5% of the world’s biodiversity (animal and plant life) is in Costa Rica, more than Europe and the United States combined, all in an area of the size of West Virginia.
Nearly every bird, mammal, fish, and critter that you could imagine resides somewhere in Costa Rica. Living in the Central Valley, I’ve been experiencing Latin culture, but I hadn’t fully experienced the wildlife of Costa Rica. That is, not until I ventured to Parque Nacional Cahuita, a wild jungle on a beautiful beach along the Caribbean Coast, rarely traveled to by the common tourist.
Accompanying me on this venture was my roommate Jacob, who is best described as “the Dude” from the movie, “The Big Lebowski”. He’s also 6’5 feet tall, which was a huge relief for my mom, because if I was traveling with him, she could rest assured that I would be safe. It was Jacob who recommended we travel to Cahuita.
Our trip began with a touch of fate. We had planned to stay in Puerto Viejo, a popular party destination south of the national park but despite bringing our backpacks and sandals to work, we still missed the final bus there. Instead we ended up passing through the town of Cahuita, and when we stepped off the bus and onto the dirt road, we immediately changed our minds. Perhaps it was the dry air against our cheeks, or the sand beneath our feet, or the laid-back feeling in the air. Whatever it was, we couldn’t resist staying overnight in the small town of Cahuita.
The chilled out vibe of Cahuita comes from a Caribbean atmosphere. In fact, the locals we talked to identified themselves more with the Caribbean than they did their native Costa Rica. Outside our hostel, we could hear people conversing in the local dialect, Mekatlyu. Whereas so much of Costa Rica has undergone development with the onslaught of tourists, Cahuita has been able to retain its culture and its natural beauty. Only a few hundred meters from our hostel was the national park. We walked along the dirt road, and within minutes, we found ourselves surrounded by monkeys, snakes, hundreds of species of birds, and my favorite, sloths.
It was on our first venture into the national park when we saw our first sloth. We had been hiking for about a half an hour, eyes pointed downwards, searching for snakes, when I commented, “hey, we should look up too and maybe we’ll see a sloth.” As soon as I said that, Jacob lifted his head and low and behold (or should I say “high and behold”), we spotted a sloth, hanging off a branch at the top of the tree line, peacefully gazing into the sky, without a worry in the world.
It seemed like fate that brought us to Cahuita; it was as if an indescribable force propelled me to tell Jacob to look for sloths in just the precise moment when one was hanging above his head. Ever since I’ve come down here – just the fact that I am down here – I’ve thought a lot about fate. But there’s also something else, something I learned from my weekend in Cahuita. Costa Rica’s most famous saying is “pura vida”. Literally, “pura vida” means “pure life”, but the meaning goes much deeper. It refers to a “go with the flow” way of thinking, just letting things happen, and believing that in the end, it will all work out. As a result of this mentality, the pace of life is very slow here, something I’ve had to grown accustomed to, coming from quite the opposite environment of hectic New York. It’s important, I think, to take it easy sometimes, to let go of our need to control our surroundings. Like the sloth hanging from a branch of the tree, sometimes you have to chill.
Latin American correspondent Jonah Kruvant, world traveler by day, writer by night, reports from Costa Rica.