Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Mystery of San Isidro de El General...

There is a town in Costa Rica called San Isidro de El General. It is the largest city in the Pérez Zeledón canton with a population of about 45,000. A two hour drive from Costa Rica's tallest mountain- Chirripo (3,820 m), and 45 minutes from the popular beach resort town Dominical, but apart from a decent central market, there isn't much to do or see here. With one exception...San Isidro de El General is widely spoken of as home to the most beautiful women in Costa Rica. 

I was in a convenience store in the quiet, expat-friendly beach town of Uvita (a little over an hour from San Isidro) when I first heard this expressed. A stranger heard my friends and I speaking English and struck up a conversation. He had lived in the US for a few years, but his language skills were a bit rusty. He explained to us that he had lived in New Jersey for a while, and that there are actually many Ticos (Costa Rican people) there. In fact, this was echoed by many people throughout the country- a high population of Costa Rican men go to New Jersey for work. I'm not really sure why Jersey became the hub of Tico expats...I didn't think the small state had much unfilled labor need, but I guess once a significant number were there, it became the place to go. There is even a Tico newspaper published in New Jersey! This trend of going to the Garden State has had an unintended negative consequence on the women of San Isidro. It is rumored that a unusually high number of men from San Isidro have emigrated (at least temporarily) to NJ. I have heard estimations as high as a 3:1 female-male ratio! The lack of men and the stunning beauty of the women make San Isidro a favorite town to visit for guys in the region, and people like to joke about the poor lonely, beautiful Ticas of San Isidro.

Theories as to why San Isidro has such beautiful women include the idea that the lack of men makes competition fierce, so women work harder to make themselves look good (my theory). Also, I read that many of the people have German blood due to large waves of European settlement during construction booms just after WWII, so they are often lighter, sometimes blonde- a trait considered very beautiful in Costa Rica. 

I was in San Isidro de General for about 5 minutes and never left my car, so I can't personally vouch for the women, but it is definitely a widespread, well known stereotype. A friend of mine visited not too long ago and took a few pictures- in some of them you can see people! If you zoom in close, you can decide for yourself if these women look more beautiful than in other cities in Costa Rica...I think it definitely looks like they dress better, at least!

Additionally, I did some Googling and came up with these pictures allegedly of San Isidro girls. I can't vouch for the authenticity, but since our photographer (Victor) was too shy to get closer, I thought it would be good to add these. 

This is from a parade in 2006...they don't just go out onto the street like this everyday

Also this is a video tour:  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Learning the Meaning of Pura Vida

Pura Vida!

The unofficial national saying of Costa Rica, and most Ticos' (people from Costa Rica) favorite saying. Literally it means "pure life" in Spanish, but people use it as a catchall phrase for dozens of situations, including...
  • as a response to "how are you?"  (probably most common)
  • before saying "thank you"
  • before saying "goodbye" or "see you later"
  • when something good happens 
  • instead of "you're welcome"
  • as a greeting when drivers pass each other in cars
  • as a sigh of contentedness when everything is going right 

Jess displaying a very large, old tree in the forest of Arenal

Elyse is living pura vida

Before coming to Costa Rica, I thought pura vida was more of a tourism marketing slogan, that it was only used by people working in the tourism industry, expats, and tourists. In fact, Ticos really do use this saying ubiquitously! It expresses joie de vivre, casualness, relaxed friendliness, and honestly Ticos are just happy, friendly people. You do hear pura vida much more in touristy areas, but I think that's mostly because tourists usually go to these areas because they are gorgeous and wonderful, so anyone living there is living the pura vida life. It's used less in the capital of San Jose, and probably other cities as well. I think it does sound a bit provincial, but in a sweet, idyllic way. 
La Fortuna

Here are some of my personal favorite moments of learning how to use pura vida, and how to live the pura vida life. 
  • Antonio lost his keys on the beach during the bonfire, and had to go look for them as we all waited in our cars. When he found them, I shouted, "pura vida!" and he was extra excited because his keychain is actually a mini surfboard with the phrase written on it. 
  • As I followed Christopher up the inside of the strangler fig, he turned back and said "this is what separates a tourist from a traveler." We balanced ourselves in the tangle of branches on top of the tree, looking out on the night lights of Santa Elena- that was pura vida
  • We lived pura vida one hot night in Uvita, dancing for hours to a popular local reggae band at the one bar in town with a mix of locals, tourists, and expats 
    Christopher is a cowboy
    on a steel horse
  • Driving through the cowboy highlands of Guanacaste, the cloud forests of Monteverde and Arenal, and the lush jungle of Cartago while singing to old pop songs and eating chocolate and Twizzlers  
  •  One night in San Jose we got a taxi at around 1am going from a bar back to our hostel. The driver ran through every red light with only a slight break check and a warning honk of his horn, shouting "pura vida!" every few minutes
And now this is kind of just devolving into a list of my favorite experiences in Costa Rica...which perhaps warrants a post of its own. (I'll link here if a write one!) 
Jumping off this was pretty exhilarating, definitely felt pure!

