Adventure in Costa Rica

Warning: Some of this won't make sense if you are too young to know this song.
I travel with a short list of things to do.  If I get to do them, well, that's great.  And, if I get to do anything on top of that, it's just like having extra dessert.  Goodness knows I love extra dessert.

On this particular trip to Costa Rica, I only had one item on my "tourist to-do" list.  I wanted to zip line over the rainforest.  I emailed my Costa Rican friends to tell them about my desire for a zip line tour.  I said I could do this by myself with my own pathetic Spanish, or they were welcome to come with me if they liked the idea.  I mentioned the words "zip line tour" in multiple email messages, just to be sure there was no confusion because we both have to use Google Translate to fully communicate.  As it turned out, the whole family wanted to zip a dee doo dah with me.

I know a little about rainforests.  I camped in them while living in the Philippines.  The town where I lived in Liberia was surrounded by the rainforest.  My Peace Corps friends and I zipped and zoomed along lumber trails through the forest on our motorcycles.  (I only remember one accident then, and – yes – I was driving.)  Anyway, we churned up all kinds of red dust to coat ourselves and the rest of the forest on our way to the Cavalla River that separated Liberia from the Ivory Coast.  When the water level was down in the dry season, it was possible to swim to the Ivory Coast.  Nobody was stupid enough to try that in the rainy season when the current was too fast and the water level was just too high.

So, like I said, I know a little about the rainforest.

In the morning that we packed up for this little day trip in Costa Rica, I wore shorts and a T-shirt.  My friends looked at me like I was crazy.  We weren’t going to the kind of rainforest I knew about in Africa or Asia.  This was a cloud rainforest.  Yep, up in the clouds with a lot of dew, rain, and, of course, clouds.  You don’t wear shorts there. Mosquitoes would eat you up – especially me since I tend to be a mosquito magnet.  A T-shirt would most likely not keep me warm because we were nearly guaranteed to get rained upon.  Hey, it was after all a rainforest.  A quick trip back to my room for a wardrobe change was in order.

After I reappeared wearing layers, we were ready for the hour or so drive into the clouds.  My mind was boggled that something this spectacular was an hour from San Jose.  I know where I live in Ohio.  I’ve driven an hour in almost every direction.  The closet thing of interest is maybe the beginning of Amish farm country.  Yes, that is interesting, but it doesn’t compare to a cloud rainforest.

We left San Jose somewhere around nine o’clock in the morning.  The mountains loomed ahead of us with thick grey clouds.  Much of the rainforest was completely hidden and I seriously wondered if we’d see anything from the zip line.  There was a chill in the air and the mist wove its way through the trees.  It was so very evident that we were driving through clouds.  Very fortunately for us, everything cleared up a little before our arrival at the park.

To get the full rainforest experience, and I certainly wanted that, there were a couple things that I wanted to do.  On this trip with my friends from San Jose, we booked a "teleferico" ride.  If that's a new word for you, well, your Spanish isn't any better than mine.  It was sort of like an open-air, cable car ride up through the different levels of the rainforest.  And, I personally think you should do this before you zip your little doo dah.

It was truly a wonderful experience.  A zip line would have been a quick flight over the area without really seeing everything below me as I zipped by.  The cable car ride was slow with occasional stops.  We traveled through the various layers of the rainforest at a slow pace with a very good guide who spoke excellent English.  He was funny, entertaining, and could switch back and forth between English, Spanish, and German with complete ease.

 Three Toed Sloth and the Morpho Butterfly

We viewed all kinds of plants at different levels of the rainforest, but I was much more entertained by the toucan and Morpho butterflies.  The only animal I didn’t see that I really wanted to find were tropical frogs.  Everyone agreed that there was so much to learn, and the trip was infinitely better with a guide.

After the aerial tram, there was also a hike through the rainforest at ground level.  Our guide pointed out vines which could be cut to get fresh water for a drink.  Like I said, I knew a little about the forest.  If you slash the vine once, no water comes out.  When you slash the vine a second time, the water flows.  On my camping experience in the Philippines, I learned you could survive on what nature has to offer if you were stranded in the rainforest.  Well, in reality, I learned it was possible to survive.  I didn’t learn enough to actually find the food and live.  If ever I were stranded in the rainforest, I know I would starve to death with the knowledge that I should have been able to feed myself.

It would be a very frustrating way to go.

