Costa Rica Bound!
For our 2nd Wedding Anniversary, we decided to head back to Latin America to explore Costa Rica. My husband and I have slightly different views on how to plan a vacation. I still laugh at us a little when I remember the “fight” we had when discussing the trip. My plan is… well… I prefer not to have a plan. I fly by the seat of my pants 90% of the time. Occasionally it gets me into trouble, but most of the time I just end up with a good story and an amazing adventure.
My husband, on the other hand, likes to know where we’re going, how we’re getting there, how long we’re going to stay, what we’re going to do when we get there, and how much everything is going to cost. So you can imagine that our expectations about this 16 day vacation – in a completely different country – were vastly different. We compromised by agreeing to rent a car, book the first couple of nights at a hostel, then go from there.
Upon arriving at our first destination on the Caribbean coast, we quickly discovered that our “private room” at the Backpacker’s Hostel was nothing more than a moldy jail cell next to the public bathroom. Holding back the vomit, I demanded our money back and refused to spend one second in that place. Dirk was exhausted from our 6 hr drive, but I didn’t care. There was no way in HELL I was going to stay there. So we loaded up and went elsewhere. (I wish I had gotten a picture, but I didn’t stick around long enough to think about it). Fortunately, our vacation was during off-season for the country so everything was half the normal price.
By the way… OFF-season means RAINY-season. After 2 days of – literally – torrential downpour, we decided to skip town and drove across the country to the Pacific side. The rain had made the caribbean ocean a sea of mud with zero visibility, so we couldn’t even go snorkeling. At least on the Pacific side we could scuba and surf.
We decided to get our Advanced PADI Scuba Certification while we were there. We realized that we were spoiled with an excellent instructor the previous year in Honduras, because the instructor we had this time was more interested in collecting shells off the ocean floor than actually teaching us anything about scuba diving. For the sake of getting through the classes quickly, the instructor brought a few other beginners to our dives. This proved to be extremely dangerous and nearly life-threatening!
On one of our dives, Dirk and I were required to go down to 60 feet and perform an underwater test. 60 feet may not sound very deep, but if you know anything about scuba diving and the effects of nitrogen in your blood at that depth, you know that you’re not supposed to stay at 60 feet for very long. ESPECIALLY for novice divers such as ourselves. Well, one of the divers in our group was starting to get low on oxygen. So instead of bringing everyone to the surface together, like what SHOULD have happened, the instructor motioned at Dirk and I to stay on the floor while he surfaced with the other diver. Since we couldn’t verbally communicate with each other, Dirk and I had no idea what was going on, so we just stayed there and waited for our instructor to return………………
10 minutes later, Dirk and I are still alone at the ocean floor, with no instructor, no visible landmarks of where we were at, no way to signal to boats above, and Dirk was getting dangerously low on air. Panic started to set in when his oxygen level reached the red zone. We looked at each other with terror, then looked at my air monitor. I had just enough air for both of us to share, IF we began to surface immediately. I gave him my backup respirator, and we locked arms to begin our ascent.
There are very few moments in life when you truly fear that you might die. This was one of them. Looking at my husband in front of me and imagining that we were both going to drown in the ocean, away from home, all alone with no help in sight… it was all I could do to keep my breathing slow enough to not use up what little air we had left.
Hell Hath No Fury…
We hovered at our safety stop just long enough for my oxygen tank to reach the red zone, then we made our way to the surface where we saw our instructor floating near the boat 50 yards away. The instructor had the balls to reprimand us for not waiting on him, and I swear to God I almost slapped him in his jerk face. I may have cried a little bit when we got back on the boat. I was SO ready to be done and get away from this guy who seemed to be so careless with his students’ lives.
To make a long and terrifying story short, we finished our classes and received our Advanced Certification. But Dirk and I agreed that we would probably have to retake the class back in the states where we would have an instructor that would ACTUALLY teach us something, and not put us in harm’s way.
On To the Next Adventure
Well, being the adrenaline junkies that we are, the day we finished our Advanced Certification classes, I got the bright idea that we should go diving with Bull Sharks. I know what you’re thinking… “You just survived almost drowning, now you want to go back under with the most aggressive creature on earth?!”
Yes. Yep. Wait. I don’t know. I’m starting to rethink this. No. No way. What are we doing? Why did you let me sign up for this? YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO TALK ME OUT OF DEATH-DEFYING STUNTS!
Swimming With Sharks
But the next day we got on that boat, determined to follow through whether we liked it or not. Thankfully, our guide was a different dive instructor who was very attentive and made us feel safe (well, as safe as you can be when you’re freely swimming with 12 foot sharks that could easily kill us in one bite). I was near hyperventilation for the entire 2 hr boat ride out to our dive spot. Fear, excitement, hesitation, I went through every emotion while anxiously awaiting our shark dive. As we were chit chatting with the other 3 divers in our group, everyone was sharing how many dives they’ve been on. 49, 300, 560+, then they get to Dirk and I, “This is our 8th dive.”
