Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Me Encanta Costa Rica!

If I knew I’d love Costa Rica so much I’d have gone there a long time ago.  I discovered that I’m a bit of a passive thrill seeker.  No bungee jumping or skydiving, but I did partake in a number of other equally exciting activities!  I decided that I wasn’t going to let fear of the unknown get the best of me and let my fear of heights or pure adrenaline pumping activities keep me down.  Adventure, here I come!
The first day we hiked down, down, down and down some more to the base of a beautiful waterfall.  I went swimming in the water around the base of the waterfall, unable to actually swim under it because the force of the waterfall pushed you back.  The water was pretty cold, but the experience was worth it.  After the dip in the water we climbed up, up, up and up some more to the parking lot.  I didn’t know it at this point yet, but we’d be doing hiking of this magnitude about once a day.  Man, I was worn out already!

La Fortuna is famous for the Arenal Volcano which is still active but not dangerous (at least not right now).  The volcano sits majestically above the town, one side of which is lush and green and the other side of which is rocky and ashy from the nearly daily eruptions.  Years ago its eruptions were much more predictable occurring everyday like clockwork. 
We took a hike through the rainforest with a fabulous guide who knew, I think, everything there was to know about the rainforest.  Costa Rica has made their main industry ecotourism and 25% of the rainforest is protected.  Years ago they turned a lot of the land into farmland until the government implemented its ecotourism laws.  The farmland was left alone and because the climate is so tropical within 25 years a whole new rainforest appeared on its own.  They call this a new growth or second growth rainforest.  There are so many seeds transported by animals and the environment is so fruitful that it reproduces on its own.  There is also a daily competition for survival among the plants in the rainforest.  Only 5% of the natural light reaches the rainforest floor so plants actually grow on top of another one to try to get that precious sun in a survival of the fittest.  Who knew that plants, plants, were capable of behaving in this way!
In the evening we went to the Baldi Hot Springs, an amazing place that has pools ranging from 93 to 152 degrees.  I have never in my life felt so blissfully peaceful as I did when I was laying in the reclining chair as the warm water washed over me as it tumbled down from a waterfall.  I stood under a waterfall enjoying nature’s massage.  They had some amazing water slides I couldn’t get enough of.  I felt like a kid running to the top of the water slide again and again as soon as I hit the bottom!
The first of the adventure activities was canyoneering, which is probably one of the coolest things I have ever done!  I essentially rappelled down waterfalls hanging from nothing but a rope.  This was combined with bouts of hiking through creeks, tight spaces, and wet, rocky areas in between.  At one point we had to jump into a cold pool of water, completely submerging ourselves, which explains the look on my face in the picture below. 
The goal of the guides was to make sure that everyone got wet, so any opportunity for them to have us go under water or through waterfalls they made sure we did it.  And if we didn’t get wet on our own they were not above filling their helmets or gloves with water and dumping it on you!  The longest of the waterfalls I rappelled down was 220 feet, which was essentially a free fall.  It’s a terrifying moment when the guides hook you up and tell you to lean back and there’s nothing but a rope supporting you.  I love the picture below because it’s the moment where I was literally putting my life in the guide’s hands as I leaned back over nothing but air and he held the other end of the rope in place.

The second adventure activity of the day was white water rafting!  I can’t think of many things more exciting than this!  My favorite moment was when we went over an especially big rapid and I went airborne, held in only by my feet which were tightly tucked into the foot holds.   
There are so many activities that you can’t stop at just one and it becomes like an addiction wanting to do everything!   There were five of us who did the maximum number of activities available in one day, bouncing around from cloud forest walk to ziplining to ATVing to nighttime jungle hike!  In the morning we took a guided tour in Santa Elena Nature Preserve, which was gorgeous.  Next up was ziplining, which was amazing!  After experiencing canyoneering I was no longer scared to do ziplining, or at least I believed that until I was up on the platform being hooked up to  the line.  But as soon as I was set free on that first line I was hooked!  There were 13 lines in total, varying in length, height and speed but all took me soaring over the trees with the wind blowing in my hair!  What a rush!  There was a guide on the platform that you were flying into that was supposed to tell you to brake, but they never did so you ended up braking at the last second on your own only because you’re about 5 feet away from crashing into a tree at 45 mph.  This can be pretty scary as you can see from the picture below.  The last line was my favorite - it was ¾ of a mile long, was so fast, and I didn’t think it was ever going to end.  
Next up was ATVing which took some getting used to.  I was certain I was going to fall over from side to side and quickly learned that it was important NOT to stick your leg out to the side to steady yourself if you thought you were going to fall.  I got the hang of it pretty soon and was soon zooming up and down the gravel roads, through the hills and the forest.  
The night hike through the forest was not quite as thrilling but was accentuated by the sighting of a kingjou (looks like a cross between a squirrel and a monkey) directly above our heads followed immediately by screams of, “It’s pooping!” and everyone running for cover. 
We crossed a river one day that was filled with crocodiles!!  I was in heaven!  In case you haven’t been able to tell from my previous entries I LOVE crocodiles.  I don’t really know why because they should be feared, but you know, different strokes for different folks.  There were probably about 30 and were everywhere you looked!  We continued on to Manuel Antonio where we went to the most gorgeous beach I think I have ever been to.  The jungle went right up onto the beach, monkeys swung around from tree to tree, the water was calm and warm and amazing!
My last adventure activity was surfing!!   When you’re practicing on the beach surfing seems so easy, but in reality it’s really hard, especially if you’re tall because you have to keep your center of gravity so low.  I prefer to do things my own way sometimes and got up all the way on my left leg and up only on my knee on my right.  My guide laughed and said I developed a new way of surfing!  I actually got all the way up once!  I also got smacked in the head a time or two with my surfboard and got tumbled around under water as the waves grew with high tide.  What a blast!!

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