The Sophisticated Traveler Costa Rica Style

Trends in international travel are changing, drastically.  I experienced this first hand as proprietor of Bella Vista Lodge in Dominical, Costa Rica.

Ticos (Costa Ricans) have a saying:  Pura Vida.  It means “pure life”.  It’s used as a salutation, as a reply to an inquiry as to one’s health and state of mind, and has become the slogan and catch phrase for Costa Rica’s tourism marketing.  I believe that if your days are 75% Pura Vida on average and only 25% Pura Mierda, you are doing well.  That was the case as I became immersed in Costa Rica, and trying to do business there.  The highs were extremely high and the lows were train wrecks for the most part.  But, the good far outweighed the bad and the percentages were right in line for me.

Bella Vista Lodge had been closed for several years and was in pretty rough shape.  The main building was an 80-year-old mahogany finca house, largely open-air with rooms, an open kitchen, dining, and bar overlooking the Pacific.  I had a cabin and there were 2 more for guests.  1,300 feet up on the side of a mountain in Escaleras, with an 180-degree view spanning from Manuel Antonio to the Osa Peninsula.  It was a gem waiting to happen.

After working for 6 months restoring wood, fixing wiring, plumbing, chopping jungle, varnishing, and painting, we opened for biz.  Even after all of that work, the place was very rustic.  Shutters for windows, walls of wood planking (didn’t leave much to the imagination late at night), on-demand suicide shower heads (named for the exposed wiring directly above the head), horses running wild, visits from critters—fer de lance and bushmaster snakes, scorpions,  howler monkeys, toucans, wild hogs, sloths, parrots, big kitties—you get the picture.

In the not too distant past, international travel for most people involved either an airline or a cruise ship, a hotel where they would be protected from the perils just outside the manicured grounds, or a 6 hour stop in a cruise port.  In either case, there was little or no immersion into another culture.  Umbrellas in drinks, sunburns, and polyester.  Not for me, but, to each their own I guess.

When I fielded a reservation inquiry for the Lodge, I looked for key phrases.  “Do you have bugs?”  “Do you have air conditioning?” “Do you supply a hair dryer or should I bring one?”  Ok, now these are valid questions, but we were sitting in the middle of the friggin’ jungle.  I politely suggested that I help them find accommodations more suitable to their needs.  I had to screen people pretty carefully.  Bella Vista was a small place, and one pain in the butt could be a buzz kill for everybody else in the place.  Travel is pretty pricey and time away from everyday life is a valuable thing.  As a result, we had nothing but 5-star reviews.

Understanding and experiencing, really experiencing another culture doesn’t happen in most cases.  The majority of vacationers don’t leave their comfort zones.  That’s okay.

Previously, the real travel experience was pretty much limited to backpackers with a wild hair for adventure who didn’t have the cash to do the tourist thing, or the wealthy leisure class and trustafarians.

So now—we define tourists versus travelers.

Tourists are happy to get a break from the grind, or they’re getting on in years and don’t have the desire for too much excitement.  They appreciate not having to worry about their daily needs.  They like to be pampered.  They’re willing to drop a lot of cake for a week or two to be in different surroundings and take a much-needed break.  They’re into karaoke and shit.

Travelers, on the other hand like to shake things up a bit.  They would be no more likely to sit in a hotel or cruise ship lounge watching a cheesy third-rate production of show tunes, than to crawl through broken glass.  They look for the real thing when traveling. Go horseback riding to a waterfall with no safety helmets and eat lunch in the guide’s house where nobody speaks English.  Take 2 surf lessons, and try out an overhead pristine break.  Hike, with pumas and jaguars screaming in the distance.

With the advent of sophisticated and immediate communications via internet, travel is possible more often for slightly off-center people.  They can now keep their fingers on the pulse of their personal lives and businesses.  I found at the Lodge that this group was more entrepreneurial and creative as a rule than the average Joe or Joette. Surgeons, musicians, writers, models, filmmakers, pro athletes, designers, you name it.  There were some nights where we had 7 nationalities around the dinner table.  We could have solved a lot of problems of the world right there.  It frequently became a diplomatic love fest after dinner.  Turn off the deck lights, feet up on the railing, splifs, red wine, and tunes cranked up.  The night sky was amazing without the ambient light of a city.

Anyway—here’s to the travelers of the world.  Salud, Cheers, Nazdravlje, Skal, Proost, Terviseks, Mabuhay, Sante’, Slainte’, Saude’, and Sre Gesund!!

Bert Woodson

Bert Woodson currently lives on Florida’s Gulf Coast in Cortez, with his Rhodesian Ridgeback, Colt, and Colt’s kitty Woof. (Yes, he named him.)

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