The dive guide whipped around, looking at us with amazement. “What?! We don’t even take people on shark dives unless they’ve done at least 40+ descents!”
“Oh, oops. Too late now! We promise not to freak out!”
I can’t even begin to tell you how freaked out I was.
Into The Deep
We made our descent to the ocean floor, 45 feet down. Pretty shallow for sharks, but this was their feeding ground and they were known for going as shallow as 20 feet. We knelt on the sloped floor, facing the deep open abyss. We waited for about 5 minutes, then suddenly out of the blackness appeared a 10 foot Bull Shark swimming straight toward us. Our guide had assured us that they feed at night, and the mornings are usually their “resting” time.
Apparently they rest with their freakin’ mouths open and all of their razor sharp teeth exposed. Absolute, paralyzing, take-your-breath-away horror was soon replaced with calm amazement at these beautiful predators. We counted 6 sharks total, as they gracefully circled our pack for 35 minutes; never getting too close, but always within easy target distance. I wanted to stay longer, I would have stayed for 3 hours if I had enough oxygen. But it was time to go up.
We did 2 more dives that day, and saw another round of Bull Sharks, massive sting rays, spotted eagle rays, a giant school of tuna, moray eels, and a thousand different kinds of smaller fish. Floating above the massive rock formation and watching the ocean life glide past me, it felt like I was flying. In 2 days I experienced the most fear and the most excitement I have ever known. Well, except for my wedding day 😉
A Surfer’s Paradise
We wrapped up our scuba adventures with a few beers on the beach and headed out to our next destination: the world famous Witch’s Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo. The beach just outside of the school has perfect surf for beginners, while Ollie’s point and Witch’s Rock proper holds waves for those far more advanced than your humble narrator. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Robert August, star of the film The Endless Summer, sharing his love of all things surf with guests and locals alike. Our instructor was amazing, patient, and encouraging, and had us standing up and riding the waves in within our first class!
While in Tamarindo, we stayed at a beautiful Eco/Animal Rescue Ranch that we found on Air B-n-B. Our gracious hosts, Al and Jessa, bring in animals from all around the area and give them a happy and healthy home. Horses, rabbits, parrots and a whole pack of lovable dogs kept us company as we soaked in the view from our private patio hammocks, just outside of our Swedish inspired cabina.
Each morning the howling monkeys that live on the hillsides surrounding the estate sang us the blood-curdling song of their people while we sipped our delicious local coffee and watched the sea in the distance. Jessa informed us of a beach made entirely of broken sea shells, and we spent a day skin diving for shells and relaxing on one of the most colorful beaches we’ve ever been to. Dirk and I both felt at home on their ranch, and it broke our hearts to leave such a welcoming environment. But, adventure was on the horizon and we can’t sit still for long!
Flying Through The Trees Like Tarzan
After the hustle and bustle of Tamarindo, we were ready to head off into the quiet of the rainforest of Monteverde. A stunning town nestled into the mountains with a slow paced take on life, was just what we needed. We decided to hop on a swinging bridge eco tour through the rainforest, which ended with some of the most insane zip line runs we have ever encountered. Some of the zip lines careened over entire valleys, and we watched in horror as they clipped us in superman style, with our harnesses dangling us face down and sent us zooming off over the fog covered valleys below.
The terror turned into wide smiles and excited shouts, and we found ourselves running towards the next platform and the next thrill. The day ended with what was called a Tarzan Swing. This consisted of walking out onto a catwalk hanging over a valley, clipping your harness in, then jumping off said catwalk and free falling towards the valley floor; only to be whisked out and up then back again. Hence, the name. I don’t think my scream sounded anything like Tarzan, and Dirk’s legs wouldn’t stop trying to run in place the entire time he was swinging!
The next day, we found a company that took us repelling down waterfalls. We didn’t know this even existed, but it turned into one of the most monumental memories from the entire trip. The first descents were shorter distances, just enough for us to get the hang of repelling with all the pressure of the waterfall hitting our chests and heads. After a few trial and error instances, and Dirk accidentally slipping and doing the splits halfway down our second waterfall, we got the hang of it and moved on towards the 140 foot falls.
As we worked down the creek towards this terrifying decision, the infamous rains of the Green Season graced us with her presence. The water started to rise, and we could see that our guide was starting to get worried. He finally turned towards us and explained that we all needed to hurry or we would have to climb out of the steep cliffs that shot up on either side of us. With our only options being climb out or repel down an ever growing waterfall, we clipped in our harnesses and set to bounding our way down the slick rocks and white water.
As we reached the trail head, we turned to view the monster that we had just escaped from. The rains had swollen the falls to almost double it’s volume from when we had first hiked down into the canyon. We looked at each other in awe of what we had just accomplished, then laughed like hell and started our waterlogged hike back to civilization. It was almost time to go home.
A Love for Latin America
At the end of the trip, we left Costa Rica with a love for their culture and a deep respect for Latin America as a whole. We can’t wait for our next chance to explore and learn more about this amazing area that has given us so many splendid memories. Pura Vida!