A week of Pura Vida!

Greetings World Kayak family!  I just wanted to take a minute today and tell you about our killer adventures in La Playa Conchal, Costa Rica a couple weeks ago on our honeymoon. We had a great week due to the multitude of opportunities for adventure that were placed upon us by our very friendly local tour guides! Also, and most importantly to my awesome Dad, who blessed our marriage by sending us down there in the first place. Thanks Pops! You’re the best!

We stayed at the Reserva Conchal, Westin “All Inclusive” Resort in La Playa Conchal (Shell Beach). This place was amazing. Set on the Northern Pacific side of Costa Rica, our paradise was only a stones throw from the Nicaraguan border, in fact there was a tour that went into a Nicaraguan shopping village, but at the time, 6 hours of tour bus riding didn’t sound that great to us! This place is a far cry from Tennessee, where we have squirrels, skunks, and raccoons, they have BIG lizards  and turtles, these weird monkey-like raccoons called Cote’s (these things are wild, I’ll go into that later), actual raccoons, and monkeys!

Our resort was “all inclusive” meaning all food, drink, and tips were included. Only thing we had to pay for was our adventures. And pay we did!

At the resort, there are two main tour companies. One, Swiss Travel, which is located inside the resort right there at the beach gate. and the other TTRRSSA with is located right outside the gate on the sand. The hotel  basically has you funneled in and out through a small fence gate where you have to walk right past their desk to get in and out. So you have to talk to them. Their adventures are a little more upscale, with the corporate backing of the Westin Hotel Group behind them. All there tours were supposedly ”insured” too meaning that they would fix anything that broke and  could charge you more. And charge more they tried, lol.

Outside on the beach, Erik, the sales manager, waits patiently for his next friend to exit the hotel, and greets you with a warm “Pura Vida my friend. What would you like to do today?” Now, the travel company inside the hotel will tell you, “Don’t trust those guys outside.” They will say, “Those guys are conmen, looking to take your money!” or  “You should go with us! We are insured! They are not!” But, I’ve always been a gut feeling kind of guy, and right off the bat, I was distrustful of both of them.

Erik must have sensed my distrust, because he then led us off on a walk on the beach, where we warmed up a bit to each other. He introduced Marisa and I to everyone on the beach, including his wife Gigi (who gives the best massages on the beach). It was overwhelming, as he showed us all the activities that were available to us during our stay.

Snorkeling, spear fishing, scuba diving, jet skiis, fishing trips, catamaran sunset cruises, 4-wheeler tours and rentals, dirtbike rental, ocean kayaks, surfing lessons, you get the point right? And that was just the things on the beach! More inland, there were monkey tours, zip-lining, climbing, whitewater rafting.  (I asked for whitewater kayaking but I dont think they quite got it, lol. Apparently they were going to send me down a class 1-2 river in a duckie. im glad I caught that one before it went any further! I’d have been ticked!) Hot springs, volcanic mud baths, sugar plantation tours, mountain biking, horseback riding, you name it.

So the next day we went back to Erik and requested an ATV to go exploring on. He obliged us by bring us a medium sized Honda 4 wheeler complete with a license plate and papers. All that was required to operate this thing on city roads was a registration paper that was provided by the rental guys and a valid US driver’s license. They gave us a full tank of gas, and off we went. The road  south down the beach was cool, it zipped in and out of the tree line until eventually straightening out and following the perimeter fence for the Reserva Conchal. All through here was jump after jump and big puddles to scream through (which I eventually figured out was not very good for the machine.) Sorry guys! at the end of the trees, the road opened up and ran across a narrow straight between the ocean and a big brackish tidal pool. An American lady from Boston was playing with her two gorgeous boxers here. Her dogs were having such a blast. We have 2 boxers at home too, so naturally we had to stop and play with them!

It was here we met the Kanuk on horseback.The old man, known as Huppa Huppa by the locals had long ago migrated down to Costa Rica from Northern Canada. Apparently he had bought a bunch of horses and gear as soon as he got here, to rent them out to tourists who enjoyed saddle sores. I am not one of those folks, lol. Marisa is.

