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Pura vida: Soaking in Costa Rican leisure

“Good thing we got a car with four-wheel drive,” my mom said as my dad eased on the gas pedal to inch our rental car up a gravel path. 

There was an arrow-shaped sign with the name of our bed and breakfast painted on it pointing us in this direction, and yet, I wasn’t convinced this was the right way.

It took us about as long to drive up the hill as it would to walk. Once we got to the top, there was a little grass clearing that served as the parking lot, complete with a few white stones spaced apart to mark four parking spots. 

My parents and I had flown into Costa Rica for a family vacation the night before and spent the night in a hotel close to the airport. Today was the first of three stops of our trip: a bed and breakfast called Casa Rural — Aroma de Campo (Country House — Smell of the Land). 

The building was U-shaped with three rooms on each side and a kitchen, office and the workers’ rooms along the back. In the middle of it all was a shaded outdoor patio with rocking chairs, potted plants, a large dining table and two hammocks, all looking out on a lush array of fruit trees and flowering bushes. I truly felt hundreds of miles away from the Chicago winter. 

Eric, the owner, was in the middle of writing the menu for dinner on a green chalkboard. “Sopa: Tomate,” it read so far. 

He told us everything we needed to know about the place. Dinner is served at 7 p.m. Breakfast is from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. They have two dogs and a parrot named Koki who can speak four languages but sometimes bites. The water is fine for brushing your teeth, but don’t drink it. Here’s the fridge with bottled water that you can drink, as well as beer and juice. 

Our room had one queen bed, one twin bed, each made up with paisley patterned quilts. The queen bed had a mosquito net hanging above it and tucked behind the headboard, but the woman assured us, “No hay mosquitoes” — the window had a screen, protecting us from the pesky insects. There was no air conditioning, just a ceiling fan. 

In the bathroom, there was a sign by the toilet instructing guests to toss their toilet paper into the small trash can instead of flushing it. It reminded me of my study abroad trip to Argentina a year ago, but my mom was clearly a little unsettled by the practice. 

It was no five-star hotel, but it was quaint, charming and homey.

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We spent the afternoon hiking at the national park, which was about 15 minutes down a (paved) road, and pretty much the only attraction in the area, aside from a larger resort-style hotel with touristy activities like zip lining and horseback riding. 

When we got back to the bed and breakfast a few hours later, I slumped into one of the hammocks. Both dogs came trotting over to me and laid down underneath the hammock. I was  there for hours, dozing off a few times and savoring the beautiful greenery, my lack of obligations and the dogs’ company. This felt like pura vida — the simple life Costa Ricans reference in their motto.

As the sun set, Eric began turning on all of the lights around the courtyard, which included a string of small bulbs over the dining table, a small fake white Christmas tree and other lamps hanging on the walls. 

About an hour later, right before dinner, all the lights went out. Blackouts feel a bit darker in the Costa Rican countryside, but there was something calming about it. 

Eric apologized as he stuck up some bright battery-powered lights and placed lanterns on the table. He said it was because of the wind, which had been gusting all afternoon. He reassured us that this happens fairly often,  the lights should come back soon and that dinner was pretty much already done. 

The long wooden dining table had enough chairs to seat 16 people. But tonight, it was just me, my parents and another couple. We took our seats and surely enough, the power came back just in time for the first course. 

We all introduced ourselves and asked one another where we’re from over a bowl of homemade tomato soup. They said they were from France, and I found myself surprised. 

Oh right, tourists can come from places other than the United States, I thought, sheepishly aware of my ethnocentrism. 

The husband didn’t speak any English. The wife spoke some, but some questions and answers got lost in translation. My dad is the only person in my family who knows French, and he probably hasn’t used it in a few decades, but it was enough to fill in the gaps. 

When I woke up and went outside the next morning after a restless and sweaty night of sleep, the French couple had already checked out and left. I sat at the dining table with my parents and was served a typical Costa Rican breakfast of scrambled eggs, gallo pinto (the country’s version of rice and beans), a tortilla and fried plantain.

I said goodbye to the dogs and Koki (he didn’t respond to my farewell in either English or Spanish). My parents and I piled our luggage into the car and eased back down the gravel hill.