We got into the ancient, gray car in front beside us. Clearly, this was not the type of taxi we were advised to take. It didn’t even have the taxi sign on top. And, it definitely was not red, the color of the reputable taxis in the area. Upon opening the door and crawling to the furthest seat, I noticed, with further trepidation that the backseat did not seem to contain seatbelts.
“Pura Vida!” I say to Rhiannon and Esther as we hop into the car. Pura Vida, literally translated, means ‘Pure Life.’ However, depending on the situation, it could also mean, ‘hello,’ ‘good-bye,’ ‘I like you,’ ‘yolo,’ and a host of other things. It is all about the inflection with which one says ‘Pura Vida.’In this case, it meant something like, “hey, we’ve made it to Costa Rica, navigated a couple of crowded public buses, and are now in this taxi-that-is-not-a-real-taxi, mine as well enjoy the next few moments of our lives.”
Pura Vida, indeed.
Alejandro, a friend of a friend of Rhiannon’s starts speaking in rapid Spanish to the driver. From what I can understand, our ride to the legendary free hot springs in La Fortuna will be only one-thousand colones per person. Literally, a quarter of the price our hostel had quoted us.
I’m pretty sure this is just Alejandro’s friend. Rhiannon turns to me and Esther.
I decide to try to listen to the conversation. The taxi driver seems friendly. Everything seems to be going smoothly, in spite of the car’s dingy demeanor. That is, until I hear:
“Hay un pequeño problema.” Now, my Spanish isn´t amazing, but even I understand what that phrase means. There is a problem.
Instantly, every single Fox News report I have ever seen about missing persons starts running through my head. Is this man with the cartel? Is Rhiannon´s friend´s friend actually just a clever ruse to kidnap us and hold us hostage?
Alejandro turns around, ¨There has been an accident.¨He informs us in perfect English, ¨And we will take a different way.¨ He then continues to speak with the driver.
Rhiannon, Esther and I glance at one another. Of the three, I know the most Spanish, and I can barely understand what they are saying.
I try to listen more closely.
Our small car hurtles through the darkness on the winding dirt roads of La Fortuna. Alejandro and the driver continue to talk. Rhiannon and Esther chat, but I am focused on trying to decipher the conversation up front. Familia? Is he actually talking about his family, or is he talking about the cartel?
I mentally remind myself to stop being so ridiculous. The cartel probably doesn’t even exist in Costa Rica.
After about twenty minutes, we arrive at the free La Fortuna Hot Springs. For once, I am free from my cell phone. I have only the clothes on my back, and a small black change purse in Rhiannon’s bag.
We clamor out of the small vehicle, and make our way towards the hot springs. The spot seemed popular: there were loads of cars lined up in front of the trail head.
Pitch black. The rocky trail in front of us was nearly invisible. Alejandro, our knowledgeable and wonderful guide, put his head lamp on. Ah. Light. So much better. We slowly navigate our way to the springs, crossing a man-made slab of pavement. Warm water rolls over our toes.
We make it to the other side, and saunter into the natural pools of hot water. Our bodies are enveloped in a natural bath. We sit next to the miniature cascades of water, and feel our backs pummeled with the warm water.
I silently pray to God that snapping turtles are nowhere close by. I´m not about that nine-toed life. Something slimy touches my leg.
¨Wahhhh!¨I yell, thinking that it must be either a snapping turtle, or one of the twenty-three types of deadly vipers inhabiting the Costa Rican Rainforest.
Alejandro shines a light toward me, revealing a small, slimy brown leaf.
‘Heh,’ I grin sheepishly, reminding myself to stop being so silly. The odds of a snapping turtle biting my toe are probably lower than being in a car accident. I haven´t even seen a single deadly viper. Do they even like to swim? I make a silent note to google that once I have my phone back.
Finally, I relax into the water and chat with Rhiannon, Esther and Alejandro. The moon shines through the jungles’ canopy and stars glitter above us. Locals come down to the natural springs and light candles close by. Soon, I am relaxed, and enjoying Nature´s original Jacuzzi; tranquilly settling into the belief that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.