He jumped down off his horse and immediately offered us a ride. I refused, but Marisa jumped right up. She loves horseback riding. After she rode him out into the water a couple times she was bristling with delight. But then she jumped down, and did what I feared the most, she tried to make me ride it. Now it’s not that Im scared of horses or something. Its just that I feel bad for the horse, him having to carry my big ole great white ape self. Those of you who know me, Im a big dude right? I honestly felt bad for that little horse. He didnt seem happy to have me on his back. Marisa made me ride him into the ocean while she took pictures of me. It was embarrassing. I promptly jumped down, having just gone outside my comfort level. Huppa Huppa offered us horses for rent on the beach anytime $30/ horse for a three hour tour. If you go there and want to ride horses, look for him, big bellied Canadian man with great white and grey beard on horseback. Looks like Santy Claws!

We parted ways with Boxer Lady and Huppa Huppa, who’d drawn us a chicken scratch map of the area, and screamed out across the straight me driving and Marisa on the back in search of the Beigha Pirate’ or Pirates Bay. This place was adeptly named for the large rock tidal pool that it really was. We spent some time here taking pictures. long enough for me to see what the area looked like at low tide. Wow. I could see how a ship could try to sail in at hightide, and not see those rocks, potentially destroying its hull and miring its crew. the entire thing was lined by a circle of barrier islands and rock formations as far as a mile out in the water. It really looked like the area where One Eyed Willy’s ship sailed out of in the movie “The Goonies.” We took some pictures and headed off down the road.

As we cruised out the road, I took note of the lay of the landscape, and thought about how fun it’d be to do a project or two down there. We passed several “Tiko” family dwellings. Several were ramshackle constructions of random building materials that resembled something out of “Swiss Family Robinson!” It marvelled me, how people could live like this. But then I thought, hell, if you’re here, then who cares!

We were on the lookout for wildlife the whole way, but the noise from our ATV must’ve scared everything away. The number one thing I wanted to see was a monkey, Ever since I was little I’ve loved monkeys, so I was a little bummed leaving Costa Rica because I had not seen one. We did however see lots of beautiful birds, and the occasional raccoon or cote.

As we cruised out, our road turned into more of a trail, crossing a couple creeks, one of which we drove down a ways before the trail cut off on the other side of the creek. We arrived at a desolate beach with noone else around. This beach was special because  instead of white sand, it had black volcanic sand. Also, there was driftwood and shells everywhere. This place was very beautiful and awe inspiring.

We drove out from here and soon arrived in Mate’ Palo, a small crossroads community with a soccer field centerpiece and all the businesses grouped around the outside of it. I went to a convenience store, and bought a Costa Rican Coca Cola, and little something to go in it too, which I thought was cool you could just buy beverages at the convenience store?  At first sip of the Coke, I could immediately tell the difference. SUGAR! No high fructose corn syrup! I wish we could buy that stuff here. It was much better that the USA version.

Mate’ Palo was gone just as soon as it arrived, so we drove out from there toward La Playa Grande, or “Big Beach.” There we stopped and had lunch at a small cafe called Kiki’s Place, which looks like it’s be a hotspot during peak season! I had the house burger, which was a burger, topped with a chicken tender, topped with a pork chop, topped with bacon! Wow. That wasnt what I was expecting!

From there we went to a surf shop and talked with some local surfers about Surf Kayaking. Turns out there is a small surf kayak presence there, but not much of a whitewater kayaking presence in that area. They said those guys were impressive paddlers. But there are some huge waves down there, so I guess you’d have to be tough to take a 10-20 ft high wave landing on you!

After lunch we rode on out toward the beach, and I found a cut through trail that took us out on this awesome stretch of desolate beach where we cruised down the beach about a mile or two, before taking another trail to the top of this big mountain. From there we could see for miles. We stopped here for several hours, enjoying each others company, and the moment, for it was one to remember forever!

