Talk about temperature shock. Less than a week ago we were sweltering in mid 70 to upper 80 degree weather (and a humidity level way up there) on the south-western coast of Costa Rica ("Beautiful Coast"). Two days ago Elk Lake Resort welcomed us back to 17 degrees below zero! I'm not sure my 'thinned' blood has warmed since I got back home.
Nevertheless, I'm so very glad to be here. Outside my window a light snow is falling, adding its splendor to the beautiful white blanket covering the ground. As much as I enjoyed the tropical splendors of Costa Rica, nothing compares to the beauty and serenity of the Centennial Valley.
And, yet, many things about Costa Rica 'felt' like home (I'm speaking of the Centennial Valley in particular here). The natural beauty, the friendly people, the slower pace of life (at least when we're not in the middle of our busy season), and even the roads.
In fact, I finally figured out where Beaverhead County learned to build roads. They visited Costa Rica! Sadly, however, Costa Rica is moving ahead, improving their country's infastructure. On the other hand, Beaverhead County appears to have no desire to move the Centennial Valley into the 20th century (at least when it comes to roads - now if we're talking taxes, that's a whole different arena all together).
However, on a more positive note. Costa Rica is a country loaded with natural beauty. The flora and fauna are incredibly colorful. Many of the birds proudly display brilliant plumage. Even the degrees of green in the jungle foliage are diverse and varied. Top that off with pristine south-western beaches. Here one can still find unspoiled and unpopulated sandy beaches boarded by palm trees and rugged cliffs. If that isn't enough, awesome sunsets throw flaming reds and golds across the sky.
One might think, from my adulation, the Centennial Valley has dimmed in my eyes. Never fear! Costa Rica can't hold a candle to the sheer vastness of our wild open spaces. In fact, Costa Rica is almost claustrophic by comparison. Our countryside seems to welcome entry and exploration. Their countryside seems to do all it can to bar intruders. Unless you're armed with a machette and several gallons of water (to replace all you're going to loose in sweat), you won't be wandering far off the 'beaten path' in Costa Rica.
I must say, however, the Costa Rican people made us feel right at home, even when we couldn't speak their language (which was all the time unless they could speak ours). In fact, I had two occasions where I needed to communicate something, but I didn't speak Spanish and my would-be 'helper' didn't speak English. Believe it our not, we figured it out!
In the first instance I needed to call home. In our little town, Ojochal, there was a small C-Store (I can't remember what they call them, but that is a close description) which offered a 'public' phone. In other words, they would let us use their phone. We were then to pay them for the call.
My helper, a young man in his mid-teens, didn't speak English. I wrote the phone number I wished to call on a piece of cardboard. He dialed the operator, placed the call, and handed me the phone. (At this point no money had changed hands). When I finished my call, I offered to pay (held out money). He held up his hand for me to wait and called the operator back. After a brief conversation with her, he handed me the phone. Fortunately she could speak English. Long story short, she told me how much to pay him - and told him how much I owed. I passed over the money (and a tip for his time and help), and we called things good. Amazing!
My second helper came along when I desperately needed a bathroom. We were waiting for the road crew to fix the only bridge heading North out of town (the nearest 'detour' was over 8 hours out of the way). After waiting nearly an hour we learned they estimated repairs to take another hour. I went in search of a bathroom. Fortunately my helper, an older gentelman this time, had a better understanding of basic English than I did of basic Spanish. When I asked for a bathroom, he pointed at what looked like a closet. When I asked again, he pointed again. Sure enough, he'd gotten my point.
Here in the Centennial, people are friendly too. Costa Rican's don't have us beat here. I've heard many stories (and been involved in a few too) of people stranded or in need of assistance here in the valley. When you get stranded here, it feels like you're in a foreign country. It's just soooo far to the outside world. However, in each case our valley residents and visitors have stepped in to lend a hand.
The primary difference, from my point of view, is Costa Rica is all about people. While our nearest neighbor is over 15 miles away, Costa Rica packs hundreds into its villages and millions into its cities. It may be many miles between villages, but the jungle keeps people (for the most part), contained. So, there is little chance to feel the seclusion which the Centennial Valley offers.
Last, but not least is the slower pace of life. Here I found the most similarity between Costa Rica and the Centennial Valley. People had time to visit. They seemed to enjoy one another's company. You didn't see much of the American 'keep up with the Jones' syndrome. People worked hard and relaxed freely. Much work was done by hand - and sweat wasn't something to avoid. There were no three-piece suits. Although it seemed most Costa Ricans had a cell phone (just a few short years ago the town only had a single land-line phone), many didn't have a car. Most of all, they seemed content to live where they were. You didn't see the need to move which predominates Western society.
Here are several lessons we, Americans, could learn. Fortunately in the Centennial, most families still make their living close to the land. They still believe in hard work and healthy sweat. Neighbors are still important. Friendships are still honored - even when it hurts. And, most people who live in the Centennial can't imagine living anywhere else. This is home, and they love it!
All in all, I think the two biggest contrasts I found between home and Costa Rica were the temperatures (100 degrees is quite noticeable) and the unfriendly jungle as compared to our wide open spaces. I loved our trip. I highly admire the Costa Rican people. I can see why so many Europeans (there are a LOT of them down there) now call that little country home. They, too, have found what most of America and Europe has forgotten - how to slow down and live without overwhelming governmental control and unlimited handouts.
For those of you who think Costa Rica might be worth a visit (I'd recommend it), check out La Casa De Tierra. Set on 55 private acres in the middle of the jungle, this single-family home provided us a private 'get away' while we enjoyed Costa Rica. We'd also recommend a small motel owned by a Canadian family which serves as an excellent base for visiting Costa Rica's beautiful volcanos. Hotel La Rosa de America is a B&B hotel located in the Central Valley. Or, if you prefer a little more pampering, check out Buena Vista. "Beautiful View" is a lovely B&B owned by wonderful Canadian couple. They not only offer many 'support' services, recreational suggestions, lovely private rooms, and an inviting pool, their property does indeed offer a beautiful view in nearly every direction.
In spite of all these words of praise, I can honestly say, "There is NO PLACE LIKE HOME". I'm glad to be back, Elk Lake.
Lady of the Lake