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A Week in Costa Rica
Scuba in Costa Rica
The thunderstorm was barely visible over the mountainous Cabo Santa Elena after our first late afternoon cocktail of rum and pina. A few short minutes later it had crossed 'Monkey Head' and barreled up the cliffs to our villa. Violent and brief - this is rainy season and this is Costa Rica!
In my opinion the best time to visit Costa Rica is the rainy season - running from May until November. Rainy season is known for bright hot days and very late afternoon thunderstorms. The moisture paints the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica a bright green. This green against the agate blue of the pacific with the distant rumble of the Arenal volcano mentally transfixes your brain to an earlier and more primitive Earth.
The next day I went scuba diving off of Monkey Head - a lava flow remnant in the Golfo de Papagayo. I don't know why scuba attracts beautiful women but our dive master, Isabella, was no exception to the rule. A brunette latina with a ready smile - she led our small group to the diesel smoking dive boat beached on a sand bar just off shore. On the journey over to the dive site she beckoned me to the front of the ship where she was bending over the bow and said, "Look over the side - porpoise!" A school of porpoise were guiding the ship through the water. At the dive site Bella squeezed her form into her tight fitting wet suit before helping me on with mine. "Come", she said - "I want to show you a fantastic site". Twenty meters below the surface, after I had equalized the pressure in my ears, I was face to face with a 25 foot black tip shark. He was just hovering near the bottom staring at me with his black pupil-less eyes - I signaled Bella with the scuba shark sign and she beckoned me towards her - giving the shark more leeway. The Pacific underwater world of Costa Rica is rocky from long extinct volcanic flows, sans coral, but with an abundance of sea life. Further around Monkey Head we spied an eagle ray with its spotted skin and devilish wing span cruising about 10 meters above us. Crossing its path was a very large sea turtle lumbering toward a distant kelp bed. In between were many fish both large and small. Before surfacing Bella guided us towards the tidal swell near Monkey Head - we stabilized our BCD's 30 meters down and 15 meters off the bottom as the swells propelled us back and forth at an almost uncomfortable velocity over the rocky terrain below - absolutely life altering! I would dive again with Bella later in the week.
Afterward I made my way back to the villa. The villa was a five bedroom open air house with meals being taken under the patio awning. A disappearing edge pool seamlessly melded with the Pacific beyond. The villa was perched on a 100 foot cliff with its closest neighbor a distant outcrop away. With the price of the villa came a chef and bartender for the week. Rosa would come early each morning to cook breakfast which included eggs, chili's, pancakes, sweat breads, and that delicious Costa Rican cafe con leche (coffee with warm milk). Lunch would be whatever Rosa chose to cook - meat, cheeses, fish in tortillas. Dinner would involve fish Veracruz style, beans and those ever present tortillas. And I forgot to mention a cooler of beer would arrive each morning and be placed right inside the front door. A small but fat scruffy dog became our house guest and would sleep in the open air family room - we would later learn his name was Gordo (fat in Spanish).
The small town located a few miles away was called Coco Beach. Rough around the edges and full of bars and open air merchants - I had lots of stares from the locals as they don't get many Norte Americanos here.
The Cattle Ranch
On a Wednesday I had an invite to a working cattle ranch 20 kilometers away. Located down a dirt road through a tropical dry forest with many brown fields punctuated with Guanacaste and Desnuda trees. My friend Paco managed the ranch and he greeted my small gathering with an open hug. Paco had earlier told me to dress in long jeans as we were going on an adventure. Paco said, 'Mi amigos ... we are going to round up some cattle and after we will go on a journey to a very special place.' Paco had his men saddle horses for our group - we had all ridden before - the air was scented with anticipation as this experience, we just knew, would be outstanding. The mounts were trained to herd cattle and with a short tug of the rein would move quickly from side to side right in front of a thousand pound cow. Paco took us to the fields and said - 'thirty cows are in among the Desnuda - we need to corral them over to the branding pens.' Fantastic! And with that we were off after our quarry - herding them towards Paco and his men. Now I must mention that part of our group were a few adventurous females who took to the herding better than the men. The horses knew what to do and with a little leading would stay in front of the cattle pushing them towards their destination.
A few hours later we were done and left the cattle with the roustabouts in the penning arena. We were ready for our treat. Paco led us, on horseback, through a dense jungle at the edge of the ranch. Along a narrow path, across streams and up a thousand feet of mountain. Howler monkeys were screaming from time to time above us in the canopy. We came upon a clearing to what looked like a platform with a wire attached - disappearing into the canopy. Paco related, 'Since you were here last we have added some zip lines for tourist income.' Are you kidding me! We were going to zip through the canopy! Paco gave quick instructions before he harnessed us to the wire, and an all important steel mesh leather glove. 'Use the glove to slow you on the wire. Antonio will go first and catch you at each successive platform - ten in all - if you are going too fast Antonio's eyes will widen to twice their size - if you see this slow down!' The zip lines were fast, hundreds of feet above the ground and skirting the tops of the jungle canopy. All sorts of birds could be seen flying below you - it was breathtaking.
The horses were waiting for us at the last zip platform, having been brought there by one of the hands. We ended up at a site overlooking the Arenal volcano over a vast unbroken jungle below - the Discovery Channel having been to this very site filming the week before. Paco had lunch of tortillas, beans and beer laid out for us.
Before those afternoon thunderstorms, we made our way back to the hacienda and all had a warm good bye for Paco - I told him I would be back later in the year and would see him then.
The rest of the week was filled with more adventure before we would leave from Costa Rica's Liberia airport. This airport was built by the US military, to supply the Contras, during their clandestine war with Nicaragua. It is now the largest airstrip in this part of Central America and an easy flight from the southern US.
Costa Ricans have a saying about our worldly existence that they call Pura Vida (pure life) - I will be coming back for some Pura Vida very soon.