I never am satisfied with the toned-down, manicured aesthetic of tourist attractions attempting to play the role of a sippy-cup lid to your glass of authentic foreign experience, filtering the chunks and making sure you don't swallow more than you can handle. I, along with many other I-am-not-a-tourist kinds of travelers, are in constant search for the "real" (insert travel destination here)-- going where the natives eat, getting around by public transportation, and keeping the lifestyle of the local population. We are not easily deceived by the overpriced trinkets, not easily amused by the planned tours, and not easily content with simply being comfortable. Travel becomes a challenge, a research investigation, a game. This propels our sense of urgency to go, go, go, get lost in a new land where no Lonely Planet guide book can get you out of. Get lost and get yourself out. All over the world. You will never be done. You can never beat the game. Finding the "real" for yourself is overwhelming, frightening and makes you feel alive. This just furthers the wanderlust. It's like a drug.
With that in mind, I find myself in my new territory searching for the "authentic" Costa Rica ("authenticity" being among a group of extremely sensitive anthropological jargon that cannot be written without quotations lest you go down in flames with "primitive" and "Third World Country"). This has been confusing and difficult; on one hand, all is Pura Vida, palm-roofed fruit stands on the side of the road, and beautifully decorated ox-driven carts delivering goods, and on the other hand I don't believe that's the "real" Costa Rica. The first time I visited CR in high school, I believed that the locals said pura vida just for the appearance of everything being great for the sake of the tourists' blissful, pampered experience (pura vida is literally the national motto meaning "pure life," and is also the response to any question about well-being, life status, or food quality. Ex: "How are you? Pura vida!" "Do you like the chicken? Pura vida!" Any bumper sticker, shirt, magnet, or little chachky from Costa Rica will undoubtedly have this phrase marked someone next to the country name). I thought it was a fake saying, a too-good-to-be-true smiley response that was created and enforced by the government when Costa Rica decided to up their tourism industry on the gringos. But I have found, Costa Rican to Costa Rican, no tourist in sight, people actually using this phrase normally. Everything really is pura vida. That brings me to the palapa fruit stands selling fresh mangos and strawberries with handwritten signs off the side of the jungle road... is this really where the locals shop too? The stands feel forced-- although not without charm-- like receiving a welcome leigh when you land in Hawaii. It is again, just too good to be true. But yet again, it is true. The company driver (and my personal buddy) took us to his favorite road-side fruit stand where he likes to buy his strawberries. He bought his items and pura vida'd on his way out. And then a few moments later, we saw a legit campesino leading his two white oxen pulling a marvelously painted 2-wheeled cart. Maybe the guy was even delivering fruit to the stand. I was too overwhelmed by the staged-ness of the whole scene involving all 3 elements I most doubt the legitimacy of, so I stayed in the car while my friend jumped out to snap a photo. Is there some magic Costa Rican tourist fairy that is following foreigners around and planning out these postcard scenes and moments? I guess I was wrong about the gimmicks. But I still don't fully believe it.