day, you can see the rainforest in all its glory.
A long way from home
Reality starts to hit that my son and I are far away from our home in Canada. I start noticing the highway signs. They are in Spanish, of course, because that is Costa Rica’s main language. On the car radio, a man is jabbering away in Spanish and I catch a few phrases and words that I know. The windows are down and the wind is blowing through our hair.
It was a guided tour of Costa Rica's highlights that first led me to this beautiful country. I was smitten. By the second day, I knew I'd come back. I've visited throughout the last 10 years, frequenting a small town on the Southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, named Puerto Viejo. I met my husband on one of those trips, and navigating a long-distance relationship between the two countries has been part of our lives ever since.
It was a guided tour of Costa Rica’s highlights that first led me to this beautiful country. I was smitten. By the second day, I knew I'd come back.
The road to Puerto Viejo
The highway is basically just a one-lane road with passing lanes alternating throughout the mountains. This can make traffic especially slow since you are competing with semi-trucks and other cars to get to your destination. We come to a standstill near the town of Guápiles, in Limón province, and decide to stop for a snack. Close to the main road, there is a super, or convenience store, close to us that we venture into. I always love looking at the local products in the supermarket and little stores when I travel. The selection of snacks shows me what the locals enjoy; the treats they like to eat. The biggest difference to back home is the portion sizes. It is incredible to me that I can buy a pack of four Oreos. I don’t feel compelled to overindulge!
Outside, a local woman is selling an array of fruits from a wooden stall. This is something we have come to notice around Costa Rica as well. The fruit stalls are where many locals sell their fruits—most likely from their own land, whatever is in season. We grab some bananas right from the bushel that is hanging by a rope. There is an abundance of fruits that grow in the tropics and a lot of them I hadn’t ever heard of until I came to Costa Rica. The local woman sells papaya and pineapples, which are extremely abundant here. I am interested in the food here in Costa Rica. There are a few different cuisines represented within the country—including Caribbean food brought by Jamaican settlers in the early twentieth century.
Beginning our new adventure
My son and I will be spending about six months here in Puerto Viejo helping out my husband, who is from the area, prep and cook food for his catering business. He offers cooking classes, private chef services, and caters a range of Caribbean food. His specialty is rice and beans, which is a popular dish in the afro-Caribbean community here on the coast.
We finally return to the road. The late afternoon sun breaks through the clouds and when we pass the bridge that takes us right into the heart of the town of Puerto Viejo, my shoulders relax. We are here. This picturesque town situated right in the place where jungle meets sea is small, but uniquely populated. There is a strong afro-Caribbean presence which is mixed with the Ticos, a name for Costa Ricans. Expatriates from Europe and North America are ever-present, adding to the town’s unique essence. There are people riding bicycles, cars expertly maneuvering the roads around them, and pedestrians all over the place. Music plays from surrounding restaurants, inviting you to come in for some food and a cocktail or two.
We are exhausted from the long journey. As it goes with travel, getting situated is necessary and then we can take a much needed cold shower. The temperature must have risen at least 10 degrees from San Jose, and the humidity makes us sweat. We are overjoyed at being reunited with my husband. After we all freshen up, we turn on the fan and cuddle beneath our mosquito-net canopy, and fall asleep listening to the evening sounds of the jungle. The journey to get to Puerto Viejo is a long one—but worth it. Calling this tropical paradise home for the next few months is a dream come true.Add this article to your reading list