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Life Happens: Off the tour bus in Costa Rica

SPRINGVILLE — Costa Rica is one of the most stunningly beautiful countries in Central America. The country has a thriving tourist business. More than 2 million people visit, every year.

Most of those tourists head to a Turismo bus or hotel shuttle, straight from the San Jose Airport, and are transported in air conditioned comfort, to one of many beautiful resorts on the Pacific Ocean, in the mountains, or on the Caribbean coast. They have a lovely vacation, with memories that last a lifetime.

They can take advantage of guided tours to the rain forest or national parks, zip lining and wind surfing.

But most people never see the actual country of Costa Rica.

Through serendipitous events in my life, I have met a special man who lives in Costa Rica. I have had the opportunity to go to that country many times. Every time I visit, I discover more about this country.

There are reasons why the Turismo shuttle business is so brisk. Costa Rica is extremely mountainous, with narrow, winding roads that serpentine to the peaks. You can look out of the passenger window in your car, straight down a cliff, that can be as steep as 3,800 meters. That is scary enough, until you add Costa Rican drivers to the mix. They have no fear.

They can take a curve on two wheels, sometimes because the road is meant to be only one lane. Other roads, in low-lying areas, can still have 6-foot ditches, where the shoulders should be. I have seen buses lying on their sides, because they got too close to the ditches and went off the road.

Most of the bridges are also one lane wide, with cars’ taking turns going over them, in either direction. The rule seems to be, “Whoever is actually on the bridge, at the time, has the right of way.”

The country has been working to pave roads that used to look like the surface of the moon. Conditions have gotten better.

Costa Rica is made up of towns that dot the mountains. The towns are connected by one or two of those zigzagging roads. Each town has a church in its center. There is usually a park, directly across from the church, and a soccer field, not too far away.

Costa Rican women are extremely stylish. Women of all ages wear skinny jeans, with impossibly high heels. Their cell phones are never out of reach. I don’t bring vacation garb, like shorts and sensible sneakers, when I visit Costa Rica. I bring skinny jeans and heels. I like it that way.

Open-air “sodas,” tiny restaurants, sometimes in the front room of someone’s house, are everywhere. They are often situated on the edge of one of those mountain roads, which we fly around, trying to avoid dogs in the road, without running into an oncoming car or going over a cliff.

No matter how difficult they are to get to, the sodas are still worth stopping for. The freshly-made food is delicious and is always served with mayonnaise, Costa Rica’s national condiment. Coffee, which grows on the mountainsides behind the sodas, is the natives’ drink of choice.

Another mountainside offering welcomes visitors to dance the night away, on Saturday evenings. At night, when thousands of lights dot the mountains and the larger cities glow, like embers, in the valleys, listen to a Cumbia band and watch the swing dancing, or participate, if you are brave enough.

I have been trying to learn the language, as I make friends in Costa Rica. I hope to be fluent, someday, but for now, everyone is patient with me, as I stutter my way through.

“Pura vida” means “pure life.” This is what Costa Ricans say, when you ask them how they are. That is their philosophy. It is a motto that I am willing to embrace, as I continue my life’s journey.

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