It is possible to have both a zip line and a cable car experience on the same day, but I decided to spread them apart.  Very fortunately for me, this park happened to be forty minutes from my mural destination.  Sometime over the coming two weeks, I planned to zip a little doo dah over the cloud rainforest and fly like an eagle, or at least a toucan.

Okay, I know that many people (most people?) would not get their “zip” or their “a dee doo dah” by flying over the rainforest with merely two wires for protection.  But, a zipless experience would not be a “my, oh, my, wonderful day” in Costa Rica.  So, I chose to fly into the face of danger, which never even once felt dangerous.  And, after thirteen days (and a whole bunch of years) of waiting, I finally had my chance to grab a zip line and zoom like never before.

The location was just so very professionally operated.  My guides were so well-trained, helpful, and friendly.  One wanted to make sure that I was calm.  Had I done this before?  Well, no, but I once jumped out of an airplane, so this was nothing in comparison.  Back in college I was foolish enough to fly off with a bunch of friends for a day of parachute jumping.  We flew over Kansas corn fields and I was the first person out of the plane and onto the wheel.  It was my only time to fly from on high and then smash - or crash - into a row of beans.  I wiped them out!  It was absolutely incredible – once – and never again.

I’ve heard of flying by the seat of your pants, but this was probably my first time to really actually, literally, do it.  Everything was double buckled on two wires.  There was no chance for anything to really go seriously wrong.  Then, it was time to grab the wire with both hands, lean back, raise my legs, stick my butt out, and fly, fly away.  And, just like skydiving, I was the first one in the group to take that leap into the open air.

The experience was easy and just so much fun.  There were a series of flights, similar to baby steps.  The first time into the forest green was a very, non-terrifying, ten feet off the ground.  Steadily, we flew further, higher, and faster.  And, we flew way better than Tarzan.  He had to hold on to scratchy vines, without thick gloves to protect his hands.  We aimed for tree-top perches, high above the forest floor, and each time we landed, we were attached to a cord to prevent accidental flying down to the ground on an unscheduled trip.

If there was any fly in the ointment on this very wonderful experience, it was that I forgot to spray on the repellent before entering the rainforest.  Normally, I am not one to hurt a fly.  Well, that may not be completely true, but I’m not into hunting anything or even killing most insects.  All mercy, however, stops where mosquitoes are concerned.  I have had malaria five times.  I hate those little blood-suckers!  The forest had way too many mosquitoes – and even one spider - that enjoyed me a whole lot more than I enjoyed them.  Yes, I had several bites – none spider – and there is no malaria in Costa Rica.  Whew!

Speaking of flies in the ointment, I avoided a big one.  My group of zippers had eleven tourists and three guides.  It was small enough to have personal attention and the guides even called me by name.  But, I learned one more reason why I never really want to take a cruise.  On cruise ship days, they have up to 200 guests in line to take the ride. Nobody gets personal attention.  Two guides are assigned to each station.  It’s pretty much, “Welcome, get in line, zip your little doo dah, and next,” times 200.  I would hate that!

Anyway, the flights continued to progress.  We no longer flew through, across, around, or by the trees; we flew over them.  Yep, one of the last zips of my doo dah day was 1000 feet above the ground!   And, it just was not scary at all.  At that height and speed, there was very little time to look down and worry about anything that was so far below.  I concentrated on keeping my zip line straight and not twirling like a flying fool.

And then, there was the final zip.  Everything in the day built up to it.  This time, I must confess, there were a few second thoughts.  It towered 700 meters way above everything else I’d seen that day.  Now, since meters mean nothing to most Americans, it may not sound so scary.  But, 700 is a big number.  Translated to feet, it was about 2,300 feet.  That’s close enough to a half mile to not worry about almost or not quite the distance.  I was half a mile high when I jumped out of an airplane! That’s certainly flying high!  But, it wasn’t just high; it was also long!  It was so far that I couldn’t even see my friend Marvin as he neared the end of his trip.  I could only feel the zip line shaking so I knew he was still attached and alive.

I came too far to ever consider turning back.  In fact, I was having a grand time of it all.  I know that you’re supposed to be careful what you wish for.  It might come true.  Well, this time, it was better than I wished for.  It was so much more incredible than I ever could have imagined.  And, one of our guides agreed.  He said it was always a good day if he doesn’t lose a member of his group.

Perhaps I loved it more than most people.  I zipped my little doo dah again one more time before leaving Costa Rica.