Proud of ourselves

Joaquin, our adventure guide, said, “When you come to Costa Rica you must zip line.”  But he was preaching to the choir. The six of us were eager to throw ourselves down a hill.

Joaquin has been a zip line guide for many years at different resorts, but had been at Blue River Resort for just a few months.   He said when he first came to Blue River, he wanted to run away.  That’s because there is nothing besides this resort for miles.

Those miles are difficult ones too, up (or down, depending on whether you’re coming to escape or leaving to escape) an ungraded, steep, windy cobblestone path.  For a Gringo male in a rented 4×4, it can fulfill his fantasy to be a rally car racer… or pretend he’s one of the Dukes of Hazzard.  Probably Bo.  I found this out when two young guys on dirt bikes came up behind us on the road, J-M in his best southern accent said, “Uh oh!  We’re in for a heap o’ trouble now!”

The geographic personality of Costa Rica lends itself to zip lining.  The dramatic peaks and valleys and sweeping scenery is breathtaking.  We would get to experience it personally, travelling approximately 4 kilometres, hanging from a harness, attached to pulley with mountain climbing equipment that could hold up to a tonne of weight.  Joaquin assured us we’re in good hands.

Our Ottawa friends, Eugene and Erica, had signed up for this activity as well and it was nice to be just the six of us, including their two kids.  Any nerves I had dissipated when seeing how enthusiastic children under the age of 10 were. We hopped in the shuttle, got back on that rocky road and moved higher up the mountain.

Where we landed to put on all our gear and receive basic instructions was underwhelming.  We seemed to be in a pasture, which, while picturesque, does not get the adrenaline pumping.  We’d soon find out that each of the nine lines had a different temperament.  Some short and steep and too exciting to try and look around you.  Others, long and steady and perfect to view the different landscapes: dense rainforest, thunderous waterfalls, chattering wildlife, and most remarkably the Blue River the resort was named after, the earth’s minerals giving it a fresh tinge.

At each stop Joaquin offered a gratuity, a nugget of interesting information about Costa Rica, its geography and ecology.

Did you know pineapples are part of the bromelia plant family natural to Costa Rica, however the fruit itself is not indigenous and needs to be planted.  The bromelia do not naturally grow fruit.  Pineapples are a major Costa Rican export.

Did you know that the flowering Guanacaste Tree is the national tree of Costa Rica and is part of the pea family.  It is also called the Devil’s Ear or Elephant Ear because of the shape of the pods.  It grows tall in the rainforest, but spreads out wide in other parts of Costa Rica, adapting to its surroundings.  We swung from a few Guanacaste trees.

At one point Joaquin was looking over and around the platform we were standing on for a certain type of snake, to show us how beautiful it was.  I was completely uninterested in him finding one.  “Is it dangerous?” I asked.

“Of course!  It’s a pit viper, but very beautiful.”

“I really don’t need you to find one then,” I said.

“But it’s very beautiful!  Of course if it bites you, it’s called the ‘Kiss of Death’. Unless you get treatment, it’s lethal.  But very beautiful and you can get up close to it.  Just don’t make it angry.”

All in all the zip line was a one-hour of exhilaration.  We were all giddy and happy for having completed it so expertly.  Did you see how I hung there?  Did you catch my awesome form?  Didn’t I look cool?  Joaquin acquiesced, “Muy bien.”

You should know that they advertise that this activity requires no athletic ability.  Even so, Eugene always seemed to fall short at each run, he perhaps braked too hard or too often, or maybe was too athletic for this activity.  He always stopped a foot or two from the platform.  He then had to then turn around and hand-over-hand his way to us, the jeering crowd.  He made us all feel better about our zip lining skills.

But the real fun came when Joaquin announced the Tarzan Swing.  Sounds quaint, I thought, but probably not for me.  Till he told us it’s adults only.  When Joaquin explained the danger of the process, using much more caution than he did with the pit vipers, I was all sign me up for that!  Zip lining gave me a taste of adrenaline and I wanted more!

Keeping your zip line equipment on, you are attached to a line that leaves you to free fall for about 50 metres and then move into a wide swing over the river, back and forth, gently coming to a stop.  The ride takes about three minutes total; the first three seconds of which are sheer terror.