Afterwards we were tired, and ready to get back to the comforts of the resort, so we cruised back on the highway making it back much quicker than I wouldve imagined. That night, at the resort, we met a couple from Charlotte, NC, who live apparently right next to the Whitewater Center. They had alot in common with us, and we were instant friends. Their names were Adam and Jennifer Spencer.

The next day was spent lounging at the pool, sipping bottomless mojitos and margaritas. At one point we conjured up a game of pool volleyball. About halfway through the day it started to rain. I mean, POUR. I hadn’t seen rain like that since my time during the monsoon in South Korea. But no one seemed to notice. The party just kept on going! Heck. We were already wet! Marisa and I were a big hit too, because me being the Boy Scout, I was taught at an early age to always come prepared. We’d brought dry bags and my Pelican dry box, and had a JBL Charge portable Bluetooth speaker in a drybag that was continuously pumping out Slightly Stoopid, Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311, among many others. We also brought full on rainsuits that are paper thin, yet durable, and keep you very dry. Frogg Toggs caused us to be the envy of most, and it should have!

That evening, at dinner we met up with Adam and Jennifer. They had rented dirtbikes that day and being dirtbike folks, they’d had a blast! I was jealous, because having already spent one day out there exploring, I was ready to get back out there again.  That night we all partied and had fun just talking!

The next morning, Marisa and I awoke, had breakfast, and hurried up to the lobby to meet the beach tour company. We were going on the MEGA COMBO tour, to a place called Vandatta. This place was closely located to the Veija de Rincon volcano, so there were hot springs, volcanic mud, and all types of volcanic activity evident.

Set in an old cattle plantation, the cattle farmers had eventuall sold out to the current owners who planted it totally with Oranges, coffee, almonds, cashews, bananas, and plantains. The current owners had obviously realized the $$$$ in tourism, so they set their place up like an adventure tourist amusement park. We disembarked the bus, it was then they recieved our payment for the tour of $100/ person. It was pretty reasonable compared to the $250 the hotel was asking for this same thing.

They immediately served us fresh squeezed lemonade, which we drank down greedily. They then put us all on horse back where we rode to the top of this big hill. I had already gotten on a horse once this trip, so one more time couldnt hurt. I still felt bad for it and expected it to snap a leg every step it took.

Now. Before you read this, you must know, I don’t do heights. I had already told Marisa I wanted to skip this one. Going off a twenty foot waterfall’s different, because thats where the waters going, so you know theres water down there. But if I’m already high up and can see the bottom and then I go, well nevermind. you’ll get it in a second.

We had ridden the horses up to the start of the ziplining course. “This is my last stop.” I told Marisa bluntly. But then the Costa Rican zipline guides all started calling me chicken and goading me impolitely. I thought, “hell, you only live once!” So I gave it a shot. They strapped me into a harness and seconds later I was on the line wating my turn to go, thinking “What did I get myself in to?”

I looked around. Marisa was nowhere to be found. So I thought “oh well. Here goes nothing…” as I stepped off the platform. I was off. Slowly at first , then I realized I didn’t have to squeeze the hand brake so hard. This first one was a trick. To help people shrug off their fear, it in no way prepared me for what was to come. Slow and not so gracefully, I made my way down that first wire, and arrived at the next hill, where the guide rapidly hooked me up and sent me off down the next line. No time to think about it.

This next line they said go ahead and go fast but slow down at the end, but that its really long. It must’ve been 250 yards long. I zipped along,  above the treetops. At the next tower I messed up and didnt pick my feet up in time, wearing only my chacos, hit my foot on the metal platform. As soon as I got there, panic ensued. I’d just hit my foot, and I was on this shaky metal platform high in the tree tops.

There was only one way off, down the next wire. I looked down the wire. No end in sight. “Oh well, one more time can’t hurt.” I must’ve been zipping for 2 minutes this thing was so long. All of a sudden, the trees just open up, and there nothing below me, except the floor of the ravine, some 80-100 feet below me. And just then, the line starts vibrating and wobbling back and forth violently, obviously under the strain of hauling such a big dude for so far. “Nope. That’s it for me.” I thought as I coasted in to the next tower. On the way in on the line,  I saw a trail out of there. That was where I was heading.

