Immersion in local language, culture a must along Pacific coastline of Costa Rica

The Pacific coastline along Costa Rica has some spectacular views and the people here are proud of them.

Pura Vida!

It’s the national saying AND the national attitude of Costa Rica.

This is really living.

Here on the beaches of Flamingo Bay along the Pacific coastline, when you’re asked, “How are you?,” “Como esta ustedes?,” the correct response is: “Pura Vida.”

Henry Zúñiga Dinarte, wife Angela and daughter Kathrine are hosting us in their home for the week. They happily reinforce this valuable lesson each day.

Pura Vida.

Daughter Katty, son-in-law Felipe and grandson Joshua live next door. In between are the temporary living quarters of four adorable little pigs, two wild, yet talkative parrots, a brilliantly-colored one-winged parakeet, and a band of howler monkeys.

One block west is Playa Brasilito, Playa Conchal (Playa = beach) and the Pacific Ocean.

Pura Vida.

We’re here to immerse ourselves in the culture of Central America and Costa Rica with the help of Centro Panamericano de Idiomas (CPI), a 20-year-old Spanish language immersion school.

We take language classes each day from 8 a.m. until noon, then we’re on our own.

CPI hooks up gringos like us with local families — ticos — for “immersion” into the language and culture of this exotic, democratic and modernized country of 4.5 million.

Henry and Angela don’t speak English, but Katherine and Katty do. A little. When I get totally confused.

Katty also works at CPI, which is very helpful.

When I mangle a sentence, Henry corrects my mistakes and patiently waits for me to express myself correctly, then smiles kindly.

El professor.

We have our own bedroom with two fans, bathroom, shower, cable TV (futbol is REALLY BIG down here) and wonderful conversation, as well as breakfast and dinner each evening. We’re on our own for lunch.

Angela cooks our meals and washes our laundry, for which we will be forever grateful, and Henry is the taxi driver who retrieves us when we need a lift.

After all, beach time is tough. All that strolling and floating in the saltwater and lying in the shade of low-hanging Guanacaste trees as the waves of the Pacific Ocean gently lap at our bare, pasty white feet ...

We’ve sailed on a ship north — near the Nicaragua border — to snorkel, look at wild sea turtles, manta rays, octopus, multi-colored blowfish and postcard-perfect sunsets.

We’ve wandered along dark-colored sand beaches like Brasilito, only to cross over to pristine white sand beaches like Playa Conchal within 100 meters — a thin band of volcanic rock the only thing separating the two.

We’ve visited local vendors selling beach blankets, hats, T-shirts, carved wooden figures, bowls, vases, wind chimes and assorted other tourista paraphernalia.

(I’ve shopped more in the past week than I have in the past 30 years.)

We’ve dined at local restaurants and snacked at local outdoor pubs overlooking crystal-clear blue waters as the sun sparkles on sailboats anchored in the shallow harbor of Flamingo Bay.

Beer is cheap, $2 for a bottle of Cerveza Imperial, the local favorite. The rest of the fare is a bit more pricey, but very good.

The coffee is great. Everyone recycles. The water is safe to drink. The mangoes are fabulous. So are the pineapples, papaya, bananas and tomatoes. You can grow a lot in this tropical oasis, even now, at the end of the dry season, November to April.

The local fish dishes are mouth-watering. My favorite is tuna, but the Mahi-Mahi is delicious, the sea bass is spectacular, the shrimp are divine.

Gallo Pinto is the local staple. Beans and rice, with lots of variations.

Chicken. Fish. Meat. Veggies.

Handmade tortillas and empanadas are staples, as well.

Dixie Burmeister would salivate.

School is tough. My buddy Curtis from Idaho and I, the real rookies, have our own private instructor, Mary, until we’re joined by Carrie, a smart, young medical student who begins her residency in Greeley next month.

Curtis and I were in the same class in Monteverde, and have become amigos. He, his wife, Mary Ann, and beautiful granddaughter, Alexia, just happen to be taking classes during the same weeks at the same locations.

You meet the nicest people traveling.

The school grounds don’t quite look like the ones in the Grand Valley. With a tiled, open-air cafeteria adjacent to the outdoor pool, surrounded by giant mango and pineapple trees and flowering plants everywhere, this school is more like a groomed tropical jungle.

Oh, yeah, it is a tropical jungle.

There are giant iguanas everywhere, huge birds of prey gliding overhead, and Victor, our driver to and from school, suddenly yells, “Camera, camera, here, here.”

A normally nocturnal anteater is cruising across campus in the middle of the day.

Another Kodak moment.

I finally got decent photos of howler monkeys a few days ago, too.

Pura Vida.


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