Things were hazy when I woke up on a couch Monday morning at 5 a.m. The mother of Johnny's new bride was shaking me. I flew out at 6. My cab was supposed to arrive an hour earlier. "Don't you have to go?!" she asked.
My action-packed journey- from the goodbye in Hawaii, to a brief stop back in Washington, to nine days in beautiful Costa Rica, to a wedding weekend in Minneapolis- had just come to a crash landing. The "Sunday Brunch" after the wedding had turned into a Polish drinking festival lasting late into the night. Our new friends from Poland took their vodka seriously and wanted to see if a few American boys could hang with them. We proved ourselves worthy. I missed my flight.
In the end, I made it back to Washington just fine. When I stepped out of my parents' car and looked up at Mount Si, it hit me that I was finally home.
In Costa Rica, pura vida
is the motto and my good friend Andrew Engel and I experienced it firsthand. On any trip, there are plenty of defining experiences that you will remember forever. Still, the heart and soul of these adventures can be found in the more subtle things- the jokes, the conversations, the music you listen to along the way. These things aren't always easy to put into words. We did some amazing things in Costa Rica like scuba diving, ziplining, and exploring remote beaches. But one of my favorite memories from this trip happened one evening when we were sitting on the porch of our bungalow drinking beers and listening to my iPod on shuffle. An old Dashboard Confessional song from back in high school came on. At first I was embarrassed, but then I realized that I still knew every single lyric. We played the rest of the album, laughing at every song. The sappy, heartbreak-laden lyrics became a humorous soundtrack for the rest of our journey. This trip was so special because we laughed a lot. I kept a running journal of other highlights from the trip. Read it below if you have the time.
Tuesday Morning, July 8
"Donde estan los monos?"
I slept like an absolute rock last night. Had we not set an alarm, I could have very easily snoozed all the way through my first full day in Costa Rica.
Andrew and I rendezvoused at the Miami airport around 5 a.m. EST. My time zone is pretty messed up right now. We slept a couple couple hours on the floor of the terminal and then flew to Costa Rica. Our rental car is a yellow Fiat- The Yellow Fellow. We got a little lost trying to find the highway to Manuel Antonio due to lack of a map and GPS, but we made it.
It was a 3-4 hour drive to M.A., but the scenery was beautiful. There's a speed limit, but the drivers are very aggressive. Imagine the Coconut Grove level in Mario Cart. About 1.5 hours from our destination, we stopped at our first "Soda," and despite a language barrier, we were able to eat our first Costa Rican plate. It was delicious- a fresh salad loaded with diced veggies and cilantro, deep fried plantains, rice and beans, and tender carne asada.
It took a while to find the hotel. Manuel Antonio is packed with little hotels that overlook the ocean. We finally made it. Hotel Verde Mar is right on the beach and the lady working the desk was very friendly. We dropped our stuff in our room, cleaned up, and headed down the beach to a restaurant to drink our first Imperials. Then we bought some food in a small shop.
Today we plan to hike around Manuel Antonio's jungles and then watch the World Cup. Kind of like my summer life in Hawaii, just with some Latin flavor added. And hopefully some monkeys. I really want to see some monkeys.
The "Yellow Fellow"
Tuesday Night, July 8
"We found them"
I'll skip the suspense and just tell you now that we saw monkeys. Howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and white-faced monkeys. It was awesome. But more importantly, what happened to Brazil? They got absolutely demolished by Germany. Originally I wanted to be in Brazil for the World Cup, but I'm not sure it would be the safest place right now.
Today we woke up early and walked down the road to Manuel Antonio National Park. We avoided all the tour guides offering their services, bought tickets to get in, and hiked the wide trail to Punta Catedral. Almost immediately we spotted a herd of white-faced monkeys making their way through the canopy. Honestly, if nothing else happened on this trip, I would still be good to go.
But the rest of the day was pretty awesome as well. We hiked the Punta Catedral loop, which took us deep into the jungle and to a beautiful beach that we swam in for at least 45 minutes. It was hot. The humidity here really hits you. We did some more hiking with lots of stairs, sweat, beautiful views, and more monkeys. As I expected, the coastline is pristine and lush with vegetation.
