FREQUENTLY tours in Costa Ricaentail luxury buses, prepackaged stops andbreathtaking scenery. During these tours,however, the places where Costa Ricanslive and work are often skimmed over.Luis Diego Araya has broken with thisparadigm.“I want (tourists) to see the spirit andheart of Costa Rica,” the bilingual guidesaid. “I want people to see how real CostaRicans live.”His new tour, the Real Town Tour, doesjust that. The hour-and-45-minute tourtakes visitors into the heart of peacefully etgritty Barrio Luján, a venerable neighborhoodwalking distance from downtownSan José.Araya takes visitors through the neighborhoodof his childhood. While newersuburbs have become bedroom communitieswhere neighborly interaction is minimal,Barrio Luján has maintained theessence of Costa Rican culture.“These people aren’t millionaires, butthey’re the heart and soul of this country,”Araya said.THE community’s strong bonds arepalpable. The tour stops first at the localelementary school, where participants visita classroom and play soccer with theschoolchildren. The tour continues withtours of a cookie factory, various smallworkshops and stores.Participants also tour one of the CostaRica’s oldest houses, a wood-and-adobestructure that dates back more than 125years. The house isn’t a museum; it’s aworking home, were the kids are watchingtelevision and beans sit simmering on thestove. The result is a highly personal experience.“I want you to feelwhat it’s like to be a CostaRican, to experience differentthings,” Arayaadded.Later, at the tire-repairshop, the old owner, whohas worked in the sameshop for 45 years, sharedsome flattering wordswith the young ladies ofthe tour.“It’s not to offend oranything, but piropos(catcalls) are part of theculture,” the tour guidecommented. “I’m justoffering a glimpse intowho and what we (Costa Ricans) are.”AT the pulpería (small general store),the Peruvian clerk sings a sweet melodyabout her homeland before launching intoa speech about the benefits of Christianity.“Again, we’re not trying to convertanybody here. It’s just another aspect ofour culture. We’re sharinga way of life,” Arayacontinued.At the fruit stand,Doña María instructsvisitors on the varioustypes of fruits producedin Costa Rica. She happilysings and shows offher wares while visitorstry several differentfruits: a true taste of theculture.Rounding out thetour are quick visits to acantina, restaurant, and ablacksmith.THIS is not a criticallook at Costa Rican culture – there is noprofound history or biology lesson.Instead, participants are privy to an honestglimpse into the traditional way of life thatmillions of Costa Rican live daily, a look atlife through a Tico’s eyes.“This is a very intimate tour, moreabout people than anything else. Sharingfruit with Doña María was a great experience,”said American tour participantMichael Sturgeon.Another participant, Loren Sawyer,mentioned “I’d like to have stayed about10 minutes in each place, but I’ll be backto visit.”Getting to know his neighborhood is“the main objective of this tour,” Arayasaid. “Our guests see how we live andleave with all these doors open to them forwhenever they choose to return.”TOURS depart daily from DinoSandwich in Barrio Luján (with a minimumof 5 persons). The cost is $6 for thetour, $8 with lunch included.To experience the Real Town Tour, call221-5443 or 396-3033, or e-mail email@example.com.