By Vicki Barnes
Costa Rica is a beautiful country of bright colors and lively sounds, but there is another sense that is tantalized when walking through the streets here: the smells of this country bombard you with every step.
On the main roads, where the tourists travel, there are restaurants of every persuasion. The beans, onions, cilantro and plantains of the local fare mingle with the hamburgers on the grill at the place where you can get comidos rapido.
Fresh fish on the grill or frying chicken are common scents. Fruits of every variety are always being sliced at corner stands. The familiar scents of bread and tomato sauce are fairly common in the tourist areas as well.
Occasionally, in the larger cities, you’ll find the familiar charred meat smell near a Burger King, the oily potato smell of a McDonalds or the pseudo-authentic smell of chicken being prepared at Pollo Tropical.
Turn the corner off the main drag and the smells are different.
The mangoes are hanging heavy on the trees in most of the yards, not quite ready to ripen, but beginning to develop their heavy sweet smell. A common snack here is sliced green mango, squirted with a bit of sour orange or drizzled with chili sauce.
On the tree, the green fruits have only a hint of the syrupy heaviness that will envelop the air around them in a month, but they have a softer scent right now. Just a hint of things to come, like perfume, properly applied. It gets your attention without overpowering. It whispers for you to come back when the time is right.
Unfortunately, there is the refuse as well. Decaying in plastic bags in the tropical sun, sometimes pulled open and strewn about by the street dogs looking for a snack.
Garbage pick ups come randomly, rarely. Locals say that even if they pay the $5 to $10 a month charged by local utilities for garbage pick up, their refuse isn’t hauled to the landfill any more often than their neighbors who don’t pay. A truck comes once a week or once a month…there doesn’t seem to be a set schedule.
Despite myriad restaurants along tourist rows, most Costa Ricans still eat at home. The smells of the fresh ingredients is powerful. It doesn’t matter what is being prepared, the fresh fruits and vegetables add a dimension we often miss back in the states.
The smells – good and bad – are something we often miss out on at home when we go from our climate controlled homes to our climate controlled cars to our climate controlled places of businesses.
Taking time to smell the roses is good advice, but smell everything else as well.