We returned to our ice cold hotel room, cooled off, and headed to the beachside restaurant to watch the World Cup game. After eating a delicious fish casado, it became clear that the TV would not be showing the game. It turns out the local channels were instead broadcasting the welcoming parade for the returning Costa Rican team. So we quickly scampered to a larger bar that was showing both the parade and the game. At that point it was already 1-0...and before I even got my first Imperial the game was basically over. Most people at the bar were cheering not for the game but for each Tico player the TV showed getting off the plane. A lot of pride for "El Sele" here.
It finally started raining tonight. We'll see if it keeps up. Tomorrow we're headed north up the coast towards Tamarindo. Lots of driving...hope it goes smoothly!
Jungle-izing through Manuel Antonio National Park
Wednesday Night, July 9
Timing worked out perfectly today as we journeyed up the coast from Manuel Antonio to Montezuma. The trek included a spectacular drive and a ferry boat ride into what looks like a pretty remote part of the country. We hit the road by 7:30 a.m., only stopping for gas and to look down this river at a bunch of crocodiles. We reached Puntarena with time to spare before the 11:00 ferry departed across the Gulf of Nicoya to Tambor.
The ferry ride was awesome. It was a lot like the ones in Puget Sound, and we killed time drinking some Imperials and viewing the scenery. Our destination reminded me a little of the San Juans if you replaced the coniferous forests with a lush jungle. As we looked down the coastline, there weren't nearly as many houses and hotels as Manuel Antonio.
After departing the ferry, we drove about another hour. I'm not going to lie- the prospect of driving these crazy roads isn't my favorite, but today I had fun driving. The country road winded up and down through rainforest and countryside. About five miles outside of Montezuma, it turned into gravel. It was definitely an adventure navigating the tiny yellow Fiat around potholes. We finally drove through Montezuma, a tiny jungle town wedged between green mountains and a rocky sea. We stopped at a small restaurant just in time to catch the Argentina-Holland game. As outrageous as yesterday's game was, this one was equally as mundane. Even the shootout lacked drama. I'm hoping the final on Saturday is more memorable.
We're staying at Hotel Amor de Mar, another great find right on the ocean. I didn't expect to be staying in air conditioned rooms with my own bed on this trip, but I'll take it. We hit up a beach nearby, walked through the one-street town, and then went back to the hotel. The evening light was pretty stunning- a building storm out at sea shaded the sunset in a thick orange. We sat out on the hotel lawn on hammocks and were treated to a show of flashing lights. Lightning shot off in the distance, waves caught the glimmer of the moon, and even fireflies joined in.
I've enjoyed being able to reminisce with my buddy Andrew about all our experiences in our year abroad in Florence. Now we'll be able to add these new experiences to the mix. Tomorrow we're going to hike Montezuma Falls. I'm hoping to add toucan to my growing list of wildlife spotted on this trip.
Thursday Night, July 10
Today was packed with tons of adventures that included a hike to a waterfall and a five hour beach walk excursion. We decided to stay in Montezuma another night because we like it so much.
This morning we hit the trail bright and early for Montezuma Falls (Cascada Montezuma). It was an easy 20 minutes upstream to a pretty cool waterfall. There was a rock face parallel to the falls that led up to more pools and trails, but I gave up climbing about 70 feet up. It was a little too dicey and the descent wasn't going to be easy. I guess I'll never know what lies beyond that waterfall.
We got back and learned that our planned route to Tamarindo along the coast required a nine our trek up a gravel road. The Fiat couldn't handle it. We checked out of Hotel Mar Del Amor and walked down the street to Hotel Los Mangos. They had cheap bungalows available, so we snagged one and dropped our luggage off. Then we walked through town to our next hiking trail. Our destination this time: Chorro Falls, a waterfall that cascaded down a sea cliff into the ocean below. First we'd have to walk for two hours through remote beaches and jungle.
