steep hill OcotalPura Vida, or Pure Life, gives just a hint of the typical attitude of the warm and friendly people of Costa Rica. The country has no army, cares for its land by promoting eco-tourism, and has a love of visitors to whom they enjoy showing off their beautiful country. Beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, savannas, and lots of rain forests inhabited by hundreds of species of rare and unusual wildlife. This avian Eden with its different micro-climates includes the brilliantly-colored beaked toucans and macaws, tropical flowers, brilliant blue butterflies, and lots of iguanas, monkeys, caymans and crocs.

Those of you who know John McDougall may know he puts together adventure trips with each day a new adventure planned.

The first day was orientation and exploration of the area including the Ocotal Resort facilities: pools, jacuzzis, a gym, our private beach, the many resident iguanas and birds, and several beautiful off-shore islands. We also got our first taste of the Costa Rican culture in the town of Coco Beach with its grocery store (not much different from ours — same logos but the brand names were in Spanish), kayak rentals, and the obligatory souvenir shops. Spanish is the native language but most local folks spoke enough English to get by and even took our American dollars.

Buena Vista ThermalThe second day was a nearly two-hour bus ride to the Buena Vista ranch high in the volcanic mountains. We were treated to an acclaimed age-reversing mud pack (I’m not sure it worked on me, though) and then a cleansing soak in the hot volcanic thermal springs. The brave ones among us visited a reptile farm, where we viewed many of Costa Rica’s snakes, poisonous and non-. During that long bus ride, we were able to see where large tracts of rain forest had been cleared for the increasing amount of cattle-grazing as Costa Ricans, like most people around the world, crave more hamburgers and steaks.

ziplineThe third day we were fitted with climbing gear necessary for the tree-top zipline canopy ride. This was truly adrenaline-pumping as we soared at 35 mph hooked to cables high above the rain forest. What a feeling — flying like birds, high above the trees which stretched as far as you could see. As soon as we regained stable land-legs, we visited a butterfly farm where we saw dozens of species of all sizes and colors flying all around and even landing on us.

bow of boatThe fourth day was our river rafting adventure. We were fitted with life jackets and then climbed aboard a zodiac-type rubber raft, deftly steered by a local guide who pointed out both howler and capuchin monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, caymans, and even bats as we glided peacefully down the river. We then visited the Native Cat Park, a sanctuary for orphaned and injured bobcats and jaguars. It was very exciting to see these animals so close — within inches and separated by only a chain-link fence.

Our fifth adventure was a trip by small motor boat up an estuary with its mangrove swamp and unique wildlife including more crocs and a large colony of howler monkeys, many with babies on their backs. It was fascinating to see the jungle growth, trees with large tangled prop roots jutting into the mix of fresh and salt water.

wild boatThe last adventure loaded us up into dive boats and headed out to sea. We were treated to schools of playful dolphins following us, dipping and diving across our bow wave. I think the humans were as excited as the dolphins appeared to be, judging by the oohs and ahs! We arrived at some of the smaller islands where we stopped and did some snorkeling and swimming.

In between all these adventures, we were treated to the most delicious vegan buffet lines. Platter after platter of exotic colorful fruits such as rambutan, mango, guava, plantain, and yellow watermelon.

fruit platterCorn tortillas were hand-made before our eyes, and, of course, at every meal, the national dish of Costa Rica, pinto gallo (beans and rice flavored with garlic, onion, bay leaves, and cilantro). In between all that, there were daily lectures by Dr. McDougall covering osteoporosis, diabetes, why fish and dairy aren’t health foods, how to have a healthy GI tract, and culminating in an anti-aging talk. You could summarize each of the talks by saying the cure or prevention of most of these diseases is a low-fat vegan diet.

Guides also lectured on the mammals indigenous to the area, the geology of the country, and the pre-Columbian history and art of Costa Rica. Between the adventures, the food (unfortunately, it’s not often that you can go on a vacation and never have to worry about the food), the learning opportunities, and the comradely of like-minded folk, one could not ask for a week better spent!

Ruth Heidrich,PhD
(c) August 2006 Ruth Heidrich