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Exploring Costa Rica, from one side of the ocean to the other

Howard Pedolsky and his wife, Dorothy, of Rockville, at the Arenal volcano. If you want to get really adventurous, go ahead and order oatmeal at the hotel. (Howard Pedolsky)

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Who: Howard Pedolsky (the author) and his wife, Dorothy, of Rockville.

Where, when, why: We spent two weeks in late February and early March exploring Costa Rica. While slightly smaller than West Virginia, the country packs an unbelievable amount of biodiversity.

Our trip began in Tortuguero, on the Caribbean side of the country. The only ways to reach this isolated world are by boat or charter plane. (We took a one-hour boat trip.) We were able experience rain forests and waterways full of animal life.

From there we traveled over rough terrain to the volcanic rain forest region in the center of the country. Dorothy took the opportunity to zip-line over the region at 50 mph and at 600 feet altitude. I am afraid of heights so there was no way I was doing it!

Our third stop was the cloud forest region of Monteverde. Here, dry, warm Pacific winds and cool, very wet Caribbean winds meet.

Finally we traveled to Punta Islita, a fantastic little paradise on the Pacific coast. Temperatures were in the 70s everywhere else, and here the temperatures were continually in the 90s, approaching 100, and it virtually never rained.

Highlights and high points: The bird life was unbelievable. We saw quetzels (the national bird of Guatemala), the agami heron (which our guide said he hadn't seen in more than five years) and macaws in the Pacific region.

The fauna and flora of the rain forests and cloud forests were also off-the-wall fantastic. Highlights included seeing trees that grew three to six feet per year in order to reach sunlight and orchids growing wild.

Cultural connection or disconnect:

We were impressed by the Costa Ricans' love and knowledge of the nature. Guides never rushed, even if they had seen sights over and over. The focus of attention nationally of maintaining the ecosystem was also admirable.

Biggest laugh or cry: We were staying at a hotel in Arenal that had an extensive breakfast buffet. Unfortunately, I am diabetic and most of the foods had too much sugar. I had eaten enough eggs, so I asked if they had oatmeal. Blank stare. They didn't know what oatmeal was. That evening the restaurant manager came up to us with two bags of oat product. One was oat flour, the other, from its description in Spanish, we guessed could be oatmeal. We were hysterical, but the effort was so heartwarming. We had no idea what would come out, but it was delicious oatmeal, and we had it each day.

How unexpected: The two unexpected experiences were the absolute beauty and ecological diversity of the country and the wonderful friendliness of its people.

Fondest memento or memory: The photographs of the magnificent birds of Costa Rica were the physical memory we brought back. Looking at the photos rekindled our astonishment at its diverse beauty.