The whole hike, though hot and draining, was breathtaking. IT seemed we were the only ones for miles along these untouched beaches that were lined with palms and thick rainforest. The tragedy, though, was that these beaches were loaded with trash that had washed up from the open sea. Shoes, cartons, containers, etc. Thousands upon thousands of plastic bottles. I feel awful for every single bottled water I've ever purchased and failed to recycle. The whole time during this hike, half of me was taken aback by the world's beauty, and the other half was wondering what the hell we were doing to it.
After what seemed like endless walking through sand and driftwood (and rubbish), we saw Choro Falls gently pouring down into an untamed beach surrounded by cliffs. We had to take a side trail that led us into a beautiful forest where we spotted a Cotimundi, a cousin of the raccoon that looked like a cross between a cat and a monkey. We finally reached the pool above the falls, which was low and stagnant. That was a big disappointment since both of us were tying to bathe in some cool, fresh water. All was well, however, because we sat alongside the waterfall overlooking the ocean and enjoyed some stale tortilla chips and a juicy mango. It's funny- some of the best meals I've ever had aren't even meals: some bread and salami under the stars in Cinqueterre, a turkey sandwich out at Ka'ena Point during sunset, and now a mango and chips on a sea cliff in Costa Rica.
Despite aching feet and a depleted supply of water, we made it back to town with a couple dips in the ocean along the way. We immediately hit up the mini-market and reloaded on water, beer, fruit, and snacks. After that we headed back to Hotel Los Mangos and enjoyed a couple Imperials out on our porch. The bungalows are situated under a huge forest of mango trees, so we had a good time watching monkeys climb through the branches in search of fruit.
It's pretty balmy tonight, and once again there's periodic lightning flashing off the coast. I kind of hope it will roll in so we can sit on this deck and enjoy a thunder storm. Tomorrow the road trip continues as we head back down and around to Tamarindo.
A beautiful meal atop the sea cliffs of Chorro Falls
Friday Night, July 11
"A Rainbow Sunset"
Sometimes you have to travel a little off the beaten path to find what's best. Tamarindo Beach isn't too bad, but the town's pretty busy and it's not what I had pictured. However, all it took was an afternoon stroll to a nearby secluded beach, and now I love the town.
We woke up around 5 a.m. this morning to the sound of howler monkeys in the distance. I tried to doze off for another hour but the eerie noises combined with the long drive ahead made it tough. So we hit the road by 6:45. This drive wasn't as fun as the last one- we spent a lot of it winding up and down hills on a bumpy gravel road. The scenery was spectacular, but I was too scared of getting a flat to enjoy it. I still can't believe the little Fiat, with its narrow tires and lack of power, was able to survive all the offroading we had to do. We made it to Tamarindo by eleven and found another cheap hotel right across the street from the beach.
We walked through the busy town and then I hit a wall. The driving, coupled with some remaining jetlag, really took it out of me. I took a one hour nap- short by my standards- and then Andrew and I made our way to Playa Langosta, a beach outside of town. We wove through some nice neighborhoods, took some side streets, and ended up on an empty beach. Large rocks formed several small coves and we swam for a long time. We decided to grab some beers from a nearby shop and then headed back to catch the sunset. We were told that the sunsets here are amazing and we were not disappointed. There were no clouds on the horizon to block it, so we watched the sun descend like a big orange ball. The afterglow was something I had never seen before- bright blue sky returned and was joined by shades of purple, orange, and pink. It was such a wide spectrum of colors that I decided to rank it in my top three sunsets of all time. I'm hoping it's equally spectacular tomorrow evening.
On the way back, Andrew signed up for a scuba diving trip. The guide was from Milan and it was fun to speak some Italian with him. He offered for me to join tomorrow for the refresher course and I couldn't say no. So tomorrow I'll get some training, and Sunday we'll do a dive. I hadn't planned on this, but it should be a great adventure.
