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Survivor: Costa Rica

Is zip-lining really the best idea if you're afraid of heights??

sunny 30 °C

10 March 2016
Hotel Bosque del Mar
Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Where to begin, where to begin? Should I begin at the beginning, with the monkey breakfast? (And to be clear, I am talking about breakfast WITH monkeys, not a breakfast OF monkeys.) Or should I follow the rules of good journalism and not bury the lead by telling you that I zip-lined and survived to tell the tale? Even though Dr. Scott always trained us that you didn’t necessarily have to tell the scientific story in chronological order, it just sort of makes the most sense when relaying one’s vacation adventures, and since, technically, I have followed the rules of good journalism and disclosed the highlight of this day’s episode, chronological it shall be.

I polished off yesterday’s Day of Nothing (or El Dia de Nada, if that makes it sound more official) by getting a truly awesome massage by the pool here at the hotel. She was able to get just that spot, the one that we all get from simultaneously slouching as we type and holding the phone in the crook of our necks.

Our tour officially kicked off at 6:00 pm with a get-acquainted cocktail reception. Our guide is a really cool guy named Siggy Jiminez, and he’s actually Costa Rican. His Spanish, as you can imagine, Angie, is beautiful and mas rapido! That’s when we actually first saw the monkey troop, but it was getting dark and I wasn’t able to get a really good picture. And in this day and age, if you don’t get a selfie with it, it doesn’t count! I met several members of the tour group at dinner, including a neurologist, a retired OB/GYN, a guy that sold electron microscopes (including one to DuPont!) before he retired, a woman who does medical lab quality audits (whatever the equivalent of ISO for medical labs is), a child psychiatrist (I should probably avoid talking to him so he doesn’t provide a clinical diagnosis), and a very lovely retired lady from San Francisco. As usual, a very diverse and distinguished crew of Tauckians. Siggy introduced us to the Costa Rican concept of “pura vida” (literally, “pure life), which I equate as similar to the Hawaiian “hang loose” or the Australian “no worries” philosophy of life. And apparently it is used somewhat like “aloha”—if someone says “pura vida” to you, “pura vida” is the appropriate response in return. Despite what the bus driver may tell you.

This morning at breakfast is when we got to really see the monkeys. Apparently they found the trees around the restaurant to be more attractive this morning. Several members of the tour group reported that they heard the alpha male (pictured below) vocalizing at about 4:45 am this morning, but frankly, I was asleep and didn’t hear squat. However, there was no mistaking him while we were eating breakfast. He clearly objected to our omelets and French toast and shared his displeasure with us. Either that, or he thought we were after his women—he wasn’t specific. But regardless, still pretty cool to have breakfast with primates other than one’s own species!


After breakfast we loaded up the wagons for the day’s adventure: a trip to the Vandara Hot Springs and Adventure (www.vandarahotsprings.com) in the Rincon de la Vieja (Old Lady’s Corner…I swear) of Guanacaste. It was about 90 minutes away, so Siggy and Alejandro, our naturalist (oh yeah, you know I’m all over that like a rash!), gave us a bit of an introduction to the history, lifestyle, customs, and biological diversity of the country. And me being, well, me, you know I am honor-bound to share some of it with you. (For those readers who have traveled with me before, my note-taking during lectures has been greatly enhanced by the recent purchase of my iPad. The nerd factor has increased at least geometrically, and possibly exponentially.)

So, for your social studies lesson for today:

• Costa Rica is a country of approximately 19000 square miles, about the size of West Virginia (honest-to-goodness they said that, I didn’t look it up or anything…I AM on vacation).
• It is 50% mountainous.
• It represents about 0.001% of the earth’s surface, but contains 4% of its biological diversity, so it’s punching above its weight, ecologically speaking (this is my favorite factoid of the entire day).
• There are seven administrative provinces and three distinct geographic regions of Costa Rica: the Caribbean slope, the Pacific slope, and the Central Valley.
• Costa Rica is really North American and South American flora and fauna converge and are separated by the central mountain range. For example, coyotes, which are native to North America, are only found in the northern part of Costa Rica, while squirrel monkeys, which are native to South America, are only found in the southern part of the country.
• The unique banana shape of the country protects it from hurricanes.
• The Guanacaste region joined Costa Rica of its own accord in 1824 and is renowned for its…um…slower pace of life. (Siggy called it “Guanacaste mode.”)
• The region is known for growing rice, sugar cane, watermelons, and cantelopes.

