My family and I spent Thanksgiving week in the jungle. Specifically in Manzanillo, Costa Rica, a small fishing village at the “end of the road” on the Caribbean Coast, surrounded by ocean and trees, wildlife, and the pura vida (Costa Rica’s national motto of living the pure life).
We shared our time and space with LOTS of colorful birds, frogs, lizards, monkeys, moths, and turtles, plus bunches of free-ramblin’ dogs, one of whom adopted us during our stay. The kids named him Pepé, which seemed to fit, though later we found out his name was Pinto, for pinto gallo, the Costa Rican staple of black beans and rice, which gets a Surround Fitness thumbs up—seriously, I could have that healthy combo at every meal.
In fact, our breakfast “typico” became rice and beans with grilled onions and an egg, wrapped in a tortilla or done tostada-style atop a smaller grilled corn tortilla with cheese and sweet chili sauce—a Caribbean eggs Benedict! Apparently though, you can tire of it…back in San Jose for the return flight home, Denny’s beat out the free Hampton Inn breakfast for my bean-weary kids :).
The people in Manzanillo embody what it means to live simply or to simply live, or like my daughter-in-law Lisa said in describing how she felt reading a book by the sea, “just being.” The food, like the life there, is simple, healthy, and good. We took advantage of the “super” in Puerto Viejo (the closest town to Manzanillo) to stock up on veggies, fruit, tortillas, cheese, chorizo, and yes, beans and rice. To these we added chicken, shrimp, and fresh-caught red snapper wood-grilled on the pit in front or our house. The kids took turns making dinner, and they proved to be great chefs.
For Thanksgiving, we took a break from Costa Rican food and ate at Amimodo, a “slow food” Italian restaurant in Puerto Viejo, the 40-minute careening bus ride to get there an adventure in itself. We sat outdoors under the stars, eating entrees like camarones exotica (shrimp grilled with veggies) and ravioli lagosta (lobster ravioli), both amazing.
Along with delicious food, the environment afforded many opportunities to get moving. Our days involved playing and swimming at the beach (bocci ball with coconuts anyone?), riding waves, taking long beach walks and jungle hikes, touring an organic farm where we drank coconut water straight from the nut (Manzanillans believe it’s a cure-all),
ziplining through the jungle, or kayaking along the rivers while spider monkeys swung overhead and toucans called from bankside thickets.
Winding down the jungle river was surreal—like so many things here—and also my first time trying a paddle board (good for the core!).
The simplicity of life in Manzanillo can almost make you feel ashamed of having so much stuff, or worse yet, thinking you need so much stuff. As soon as I returned home, the excess engulfed me like the whiteout fog we encountered crossing the central highlands. I immediately emptied my closet of half my clothes and bagged them up for people who might need them.
As winter’s embrace deepens, I know I will think back to those open-window buses, the small mercados (tiny general stores) and “sodas” (local eateries), the gentle people and “free” dogs, the delicious food and fresh fruit drinks, the houses that double as stores with kids and dogs pouring out on all sides, the irrelevance of walls and window panes, the Jamaican-descended locals selling their wares on jungle paths, and the incredible beauty of the sea married to jungle. Yes, I miss Manzanillo and what it represents: the end of the road, in a good way.
Keep movin’, mon. – Jen