Episode 154 – Pura Vida!

January 2, 2022 87°F/31°C


Puntarenas, an amalgamation of “Punta” and “Arenas”, translates as “sandy point”, and our first sighting of the beautiful sandy beach surrounding the point was from our docking spot – which was also apparently the meeting and fishing spot for dozens of pelicans and frigate birds.

The town has been a free port since 1845, and has long been an important location for the export of the wonderful Costa Rican coffee we so often enjoy back home in Canada.

When we visited Puntarenas in 2019, neither of us took the included tour. Ted went for a walk in the rainforest “clouds” on a less than totally successful quest to photograph hummingbirds and butterflies, and I took in an Andalusian horse show and had a harrying, if somewhat hilarious in hindsight, bus ride. (Episode 50 – Horsing Around in Costa Rica; It Wasn’t Funny

This time we’re going on the included sightseeing tour to Esparza, a town about 1/2 an hour from the port, founded in 1574 by the Spanish.

En route, our FABULOUS tour guide, Allan, got us all in an upbeat mood by explaining Costa Rica’s motto, “Pura Vida”, which translates literally as “pure life”, but is a multi-use expression of “happiness, optimism, and living life to the fullest”. He suggested several examples of how to use the expression in everyday life: How was your day at the beach? Pura vida! How is your cruise experience? Pura vida! How would you rate your marriage of almost 44 years? (The answer had better be “pura vida!”)

He was an absolute fount of information, most especially about Costa Rica’s agricultural crops.

We learned that bananas are not trees, but herbaceous monocots (like palms) whose fruits are actually the ovaries of the female flowers! They have also far surpassed coffee as Costa Rica’s largest export.

We learned about coffee farmers “renting” bee colonies to pollinate their plants, and that the profusion of white coffee blossoms is the only kind of “snow” seen in Costa Rica. While regaling us with trivia about Costa Rica’s famous arabica coffee, he also mentioned that it is less expensive to ship unroasted coffee beans to Germany to process for decaffeinating than to send them to Canada for the same process (and that dark roasts have LESS caffeine than more lightly roasted beans).

We learned that pineapple are compound fruits, whose clustered flowers are purple and tubular – perfect for attracting the hummingbirds that pollinate them.

We learned in mouthwatering detail about the flavours of soursop (especially in ice cream), guava, and his mother’s famous recipe for hearts of palm lasagna.

Lest you think it was all about the food, he did also talk about Costa Rica’s 97% literacy rate, of which they are justifiably proud, and their tech industries – microchip production is now second only to bananas in economic importance.

On arrival in Esparza, we parked in front of the historic Catholic church, which is undergoing major restoration. It’s Sunday – if I had realized the church would only be open during morning mass, I might have chosen an earlier tour. Unfortunately, I could only stretch and peek in the side entrance to get a glimpse of what looked like a particularly gorgeous sanctuary.

Our destination event was a wonderful outdoor performance by a local youth dance group dressed in traditional costumes. There is something particularly enchanting about watching a younger generation so interested in carrying on centuries-old traditions. The dances they performed told the stories of female coffee workers, and of formal courtship rituals carried out in parks much like the one in which we watched them.

Although the colours of each region’s traditional costumes are different, today’s skirts mirrored the colours of the Costa Rican flag. Although Wikipedia says the blue is for the sky, our Costa Rican guide said the 2 blue stripes represent the two oceans that border the country, red is for the heart of the people as well as a tribute to their sacrifice, and white stands for peace. The swirling skirts certainly were gorgeous to watch.

After returning to the ship, greeted by a brass band, and changing out of our more casual touring clothes, we headed for dinner, which was an absolute stunner. We were able to snag a table at The Chef’s Table for their new “Sweet and Salty” tasting menu – maybe our favourite to date. The concept of the menu was to highlight the first two of the 5 tastes that the human tongue registers: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami.

The amuse bouche hit all of the taste notes: a watermelon and tomato gazpacho that managed to combine and yet feature sweet watermelon, salty feta cheese, spicy chili, cool cucumber, and tangy tomato – outstanding! The wine pairing was a Portuguese Quinta da Aveleda vinho verde from Lima.
The first course of sweet seared scallops with sour passionfruit puree was also delicious, although I could have done without the umami notes of the beetroot. The wine was an Italian Fontanafreddi Gavi di Gavi from Piedmont.
Our palate cleanser was an absolute knockout! Imagine prosciutto-wrapped melon transformed into a granita, and you’re almost there. The cantaloupe ice was topped with melon foam and a crisp wafer of prosciutto. Really unique and delicious.
For our main course, we were served umami-rich orange juice marinaded veal tenderloin over slightly sweet pumpkin puree, accompanied by a quenelle of sweet red onion marmalade, a salty veal demiglace, and tangy cubes of mustard gelée. The perfect wine pairing was a Tarapaca Red Blend from the Maipo Valley in Chile.
After that awakening of all our taste buds, the finishing touch was a Grand Marnier bavaroise topped with kataifi (a spun baklava-like pastry), atop a pistachio macaron, accompanied by a basil jelly and strawberry sauce and finished with Hawaiian black lava salt. The glass of Piedmont Moscato d’Asti was really gilding the lily.

Tonight’s entertainment: The ABBA Songbook, presented by the Viking Band and resident vocalists.



  1. Rose, Rose, Rose…
    You are exhausting me!!!!!! And I am getting fat just osmosing your accounts of amazing foods, menus, and amuse-bouches! Are there any shopping trips included at your ports of call? I am sure you are going to need some new clothes if this eating keeps up!

    Oh, such fun… I am so happy you are enjoying that “pura vida”!


    • No shopping !!! Honestly, the portions are so perfect that it’s the alcohol weight gain that will be the bigger worry – Bloody Marys for breakfast!! (Not that I want less than glassy seas, but a “fasting” sea day counteracts some of the excesses too)
      Missing our Sunday chats – will try to remember what day of the week it is and call you!


  2. Rose, Thank you for taking me on the cruise vicariously. I hope you are continuing on to London. We had booked the cruise, boarding in LA, but cancelled when NZ and Australia were out of the itinerary. But by following your blog with your wonderful descriptions and photos of the sights and mouth watering reviews of the meals.I am able to see and “taste”what I’m missing.


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