How interesting were our individual reactions to fear.  Eugene let out an appropriate and manly “Wooo!” on the way down.  He made this ride look easy; he was vindicated.  I was next.  I lost my cool completely and curdled blood with my scream, which, when I returned to reality, tried to cover up with a fun-loving “Yippee! Ha ha!” But I wasn’t fooling anyone, I’d revealed my inner wimp.  Erica was silent, completely silent.  How could this be?  She later explained that she was feeling so much during the fall that she didn’t know how to let it out.  As for J-M, before he even left the platform he was questioning his choice to partake.  I videotaped him saying, “I don’t know if I can do this, Lor, it looks pretty steep…”  I told him not to look down, but to trust Joaquin, who had roped him in.

Of course he did it, he is an expert at mind over matter.  But did he scream?  Unfortunately, if he did, you couldn’t hear it because of my commentary: “You OK?  Proud of you!  Good boy!  Give me a smile!  You did it!” When he viewed the video afterward he said I might have emasculated him in that moment.

That’s OK, he’ll 4×4 his way back to macho on the way down the mountain.

Here we are! Me, J-M, Eugene and Erica with the Blue River in the background.

Clear as Mud

We were right to cancel zipping down the mountain yesterday. It rained heavily for most of the day.  Today it is sunshine-y beautiful.  The difference in the weather is so extreme, you’d hardly believe that yesterday’s storms happened if the ground wasn’t still soggy and the vegetation nursing its casualties.

Yesterday morning, I was happy to discover that I could access the internet from my room and not lug the computer (and thereby ignore J-M’s company) to the restaurant.  We were expressly told that wifi was not available in our rooms.  Therefore, I beat the system.  I’m beating the system right now.

I chatted with Mallory, and posted to my blog, quickly and easily, while J-M finally finished the behemoth of a biography of Walt Disney he’d brought with him.  You know it’s tough going when you flip through the last few pages and say, “When is this guy going to die?”  But J-M doesn’t like to leave any book unfinished.  J-M’s synopsis of the biography:

People believe that Disney was famous for his control of wonder and fantasy, but the opposite is true; he was actually fascinated by the wonder of control.  His pursuit of power and control lead him to build his own world.

J-M has chosen to leave this book behind at the resort and bless someone else with this insight, and reduce the weight of his luggage.

And the rain rained.  The cabin we’re staying in has a clay tile roof, which surprisingly amplifies  the sound of the rain.  That makes a torrential downpour super exciting.  My heart races when the rain starts and as it builds, sheets of the wet stuff driving down on us, I get downright giddy.  I would compare it to a soccer match when goal after goal is being scored and the crowd gets wilder and wilder. You get caught up in it. It’s never not exciting!  And if the thunderstorms are this exciting, just imagine how freaking awesome the zip lining is going to be!

Yesterday afternoon, J-M and I decided to enjoy the mud bath offered by the resort.  I do believe they just scoop the stuff out of the ground and put it in a plastic container.  You carry that container down a path, past the hummingbird and butterfly observatories and the botanical gardens to a small wooden sauna heated naturally by the river it sits on.  A hole is cut in the bottom of the floor and the steam rises into the cabin.  A sign is posted cautioning you against touching the water, which is approximately 70 degrees Celsius, or 160 degrees Farenheit.  There are no real safety barriers, not like in Canada where every mishap would be anticipated and prevented with over-measures taken with fencing, signage and waivers.  The sauna was by no means toddler proof.

The cabin itself sits over the river and you can see the water and feel the heat from it, not only from the hole in the middle, but beneath the wooden slats in the floor as well.  What is this thing even secured on?  What if it the whole cabin went into the boiling hot drink?  I quickly figured out my plan of exit –  up onto the bench I was sitting, up the slats on the side of the wall, right through the sun roof at the first sign of trouble – so I could relax.

We spent 20 minutes in the natural sauna opening our pores.  The sauna was odourless.  J-M was bored.  It might have been more like 15 minutes, but seemed like 30.  The heat from the sauna also loosened the mud in our containers.

The containers were about the size of a margarine tub.  When we were first given the containers, we didn’t believe there would be enough mud in them to cover our whole bodies. The mud itself was grey and goopy and smelled of sulfur.  I avoided putting it on my face till the end because I was grossed out.  But then we got into, kind of like a paint fight, smearing and slathering the stuff all over us and each other and the tubs never seemed to empty.  Absolutely disgusting.