A breathtaking Tamarindo sunset
Sunday Night, July 13
"Life Down Under"
This weekend was centered around SCUBA, so Saturday morning we headed to a small pool with our Italian instructor Claudio. I learned all the basics in about two hours. Then Andrew and I headed back to Playa Langosta, this time armed with a makeshift cooler of ice and Costa Rican beers. We spent the entire afternoon through sunset at that same beach.
We came back and did our own little "Pub Crawl" through Tamarindo but we stayed within reason because we had our dive the next morning. Unfortunately, the A/C unit wasn't working, and we struggled to sleep in the sauna that was our hotel room. The next morning, I tried to restore my energy with a cold shower. We headed to the meeting point for the dive, about a quarter mile down Playa Tamarindo. Claudio was there, but as we boarded the dingy that took us out to the diveboat, he stayed ashore. Our instructor wouldn't be with us on the dive. Instead, we were led by Claudio's son Tomasso and Luca, yet another Italian from Lake Como. I was the only one of the four divers who had never been on a dive, and it looked like it was going to be one of those situations where you have to act as if. No one was going to hold my hand through this one.
As the boat took us to our first location, I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be. I've spent so much time in the water, plus it was nothing compared to the plane ride up to skydiving back in Oahu last month. We put on all our gear and I strapped my GoPro around my wrist. The scariest part, honestly, was falling backwards off the boat into the ocean with the tank, fins, BC, and all. I was worried I would somehow mess that up. But the boat started drifting from our drop line, so we couldn't wait any longer. Off I went, with regulator in mouth and mask secured. I surfaced with everything still attached, inflated the BC a little more, and backwards kicked to the buoy just like we had practiced in the tiny pool the day before. Then we began our descent. It was way easier to control buoyancy in the open ocean, and equalizing my ears was simple. We only went about 40 feet down, so there wasn't much reason to panic. I will always love free diving because of the freedom and the challenge- it's almost spiritual- but there's nothing like SCUBA. I felt so much peace down there. Huge schools of fish swam right around me and I had plenty of time to explore even the tiniest cracks and nooks in the reef. We circled one of the two islands of our dive site, which was aptly named "Las Tetas." The current was strong in parts, which added to the thrill. We saw tons of fish but nothing too spectacular. That first-dive experience, however, was beyond extraordinary.
We surfaced after about thirty minutes, returned to the boat, and enjoyed some water and a snack as we made our way to the next dive site. This one was called Roca Peligrosa, and it was indeed dangerous due to the strong current. It was so bad that Luca and Tomasso asked us if we wanted to go to another safer site instead. I spoke up and said a little current didn't bother me. The water was way clearer here and I wanted to give it a go.
So in we went again, and this time the current swept us like a fast moving river towards the drop buoy. I steered myself with my fins and caught the rope just in time. Had I missed it, I don't know what would have happened. I might still be drifting. For the next couple minutes I played tug of war with the strong current, pulling myself below the surface as quickly as I could. At about 15 feet, things calmed down and we began circling the small island. It was much clearer this time around and I saw plenty of wildlife including a huge moray eel and a honu in the distance. Once, as I was grabbing a rock to look at an eel, a small fish came up and nibbled on my hand.
Everyone survived the dive and we cruised back to Tamarindo. We capped the day with the World Cup Final, which was pretty boring until that late goal in extra time. I'm just very thankful it didn't go to a shootout. Germany definitely deserved this one. Tomorrow we're off to our last lag of this trip, the cloud forests of Monteverde. It's tough to believe that it's almost over, but this has been an incredible journey.
Refueling between dives
Monday Night, July 14
"The Cloud Forest"
It's Monday night in Monteverde, and for the first time since I can remember, I'm cold. Monteverde is a small town located inland, with an elevation of around 4,000 feet. It's a way different climate than where we've been so far.
We took our time getting up this morning and grabbed a nice "desayuno" from our favorite soda nearby. It was our third meal there. It was smooth sailing for the first half of the drive, but then we took a turn towards Monteverde and suddenly we were on a rough gravel road for the next 24 miles. It wound up and down huge jungle hills, but I was too busy dodging rocks and potholes to take in the scenery. This went on for over an hour- it really sucked. By the time we rolled into Monteverde, I was ready to get out of the "Yellow Fellow" for good. I'm impressed that the little Fiat has held up through all the bumps. One more day of driving and we will have made it safely.