The gist of it is- pura vida is not just a tourism slogan. It is a way of life, a mentality, and a sense of peace, contentedness, and joy embraced by most Ticos. It is one of the reasons people tend to fall in love with the laid-back, welcoming, positive country, and saying it is probably the best way to make a local smile. So next time you're in Costa Rica, make sure to liberally apply pura vida (and SPF 50).

Friday, March 11, 2016

Costa Rica: Land of 1000 Injuries

Costa Rica is amazing. Every hour is some new challenge or adventure, the weather is lovely, the scenery is gorgeous, the people are as friendly as everyone says, and the girls I'm with are incredible. There is one pretty significant hazard to all this, however...feeling so happy and safe all the time combined with the dramatically beautiful and constantly captivating land makes you want to push yourself further and harder, exploring the hidden and taking advantage of every opportunity. So 7 days into the trip, our bodies are pretty beat up. It's impossible to let little injuries get you down, though! So we brush it off and keep going, and get cut up and bitten and bruised some more. 

On Tuesday night I climbed up the inside of an ancient strangler fig/ficus and got all cut and bruised going up and down it.Woke up Wednesday (which will from here on be known as the most incredible day ever- will detail later), with a bunch of mysterious bruises, probably from the tree climb, and then I tripped on some little stairs in the cloud forest and sprained my ankle. Yesterday morning we hiked for a bit and Jess was walking about a meter in front of me. She stepped on the end of a long log and the other end flew up like a lever and its jagged edge stabbed me right above my knee, so now I have a little cut and a big bruise there. Then we sat in a hot car most of the day getting sunburned, and layered more sunburn on top of that at the beach today. To sweeten the deal, all of our legs are coated in mosquito bites. Elyse is having some kind of allergic reaction to the bites and her ankle was all swollen up yesterday. On top of all the ailments I've gotten IN Costa Rica, due to having acrylics on my nails for a long time, the first half of my fingernails were super thin and brittle, and letting them grow out even the tiniest bit made them rip and so this week I've been going through various stages of nail tearing and having my nail beds exposed...especially painful when reaching into my backpack fishing for things or gripping branches and rocks while hiking...

PSA: 15 SPF organically grown aloe vera sunscreen gel does not work against Pacific sun. I am absolutely cooked. A random stranger just walked past me and said "looks like you overdid it" it's that bad. Most of my skin is speckled pink and red and white. This is one of the reasons I dislike the  beach (gasp!) skin is very pale and very sensitive and I am okay being pale! But peer pressure got to me this time, and I was stupid and thought this sketchy, low SPF sunscreen would be fine. It wasn't and now I am going to look like I'm 50 when I'm 30 and all my skin is going to fall off and I am going to get skin cancer and look like a piece of old leather and children will run screaming from me...was paradise worth it? Decide for yourself. Here are some pictures of Bahía Ballena (whale bay) and the cola ballena (whale tail) beach in Uvita where the massacre of my skin cells occurred.

the whale tail itself- we were sitting near the coconut
tree forest just to the left of the fork
Best part is looking up at those cool, misty mountains, imagining you're up there...

Rough Guides says about this beach: "Visitors here will be amply rewarded with wide beaches washed by lazy breakers, palms swaying on the shore, and a hot, serene and very quiet atmosphere. This will no doubt change, as more people discover Bahía Ballena, but for the time being it’s unspoilt." 
I agree with the description- the beach is beautiful and quiet and we had much of the high beach to ourselves. One interesting thing about this beach is that it is very wide. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the edge of the forest down to the whale tail area, and once you decide you're going to leave the beach, you have to walk probably another 15 minutes to the entrance, because since the entire beach is a national park, you have to pay a $6 entry fee and there is basically only one (non-forest) way off and on.  

Anyway, this is kind of a random collection of stories and advice and ranting- hopefully the rest of my posts will be a bit more guided, and more helpful for any potential tourists, but I just wanted to get some ideas on "paper"...pura vida