Another group staying at Blue Spirit, a fun-loving bunch of Texans, raved about the canopy tours — which, I found out, meant “ziplining,” which, I found out, meant traveling in a harness along cables strung hundreds of feet off the ground at Beltway velocity. I went kayaking instead.
A shuttle took the seven of us along the dusty roads outside Blue Spirit to the offices of Experience Nosara, an adventure company that offers stand-up paddling and hiking tours in addition to kayaking. Our guide, Felipe Lopez, practically made this excursion worth the entire trip to Costa Rica. As we rode in the van to the boathouse, he chatted amiably with us (in fluent English) about his family and his work.
After Felipe gave us a quick overview of the local geography and the rivers that we were going to cruise, the Nosara and the Montana, we spent more than two hours wafting along the calm waters, which are generally impassable during the rainy months of September and October. An expert birder, Felipe pointed out various kinds of herons and egrets. During a shore break for water and watermelon, he pulled out a book to show us drawings of some of the species we’d seen in the area, which is famous for its biodiversity. We finished up just in time to watch a spectacular sunset over the ocean, where the rivers converge.
Despite the laid-back vibe of Nosara, the area is not immune to the downsides of tourism. Nosara’s increasing popularity is bringing more traffic along the dirt roads and, by extension, health problems for residents. During an afternoon trip into nearby Guiones, home to surfing schools, cafes, shops and public yoga studios, I couldn’t help choking on the dust kicked up by passing cars and scooters — many of whose drivers wore bandanas over their noses and mouths — as I walked along the gravel road to the beach. The local debate about whether to pave the roads has been brewing for some time, but paving is probably inevitable, Rechtschaffen and others said.
Sarah Lynn, a retreat attendee and owner of Journey Yoga in Arlington, also worries about the effects of tourism. Lynn, who was on her seventh yoga trip to the country since 2004, has studied extensively at the Nosara Yoga Institute. Yoga is a natural fit for the country, she said, but upon each return, “my heart sinks a little. I feel like the pura vida lifestyle is beginning to fade. With more and more eating and shopping and WiFi at every locale, Nosara is quickly becoming about the travelers, not yoga or Costa Rica.”
But, Rechtschaffen said, mindful care of Costa Rica’s resources and people is key to preserving the country’s natural beauty and enabling visitors to continue to enjoy it without spoiling it.
Mindful? Maybe this traveler got too much of the blue zone’s good things. After juggling English, Spanish, Sanskrit and Latin for a week, I could barely fill out a customs form at the Miami airport. But I’d made several new BFFs and learned more about yoga and Costa Rica. The retreat wasn’t cheap, but it was priceless. As I learned at 16, the best souvenirs can’t be packed in a suitcase or preserved in a scrapbook.
It isn’t necessary to go to a place as phenomenal as Costa Rica to learn that — twice in one lifetime, if you’re lucky — but it doesn’t hurt.
Waugh is a yoga teacher and freelance writer and editor living in Apex, N.C.