You then wait for the mud to harden.  We used the opportunity to get our camera muddy too and snap photos of each other.  We were feeling very primitive and wondering if Adam & Eve participated in such skin care hijinks.

Next step is to move into another naturally heated flowing river.  This one about 85 degrees Farenheit.  What we didn’t anticipate was that the ease with which we spread this muddy butter on ourselves, takes three times the effort to remove.  The stream doesn’t have a current that flows fast enough, but the rain started up again and helped us scrub clean.  This is natural living at its best!

For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed the hot springs.  We chatted up another Gringo family, who happen to share the cabin beside us, who happen to be from Ottawa!  After listing all the names of friends in Ottawa, the couple knowing none of them, we then got into what we all do for a living.  The husband teaches, the woman works for IBM in data management, J-M’s a pastor… I’m a pastor’s wife… who blogs. That last part surprisingly didn’t shut down the conversation.  In fact, it opened it up.

The couple had been recently part of a church plant that didn’t go well and were feeling burned by the church.  They were actually hoping to spend time on this trip “getting away” both physically and mentally from the drama.  That’s the thing about church, like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: when it’s bad, it’s horrid.  We talked a bit about what they’d been going through.  We were happy to hear that they weren’t willing to give up on the church completely, but were actually considering the Free Methodist church in their area. So it took us a while, but we landed on a connection and had a great conversation about it we felt was divinely guided.

Although we’re leaving this resort today, we’re going on the zip line with this couple and their two kids.  (In fact, we leave in about 15 minutes – no time to proofread!)  We’ll have to be on our best behaviour now.

Let me leave you with this – one of my fav pics from the botanical gardens.  I think my girls would love the teensy pineapples.


Photographic evidence

This will be a pictures-mostly post for a couple of reasons.  First, we are in a resort on the slopes of a dormant volcano.  The only internet access we have is at the restaurant, although I’m surprised we have any at all.  J-M is watching me type and that gets boring real quick.  I promised him I’d just upload a couple photos.

Also, there’s so much to say about today’s trip but words fail me.  We rented a 4×4 and drove from the beach to the volcanoes.  We were in transition most of the day, from one hotel to the next, but the transition was so fascinating, to travel past ranches, into the city, and up into the hills.  We are definitely seeing another part of Costa Rican life. Let me give you a couple snapshots.

Where we came from – Guacamaya Lodge.  Those are the bushes where the hummingbirds visited us last night.

Our rented 4×4 – Suzuki Jimmy.  J-M barely fits.

We stopped and took a lot of photos, including photos of taking photos.  (Don’t I look like I know what I’m doing because I borrowed my friend’s paparazzi lens?) We would have arrived in half the time if we didn’t stop every few seconds.  Look at THAT!

Like where we’re headed…

Or how about the VULTURES right out of a Disney movie.

There’s nothing for miles and then a school house.

This poor little calf on the road escaped from the pasture.  A clue as to why there are so many dogs around?  These two were keeping him company.

Look up, waaay up.  The depth perception is hard to see in this photo, but that’s a steep incline with dense forest opening up to a pasture on the top of the hill.  See the horsies?

A few homes like this spot these hills.  Note the satellite. Note the dog.

This house isse vende (for sale).  J-M suggested it would be the perfect retreat for me to blog.

J-M also suggested I post the words mi corazon in the middle of my blog just to make it more Costa Rican.  Because he’s bored, I’ve obliged.

I just liked this colourful guy, struttin’ his stuff.

Men walking these winding paths.  We are so fascinated this place, I would love to sit down with them and hear about life in the hills.  As it is, we say hola! as we pass by and will never meet again.

We see lots of people riding bikes like this one.  J-M suggested it would be a good way to travel around here.  I suggested that he forgot the ups that accompany the downs…

Last one!  This is me tonight, Facebooking with my sweet Mallory!  It still freaks me out that I can access the internet from places that are so hard to reach by car.

Tomorrow we’re horseback riding and zip lining.  Yipes!

OK, the limits of J-M’s patience have been fully tested (and found wanting).  Must go!