Costa Rica

Posted on January 25, 2018

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Costa Rica has one of the highest happiness indices in the world for its population so it seemed like a great place to rendez vous with my parents. It dissolved its navy and military 80 years this year because the government decided it was better to spend money on health and education for its people than defence. It has 4 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and has a landscape filled with volcanoes, beaches and rainforests. My idea of paradise.

My parents have not travelled long haul in a few years due to illness and health complications. So when my mother agreed for them to take a trip with me and explore the country I was both surprised and thrilled. Tourists that visit tend to be over 60 years old from what I have seen and that encouraged me, to begin with. Costa Rica has to be one of the most expensive Latin American countries. Anyone travelling in their 20s are usually in pairs or groups to share the cost.

The itinerary I built for us as a family took into consideration their stamina, mobility and health complication. They are retired. At home they don’t do very much. It would be a holiday they have not tried before and it would be a challenge but with comfort all the way. I was not expecting them to backpack or slum it on local buses. I had heard wonderful things about Costa Rica from friends and I hoped a country with such natural beauty would blow them away.

First stop would take us to Tortuguero – a national park filled with hundreds of species of birds; monkeys and all manner of biodiversity. The area achieved its protective status in 1975 after logging companies were forced out. The journey takes a whole day. A private shuttle of four hours and then a boat ride of an hour. The luxury lodge is deep inside the park and like all accommodation, it is on the riverbank with the most beautiful green setting. The sound of bugs, birds and monkeys all around you. The water here is connected to the Caribbean Sea and has Caimans, Bull Sharks and strong current, so it’s not for swimming in. Wildlife tours are along the river by boat and there are nature trails available to walk with a guide through the tropical rainforest. I was desperate for mum and dad to have an easy but up-close introduction to what our planet has to offer. I also wanted to show them the and type of landscape I love being in. A reason I can no longer live in a concrete city full time.

Except when we arrived in-country the cold front from the United States was blowing our way and the weather front brought torrential rain for four solid days. The journey across took seven hours as the normal route used was closed due to mudslides. The temperature dropped, the clouds came to stay and then the worst possible thing happened. My mum fell ill. After day one she lost her appetite, ran a temperature, developed a bad cough and had no energy. My Dad then began to worry and both of them looked miserable. Day two Dad insisted on coming out on a riverboat cruise in the rain (this was not something I was at all sure about) and he then fell sick. They are in their 70s.

With both of them sick, I was forced to scrap the second leg of the trip to Monteverde Cloud Forest as the journey would have finished them off and the environment would have been too damp and too cold. We flew back to San Jose in a 4-seater plane instead of taking the road and that took just 30minutes. The tiny plane soared above incredible swathes of lush rainforest and mountains. We overnighted in the capital and then headed north by car to La Fortuna home to Arenal Volcano. Everyday I hoped their recovery would improve. But it didn’t. I fed them ginger tea with honey, stopped at a pharmacy for cough mixture and paracetamol. They had early nights, ate delicious food, but nothing changed and their happiness levels plummeted.

La Fortuna is a bustling town with good restaurants, bars, an organic coffee shop and an artisanal chocolate shop, there is easy access to the national park to hike the foothill of the volcano, which is very active. The last explosion was in the 1990s and it regularly erupts plumes of smoke but the summit is perennially shrouded in a thick blanket of mist. There is also the very beautiful Mistico Hanging Bridges park. This private land has a number of suspension bridges through the rainforest putting you in direct contact with wildlife. The holiday went from bad to worse on our trip there. The rain was intermittent but the humidity was high. The trail would be 2.5km with a small incline on paved concrete paths to reach the first bridge.

Despite my reservations about Dad doing the tour, he said he felt fine and he would keep up. His mobility however is slow and that’s understandable. He had major surgery on his leg a few years ago and walking is difficult for him. He is not active back in the UK so 2.5km is a marathon for him. I didn’t want to add any more disappointment to the already disastrous trip by saying no, so said nothing.

It was as we were nearing the first bridge that the accident happened. He said to me that he wanted to stop the tour as after 30 minutes this was too much for him. The guide suggested getting to the emergency point a little further ahead to exit safely. A few moments later he had a fall. Standing on an incline to catch his breath, he looked up as a passerby said, “Take your time,”. I turned to see him him out of breath, look up and smile and then in slow motion lean backwards on his heels and land hard on the ground. Thankfully he didn’t damage anything other than pride. He was covered in mud and sweating heavily. It took me and three men to lift him to his feet. He was disorientated and it was awful to watch. I felt like such a bad daughter. He and mum were then radioed a car by the guide and taken back to reception. Later that day mum told me Dad had a fever, so we called for a doctor. An ambulance arrived at the hotel and after an examination we all went to a clinic for him to be treated for three hours. He was given two doses of a nebuliser to dilate his chest, an injection and a course of antibiotics. He was diagnosed with Bronchitis. I was given paperwork and insurance hassle to deal with which has been my daily karma since.

The next day the evening at the thermal spa was not an enjoyable one as Dad could not go in the water and was clearly unhappy sat in the gardens. My mum was out of the pool in an hour and dinner was done and dusted in 40 minutes. I considered all options about sending them home early but the cost to change flights would be high and they said no. So again I rejigged the itinerary and scrapped the last leg of their journey to Liberia. Everywhere we’ve stayed the staff have been wonderful and kind and the service has been genuine. The locals are a very hospitable nation and they have been very attentive to my sick parents.

We are now in Osa, a beautiful peninsula with tropical rainforest and beach and the stunning ocean to listen and look at everyday. The resort we are staying at is amazing. I fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves and wake up to the calls of Howler monkeys. It’s an eco friendly plantation set in the thick rainforest with paths swept daily. The co-owners are Californian and it’s been running around five years despite owning the land for a decade. The attention to detail is impressive. Toucans, geckos, capuchins and all manner of creepy crawlies are here. It is very much alive but caters to even the most novice of travellers. It full of couples mainly my parent’s age bracket. But mum and dad are not happy here. Last night they confessed they can’t wait to go home. They fly back to the capital for four days after I rearranged travel and accommodation and then to London.

The truth is city people are city people. I realise now not everyone has an inner explorer hidden inside them, even if they share the same DNA with you. It was a pipe dream. I am truly sorry that this trip didn’t bring them the happiness that I hoped it would. Here’s to a speedy recovery “Pura Vida!”.

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