With permission from Nature Air’s magazine, Nature Landings, here’s my latest “Word on the Street” column from their Oct-Nov edition. The magazine is full of fascinating travel stories, cultural information and more, and I’m proud to be a contributor. Look for the column the next time you’re in the skies enjoying what truly is the most spectacular way to see Costa Rica.
Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula is one of the best places on Earth to watch wildlife, from scarlet macaws and howler monkeys overhead, to jaguars and tapirs in the depths of the jungle, to the teeming ocean life just offshore. However, while this region stands in a league of its own, animals can be found all over Costa Rica, even in the least picturesque city street corners – thanks to the prevalence of animal-inspired sayings.
In honor of Osa, let’s start in the wilds. Monkeys are high on most tourists’ priority lists, but if something está pa’l mono (or pa’l tigre), that’s not a good thing. “Fit for a monkey” refers to something that’s bad, like a meal, or a person who is very sick. On the other hand, if someone is described as mono or mona, it means nice.
Someone compared to a lora (parrot) talks too much, a garrapata (tick) is too clingy, and someone who anda como pizote solo is, like the coati, a bit of a loner.
That said, most of the animal sayings in Costa Rica come from more agricultural settings. A cabra/o is a girl or boyfriend; a gallina is, as in English, a cowardly chicken; someone who is muy gallo (rooster), however, is brave, which seems unfair given that the poor chicken has to squeeze out enormous eggs every day of her life.
Animals of the equine persuasion are unquestionably the top of the food chain when it comes to Costa Rican slang, with mules, donkeys and horses popping up everywhere. Anyone who has spent two minutes driving in San José has called someone, or been called, a caballo, which more or less means “reckless idiot”; the city would be so much safer if all the vehicles with caballos behind the wheel were replaced by actual horses.
Honestly, Costa Rica’s fauna-inspired lexicon is impossible to capture in just a few words.
Suffice it to say that, wherever you are traveling today, I wish you the gumption of a rooster, freedom from car-driving equines, the strength of a bull, and the joy of a naked pig. And when your path takes you home again, may you find the contentment of a zorro de leña – as happy a homebody as a fox in his woodpile, curled up for rest.