Based on a recommendation I received in Tamarindo, we went straight to the Monteverde Hostel and Lodge, nestled right up against a mountain outside of town. We snagged one of the cabins, which has a cool loft that holds one of the beds. I called it for the first night...I like the low roof and the sound the rain makes. It reminds me of our room growing up.
The host of this place, Sergio, is also a self-proclaimed researcher of biodiversity in Costa Rica. He told us a couple sloths live in the trees right next to our cabin, which is great since I really want to see one. We signed up for a night hike run through the hostel. It took off from the common area a little after 6 p.m. Sergio was our guide. We basically spent three hours walking around the woods above the hostel shining our flashlights at various trees. We went long periods of time without seeing anything. I actually felt kind of bad for the tour guide. By about hour two my flashlights were running out and my hands were actually getting cold. I didn't think that would happen on this trip. When all was said and done roughly three hours later, we had seen a couple porcupines, some owls, a few frogs, and two huge tarantulas. But no sloths, until- go figure- we spotted one in the tree near our cabin upon returning to the hostel. I'm really hoping we'll see it again in the daylight. They're such bizarre, fascinating creatures.
Tomorrow we go ziplining in the actual Monteverde park. I hope it's more fun than my last ziplining experience, which was more boring than an episode of Downton Abby. That show is the worst.
Tuesday Night, July 15
"The Grand Finale"
The final full day of our trip came to a close with a thick orange Monteverde sky. The clouds, swelling with rain, played music on the tin roof of our cabin. I'd say it was a fitting end to a great adventure.
Ziplining did not disappoint. If anything, it shattered expectations and emerged as a highlight of the trip. We hopped on the shuttle at 10:25 a.m. sharp and made our way through winding gravel roads to Selvatura Adventure Park. This place was located deep in the forest, and what a forest it was! One of the thickest, greenest forests I've ever seen.
We paid for ziplining and then got fitted into our harnesses. They let me bring my GoPro along and even mounted it on the helmet for me. After a short hike to the first platform and a brief tutorial, we climbed the stairs. We were pretty high up, but again, after the anxiety of skydiving, everything else seems a little easier.
Each ride was absolutely surreal. I think there were about 15 total. We flew high above the canopy, often disappearing into the thick clouds. When that happened, all you could see was white mist until the platform suddenly appeared in front of you. My favorite was the third line, which was about 800 meters long. About midway into the run, you shot through a hole of foliage in the canopy and then disappeared into the fog.
The second to last run was called the "Tarzan Swing," and for this one, they hooked you to a rope swing and then dropped you about 50 feet. It was awesome. We ended it with the longest run of the day- 1,000 meters. It was tandem, so Andrew and I flew down together. We picked up speed and then vanished into a huge cloud. When we finally emerged, there was the platform. Our ziplining adventure had come to an end, and there were nothing but smiles all around.
I'm wrapping up today with a couple Imperials and watching scratchy coverage of the All-Star Game on the TV in the main lodge of the hostel. The rain is still coming down in strong bursts and the night is alive with noises of crickets and frogs. Earlier today, a friendly couple from Sammamish asked what the highlight of my trip has been. It was tough to give a definitive answer. We've done so much- exploring the jungles of Manuel Antonio, trekking up remote beaches in Montezuma, scuba diving in Tamarindo, and flying above the rainforest canopy in Monteverde.
Really, this trip was exactly what I needed. It's the perfect transition between six years in Hawaii and my new life in the Pacific Northwest. I've been able to step back, reflect, and put things in perspective. My main takeaway: Life is good. I am so, so fortunate for all these adventures and opportunities, and the people I've gotten to share them with. Pura Vida indeed.
The final run in our zipline adventure: 1,000 meters through a thick cloud above the canopy.