¡Pura Vida!

We’ve enjoyed seven weeks of “the pure life” in Costa Rica, and have left our San Jose/La Ribera home base for a final 12 days of touring the central volcano/cloud forest region and west coast of the country.

It has been a great “mezcla” (mixture) of learning, adapting, and engaging. What were initially moments of misdirection and confusion have become a pattern of living, with almost a sense of comfort as we navigate our way through each day around a foreign country with its friendly culture. 

At the beginning of our stay, it was too easy to compare new experiences to what we were accustomed to back in the states. Then, almost unnoticeably, it somehow became ok to travel only 140 miles in 6 hours of driving (other than the bladder effects of not finding a good place to “drain the radiator”). Traffic is heavy and frenetic at times, with needle-eye-threading motorcycles all around.  Hand-out-of-window signals for “please let me merge” and “thanks” are much better than the “flying of the finger bird” more prevalent back in the US. Similar to what we’ve experienced in other places around the world, even in seeming chaos there can be a cooperative attitude and approach that results in success for all.

A helpful guide to acceptable Costa Rican hand signals

After solid days of remote work for Jeff, Spanish class for Karen, and daily rainy season deluges, we have enjoyed getting out to the neighborhood “sodas.” These small cafes feature tasty local cuisine and, most importantly, Limonada de herbiabuena – fresh lemonade blended with mint leaves and crushed ice – Yum!!! We have had some great food and especially love the chicken and gallo pinto (seasoned rice and beans mixture).

Gallo Pinto in the shape of a Costa Rican volcano

Unfortunately for our waistlines, the local and abundant panaderias (bakeries) are loaded with sweet, flaky pastries. We have also discovered an amazing bottled sauce called Lizano Salsa — delicious on foods of all kinds. Jeff says he might even try it as a shampoo one of these days!

Condiments are mainly found in plastic pouches here

Interestingly, though we can’t find every item we’re used to, the grocery store shelves are well-stocked with all the foodstuffs desired here. No shortages of anything that we have seen, differing from the US . . . even plenty of baby formula. An abundance of fresh fruit (pineapples for 75 cents, bananas and melons for 1/4 the price in the US) has been a nice treat. Our zeal for pineapple has created some mouth sores and digestive accelerations, so we are cutting back a bit to avoid a Costa Rican TP shortage started by two gringos.

Some Street Sightings . . .

More common than you’d think. Who needs a mini van?
Did we mention we love pineapple? Here are some beauties headed to market.

During our 7 weeks in the San Jose area, we took some mini vacations and day trips. Our first venture was to the Faith Glamping Resort on the jungly beach near Manzanillo National Park, very close to the Panama border on the SE Caribbean coast. Here we observed lots of new flora and fauna, including a furry sloth or “oso perezoso” napping not very high in a tree about 100 yards down the beach. It didn’t move more than two feet the entire three days we were there, and we were reminded of the biblical verse warning against being a “slothful” servant. At least it was easy to locate!

A literal Shangri -La
Our furry sloth friend didn’t want to come down and play

We enjoyed a four+ mile barefoot walk along the beach, hiking in the national park, and visits to a Great Green Macaw reserve and an animal rescue center. The wildlife was varied and fascinating, even when some spider monkeys in the trees above did some urinal aim practice on us below! Fortunately we made a narrow escape.

Macaws are beautiful, squawky birds

Another short adventure was to the northeast Caribbean coast. Tortuguero is only accessible by boat, and getting there was an adventure of its own! We didn’t see a car or motorcycle for 3 whole days. Tortuguero is a national park dedicated to the restoration and preservation of the diverse ecosystem there. It is widely known for sea turtle nesting and hatching. We were there out of turtle season but saw a wide variety of birds, frogs, lizards, spiders, insects, snakes (including a close encounter with the deadly fer-de-lance viper). The songs and chirps of hundreds of happy birds woke us up each morning. Turn up your volume and click the arrow below for a short recording of what 4:30 AM sounded like!

