Adventure Starts Here: Costa Rica Pura Vida

Saturday, March 5, 2005

It's addicting. And it's time for anonother fix — traveling, exploring, learning, immersing, moving and experiencing. Waiting for the midnight shuttle to take me to LAX I run through the motions. Passport. Itinerary. Reference numbers for 4WD auto reservations. Jungle Juice (90% deet). And a host of clothing and accessories that will make my trip to the jungles, rainforests and beaches of Costa Rica pleasant.

“It's going to be hot,” many have quipped. “Don't forget to bring lots of sun screen,” others strongly suggested. “Costa Rica? Yuck, bugs and bugs and bugs.”

Adventure travel is not for everyone. Those who prefer the cocooned all inclusive resorts with every American amenity and the trappings of consumerism might be ill-equipped to take a journey to a land where one's command of the language may not be great and where reservations for accommodations are non-existent. In our case, we know where we'll be the last three nights of this nearly two-week odyssey: Osa Peninsula at the entrance of Parque Nacional Corcovado.

Taking a red-eye flight is another good “get the most out of your trip” strategy. We would land in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica at 7:30am. This means we could be on the road toward our destination — a decision we'd make by 9am — and ideally settle into accommodations by late afternoon.

The five-hour flight was non-eventful. We slept most of the way after downing a half-bottle of Opus One I'd had kicking around at home. I finally figured the strategy to getting a bottle of wine opened on an airplane. And do note that the United Airlines attendant who discovered my bottle on my flight to China last April assured me this was against the law and that they'd coulda turned the plane around and force me to deplane. This information didn't dissuade me from acting responsibly and impeccably prudent. The trick? Well, the half-bottle isn't a bad idea and my first experience. Second? Since corkscrews are not allowed on these flying tubes, pull the cork before leaving home. Replace the cork with a cap from a bottle of port or sherry. These contain cork material and sit flush with the top of the bottle. They're easy to pull off and fit snug and secure.

Costa Rica immigration and customs was a breeze and this is the first time I can remember that my bags were x rayed leaving the airport. Within 15 minutes we were shuttled to the Budget rental car counter where Alayna, a cute round-faced plump Tico asked us about insurance. “This is mandatory,” she explained the $11 per day liability insurance was required by Costa Rica law. I quickly declined the other insurance options and as she ran my credit card for a $750 deposit I recalled the Budget agent in Lisbon, Portugal who required a $15,000 deposit when I declined insurance there.

The roads in Costa Rica are challenging. Not to this driver, but to the vehicles who are pounded and abused by the unending potholes, bad asphalt and sharp rocky byways to just about anywhere. Of course, I didn't know this when Alayna explained that the car we'd rent was just returned and that they needed to check it over and wash it. Nearly an hour later I'm walking around the car with Carlos and a clipboard pointing out scratches, dents and other damage. Concerned for my $750 deposit I was careful to verify with Carlos each and every thing. And then it occurred to me well if someone buys the insurance why aren't all these nicks, dings and dents repaired. And if I were to lose my $750 deposit by contributing to the malaise that had infected this Toyota RAV4 would my money go to repair or simply the bottom line?

After a couple hours driving north toward Fortuna and Mt. Arenal, one of Costa Ricas most active volcanoes it was time to stop and have a beer. Thus the adventure started. Within a few hours we were rappelling down a waterfall where the largest drop as 150 feet. Having never suited up a mountain climbing harness, So when Eduardo opened a hatch on the suspension bridge the swung casually high above the pounding waterfall, I swallowed and my stomach let me know that my nerves were talking to me. I straddled the hole in the bridge, worked the rope and started my descent. A quick rush as I sped down the line short-term memory loss set in and I forgot how to slow down and break. Then BAM. I was back. As I hit the waterfall the soothing cool water washed the sweat away and in minutes I was totally comfortable in my harness and feeling like a master as I hoisted myself down a series of drops, often letting loose and jumping into several pools on the way down.

I had to remind myself I just landed in this country three hours ago. Nothing like forgetting about the time change and literally jumping right in. The rappel down the falls was exhilarating, but I was sure the climb up would be taxing. No worries our guide had a couple horses at the bottom of the falls. And after letting us swing on a long cable suspended from a branch high in one of the trees we started our 30-minute horseback ride back up the hill.

Welcome to Costa Rica. Pura Vida!

Sunday, March 6, 2005

The couple we met in downtown Fortuna said they tried five or six hotels up the road and everyone was sold out. Okay. So perhaps not having reservations can have its toll. Especially after a late morning adventure and driving winding and twisty roads to the rain forest that sits tranquilly in the shadows of Volcán Arenal.

But I'm an optimist. I'd read about the beautiful hot springs of Tábacon and was determined to get a room at the resort that bears that same name. The massive red and white gate blocked the entrance to the property and a short dark-skinned man with a fine trimmed haircut asked if we had reservations.

“Sorry. Sold out.” With a circular motion he demonstrated the dexterity of his finger while indicating the change of direction necessary for me to take. In my best Spanish I asked him for a recommendation for a hotel. After flustering ourselves in the conversation he pulled up the gate and suggested I talk to reception.

It didn't take long for the front desk clerk and me to convince each other that there might be a room available. And in a few moments I was signing check-in papers while the bellman grabbed our luggage from the RAV 4.

Ahhhh. Yes. Optimism and determination. Sure, it might not always work. But karma was on our side. While the room was gorgeous and offered a patio looking onto the rainforest grounds, perhaps the best seat in the place was on the toilet. Opening the dark wood shutters one could contemplate the natural wonder of the world or the amazing fact that Costa Rica is the only Central American and South American Country that has no army. That's right no armed forces.

Soon we were wading through the natural jungle landscape and basking in the natural heated water of Tabacon Hot Springs. Soothe those muscles after a day of adventure.

Photos: (1) Beautiful flowers in rainforest near Volcan Arenal; (2) Yours truly rappelling down the waterfall; (3) Volcan Arenal from Fortuna, Costa Rica; (4) Angelique wading through the hot springs at Tabacon.