Now, on to the Vandara Hot Springs Adventure. And an adventure it was! You could choose whether you wanted to ride horses, zip-line, both, or neither and just swim in the pool, which is fed by the hot springs. While the latter sounded like a really appealing option, I do endeavor to be your intrepid woman on the street, so I opted for the zip-lining. (We already discussed the horses. There will be no negotiation on this subject. I write the blog, and no means no.) After a pre-emptive potty break (wouldn’t that be an embarrassing story?), they fitted us all with helmets (note to my family: mine was initially too big, so there’s someone out there in the world with a head bigger than me) and loaded us up in a wagon pulled by a big John Deere tractor and up the mountain we headed. (I suppose the true adventurer would have hiked to the first platform, but it is HOT here, ya’ll!)

When we got to the first platform, we were fitted with our harnesses and the trolleys (load rated to 14,000 lbs, I was happy to note), given a pair of reinforced gloves, and shown the rudiments of zip-lining, which are basically this: hold onto the harness with your weak hand, circle the cable with your dominant hand as far behind you as you can manage without dislocating your shoulder so you don’t start twirling around, bend your knees, and keep your head tilted to the side so you don’t get a concussion if the crew has to deploy the e-stop on your behalf if you’re coming in hot. As for brakes, pull down on the cable, but not so hard as to get stuck on in the middle of the cable (quelle horreur!)

With that amount of instruction, it was time to take the plunge. Literally. I started thinking better of it at that point, but I refused to be one-upped by two 79-year-old women (seriously). So then it was bombs away, fire in the hole, Geronimo, etc. I made it across without dying, wetting my pants, getting stuck, or smashing into the very tiny little guy at the second platform at a high rate of speed—all in all, a rousing success! Which I repeated six more times without having to hail a cab. (They call it taxiing when one of the staff has to tandem you across if you lose your mojo en media res.) Yay me! (And I did one-up the two 79 year-olds, both of whom needed a cab at various points!) There will be pictures at some point in the future, since there was, of course, the prerequisite pictures for purchase; however, this place has evolved the service to provide a CD-ROM of your pictures and, sadly, my laptop doesn’t have a CD drive. But I have 20 witnesses of unimpeachable character!

I followed up the zipline with a dip in the pool, which is fed from hot springs that are warmed via the thermal activity of the volcano. It would be more apt to call them “pleasantly warm” springs, not hot, because the pool felt absolutely delightful after the sweatiness and abject terror of the zip-line. I would have stayed in a lot longer (there was a swim-up bar!), but the sun here is awfully hot, and as I told one of the other travelers, you don’t get this butt-white winter pale by accident! Besides, it was time for lunch, a lovely pumpkin soup to start, followed by a choice of chicken, tilapia, beef, or pasta, with a refreshing watermelon granita for dessert.

Then it was time to saddle up and head back to the ranch to rest before the evening’s entertainment: a cocktail party and bonfire on the beach at sunset. It was romantic enough that even I was slightly moved. Some S’mores would have hit the spot, though. After that, a lovely dinner of grilled snapper in the company of two other travelers from Delaware, the husband of said pair is a retired DuPonter. That conversation is left to the reader to imagine.


Tomorrow we’re headed to the Monteverde Cloud Forest and some serious nature peering. Keep your fingers crossed for macaws and toucans!

Hasta luego!

Posted by hidburch 19:18 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged zipline guanacaste vandara

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I LOVE your blog! I've never laughed so hard in my life. I did wonder at the zip lining after hearing your fear of heights but decided someone as crazy as you would still do it! :)

by dlberke

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