Jeff found this poisonous viper just off the trail on our guided night hike through the jungle. Yikes!
Can you spot the stick bug? It was 12 inches long!

We met the common basilisk, nicknamed “Jesus” lizard because it can run across the water when being pursued. Geckos and iguanas are friendly neighbors, ranging from young and small and cute . . . to old and large and UGLAY!

A “Jesus” lizard on the side of the lagoon
An iguana wanted to take over our pool chair
The Caribbean Sea and Laguna del Tortuguero from the top of Tortuguero Hill

A rainy Saturday trip to nearby Poás Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens introduced us to many new species of plants and animals. Of special interest was watching butterflies hatch from their cocoons. We also hiked to four waterfalls, all incredibly beautiful in their rainforest environs. We love driving through the verdant green volcanic hills of Costa Rica and noting the animals grazing and the huge variety of crops cultivated in the black, fertile soil.

Wildlife crossings here warn of monkeys, tapirs, and wildcats. We have seen all of those animals and MORE.
Most of Costa Rica’s many volcanos are still actively venting! Helmets are required at Poás.
Locals call the Gunnera plant “Poor Man’s Umbrella” or “Sombrilla de Pobre”
Waterfalls Galore!
Happy cows on the mountainside

Besides the sweet tropical fruits and pastries, we have had other sweet experiences. Karen loved her Spanish school with the new skills and new friendships nurtured there. Her growing language abilities will expand our service options and effectiveness in non-English-speaking communities, at home and abroad. The Costa Ricans (Ticos/Ticas) have been very friendly and patient with us. We prepared and shared some meals with church volunteers. We also had a long discussion with a man we met at the market—a recovering drug addict—sober now for 10 years and still pressing forward to make life work. 

Like Americans, Costa Ricans come in all sizes! School employees Dexther and Nena were extra nice.
A farmer with his cart and trusty team of oxen
These traditional brightly painted wooden carretas are still sometimes used in the countryside.

Sadly, a couple of weeks ago we received word that Karen’s 88-year-old father passed away. Through the miracle of air travel, Karen was able to make a quick 4-day round trip to Penticton, British Columbia, Canada to attend the funeral service. We are thankful for the 6 months we lived in Canada the winter of 20/21 and all the happy times we had with Dad Godfrey. It was not long after we left that the impacts of dementia and older age told us that our goodbye was likely the last cognizant one.

Last Friday we visited another active volcano, the remote Irazú (elev. 11,000+ ft), about a 90-min drive from San Jose. We were approached by four young women from Europe (England, Italy, and France) who hadn’t realized their bus tickets to the volcano were only one way. Facing a five hour walk in a torrential downpour, they asked us for a ride back down to civilization. We had a fun time sharing experiences and safely dropped them to their hostel in San Jose. They even sang “Happy Birthday” to Jeff along the way (he is now 62-years-young)!

Click below to watch Jeff’s Happy Birthday song:


One of our frequent services here in Costa Rica has been driving people places (Karen’s school friends, neighbors, others). While here in our second base of La Fortuna, after traveling 1 ½ hours to the nearest church for Sunday services, we came across a young man who was crutching along a country road, and drove him the remaining way into town. He had lost one leg in a car accident. Language barriers have been eased by moments of tender mercies, enabling us to provide small acts of service as we have been on the lookout for them. As mentioned in previous posts, sharing these things on our blog comes from a place of gratitude, with hopes that readers will be encouraged with the abundant opportunities each day, everywhere to serve others.

Though we miss everyone back home, our life continues to be enriched by new experiences that stretch our minds, bodies, and souls.

Until next time . . .

Jeff & Karen

The Service Nomads

1 thought on “¡Pura Vida!

  1. Lorena Najarro Morales

    Hola Karen:
    Fue un honor tenerla como estudiante en CPI Spanish School (www.cpi-edu.com). Los profesores y el staff le enviamos nuestros saludos a usted y su esposo. Nos alegramos que sigue practicando español y conociendo la cultura de Costa Rica. Muchas felicidades por su blog.
    ¡Pura Vida!
    CPI Director.

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