I admit that I’ve been slacking a bit on my goal to travel internationally at least two consecutive weeks each year, so I sought to fix that in Costa Rica. My girlfriend Jennifer and I speak Spanish, and we love beaches and warm weather. It turns out Costa Rica was also uncharted territory for both of us, so it fit the bill perfectly for an eight-day Central American adventure.
Yes, back packs were the gear of choice for this trip. This proved to be a solid choice later on the unpaved streets of the country. Don’t worry, I brought more than three pairs of underwear with me this trip too. Jen was so excited to go that her bags were almost completely packed a month ahead of time. Total packing time for Rob: an hour and a half.
Jen and I flew into San Jose, the capital for almost 300,000 Costa Ricans. The city itself wasn’t anything incredible, but at least it was clean, and surprisingly void of graffiti.
We went to a market in the town center to grab a quick bite to eat. Of course, we had to pay $0.75 to use the bathrooms that had no soap or paper towels. Ahhhh, welcome back to Central America. On the plus side, I’m happy to report that Milwaukee’s beer is so legendary that it’s thoroughly represented halfway around the globe. Look carefully at the middle shelf.
It was time to skip the appetizers and go right to the main entrée. The morning after landing in San Jose, Jen and I hopped a five-hour bus to Monteverde. This city is known for its intense sports, especially zip lining.
At the risk of peaking too early in the vacation, we made reservations at the most extreme zip lining company the city had to offer. Since I treat everything in life like a 315 lb. bench press, why change course now?
We somehow missed our shuttle to the zip lining company because it didn’t see us, so we scurried into a taxi to arrive on time for our 11:00 am reservation. I guess next time I’ll have to wear even more obnoxious meatheady American clothing.
As we were getting strapped in, Jen asked the employee helping her, “So how long have you worked here?” “This is my second day,” he responded with a straight face. Jen’s eyes expanded to the size of dinner plates, and she cracked a smile after realizing he was just kidding. I already liked this place!
I was absolutely stoked to go zip lining because it had long been on my bucket list. Time to check another thing off! After a brief orientation, we started on the first of 14 steel cables that snaked through the jungle canopy. Two of the cables were done with a partner, so Jen and I did those together. Here’s a video of the longer of the two:
Some of the runs were extremely fast, which was exhilarating! They were exactly what I was hoping for. My favorites were the last two where they suspended us by our torso and feet. We went headfirst over the chasm into the jungle like Superman (or Iron Man). It was probably as close to flying as possible unless you’re skydiving. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
I had somehow convinced Jen to step up her game and do the extreme swing with me after the zip lining. Before we went, the guides told us that the swing is actually more intense than bungee jumping because you’re in motion for a longer period of time. I was OK with that, Jen was clearly not.
What the heck is the extreme swing? Picture a cable car the size of an elevator with a partial cage for the walls and floor. That car creeps out on two steel cables suspended over the center of a massive jungle canyon. Once you get to the middle, a 390-foot rope attaches to your chest and waist with a sturdy carabiner. After you strap on a helmet, they suspend you to a fixture near the top of the car. You look down into the green abyss below, and your mind instantly changes to fight-or-flight mode as you question why this was a good idea in the first place. The two guides talk to each other as the car slowly retreats toward the mountainside, leaving nothing between you and the lush ravine below.
Without warning, the guide releases the support latch, and your stomach drops faster than any roller coaster you’ve ever been on. You careen so fast toward the ground that your mind can’t take everything in at once. Do you scream? Smile? Wince in fear? After covering the distance of a football field in eight seconds, you come to a momentary pause, and sway back toward the car. Words can’t even do the extreme swing justice, so I’ll show you a video of Jen and me:
This was easily the highlight of the trip for both of us. Even though Jen was super nervous before we did it, she readily admitted she would give it another whirl in a heartbeat.
After visiting the Xanax dispenser, we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest before our next event, a night tour of the jungle by flashlight. We opted to do the excursion that started at dusk so we could see the daytime and nighttime animals. That ended up being a good move because there was plenty to see.
To my supreme delight, there were basically no mosquitoes during our trek. Come to think of it, there were hardly any the entire time we were in Costa Rica. Some of the locals told us this was because we were fortunately there in the dry season, though the mosquitoes could practically support the Red Cross during the wet season.
The night tour took us through the winding paths of the jungle close enough to some creatures that we could touch them. One fun fact I learned was that scorpions literally glow in the dark with a UV light because of their exoskeleton.
We also caught a glimpse of a meter-long poisonous pit viper, a couple of toucans, a baby hummingbird in its nest, and a slow-moving sloth. Unfortunately it was really tough to take decent pictures of all these animals because of the lack of light. Our guide spied a venomous orange-kneed tarantula in a waist-high hole along the path. He volunteered to snap a picture with my camera, and remarked it was one of the best he had ever taken.
After cheating death several times in a day, we decided to slow things down and relax. The next several days took us to small beach towns that dotted the southeast coast. Unless all the shops were using marijuana air fresheners, there were plenty of natives experiencing another state of consciousness at all hours of the day. There were enough hippies to give a Bob Marley concert a run for its money. We were sure to mosey through the sand, take in plenty of sun, and read by the pool. One night we stayed in a tree house bungalow, which had the most character of any place we roomed.
We heard that there was a picturesque waterfall not more than half an hour away from one of the beaches, so we decided to take on the challenge to discover it. What was supposed to be a twenty-minute hike managed to take us over double that because we apparently took the not-so-ideal path to get there. It was more difficult than I would have imagined, but we ended up navigating it well. We rewarded ourselves with a dip in the waterfall with some of the locals.
I can’t leave out some of the authentic Costa Rican food that we downed nearly every day. This picture shows the lunch that natives eat, which includes rice, beans, sweet fried plantains, meat hash, green salad, and pico de gallo. Mine came accompanied with sea bass, and I especially enjoyed the meat hash.
Seafood was a large part of the cuisine, so we were sure to try out a few dishes with creatures of the sea. Jen was really excited to order jumbo shrimp, but was massively let down when they came with the feelers and other innards still intact. She was a trooper because she cleaned them and ate every last one. On the other hand, I had the best ahi tuna that ever hit my lips at the same restaurant. It was prepared with a chef’s sauce that was the perfect combination of savory and sweet.
This grocery store gets a 10/10 for its sausage presentation.
One saying that we heard over and over was “pura vida,” literally translated “pure life.” The great part about this phrase is that it’s used in a ton of different contexts. Want to say hello to someone? Thank you? You think something’s cool? Goodbye? Pura vida is interchangeable in all those situations.
As our trip came to a close, Jen and I both agreed that we really enjoyed everything Costa Rica had to offer. We were fond of every day together, and liked not having a game plan most mornings when we woke up. First international trip together = grrrrrreat success!
As a bonus picture, I have to include this one. If I’m handicapped, how the f**k am I going to be able to move this sign to park in the handicapped spot?!?
Jennifer and I hope you enjoyed a little taste of what Costa Rica entails. Pura vida!