I turned around, and here comes Marisa strapped to a guide, and hanging upside down. “Showoff.” I told Marisa I had had enough of this s&*%. That I was walking out of there promptly. Down on the trail I met up with Mitch, one of our guides, who was headed down to the bathroom. So at least I had someone to share my walk of shame with.

Well the shame didn’t last long, because as I walked down the ravine I saw one of the most beautiful class 3 creeks running down the ravine. We were walking down the trail beside the river, and I could see boof rocks galore, and nice chutes and slides one after another. It looked fun. To get out we had to walk across some scary metal suspension bridges, but I was so fixated on the creek, I didn’t care. The name of this waterway was the Upper Colorado River near Liberia, Costa Rica. Apparently they do some super tame whitewater rafting down river.

Mitch led me down to the bottom, past a big hot spring, over some more bridges till finally we arrived at the end of the last wire, where I was instructed to wait for Marisa. When she finally arrived, she was riding tandem, strapped to a guide, and flying like Superman with her arms and legs stretched out.  She obviously loves that stuff. I dont get it. I’ll stick to the water.

After the ziplines, the guides gave us fresh squeezed orange juice and boarded us on this giant tractor trailer combo with some stadium seating welded on a trailer.  They pulled us up this long dirt road through the plantation, which was rich with Banana Trees, Plantains, Coffee plants, almonds, cashews, oranges, and  lemons. I’ve always dreamed of having a fruit orchard. This place is right up my alley. At the top of the hill we all off-loaded and gathered around a big concrete flume, with a giant cistern of water behind it. This cistern was naturally spring fed water that basically they’d built a giant holding tank with pondliner in a hole they’d dug and had afixed a big sliding wooden door holding back the water with a long handle attached.

This awesome, old school waterslide worked this way: You sat down in the middle and wrapped an innertube around your elbows. Then when you said go, they slid open the big wooden door and out drops 150 gallons of cold Costa Rican spring water, propelling you down the chute like a bullet in a rifle. I’ve been on some waterslides in my day, but I must say, this one ranks up there with the best! Right before the end you go right under this massive tropical tree, no like right under the roots. Was pretty cool.  After the splash pool, we all waited for the others to finish their turns on the slide. Marisa, of course did a front cartwheel to McNasty off the lip at the end. Showoff. The staff rewarded us at the end with fresh cut orange halves. Best oranges I’ve ever eaten.

After the slide, it started to pour down rain. We followed the guides down and across the suspension bridges to lunch where they hooked us up with beverages and a 4 course lunch featuring a spinach zuchinni garlic soup that makes me want to invest in a juicer. My main plate was pan-seared mahi mahi. Delicious! Hats off to the chef!

After lunch as it poured down rain they let us relax in the hot springs. Marisa wanted to bathe in volcanic mud, so even though they said it would work because it had to dry on you, so we went and bathed in it. It was hot and coming up out of a pipe into a basin with a big banana leaf covering it. We lathered it on. The pots were right beside the Colorado River, so I was still fixated in it. I wanted to get in there. Right as i was stepping in, Mitch popped out from behind a rock upstream. Apparently he had the same idea. I laid down in the creek and washed off the mud. It felt great. Somehow I talked Marisa into it too.

But our fun was short lived. Mitch told us that this part of the river flashes quite a bit and will come up real fast. Good thing too, just as we were stepping out, it started to come up. We headed up to the suspension bridge to watch it come up. I was pleased to watch promising river features start to form. I’d like to come back here and explore this area better. Maybe I’ll get my buddy Mitch to help me!

After the creek, we headed back to the hot springs and finally back to the bus to go back to the Westin. The ride back was treacherous with a BAD  rainstorm on even worse roads! I got some book time and some sightseeing on the way back.

The next day we met our friends, Adam and Jennifer down at breakfast and decided that today was the day to rent four wheelers and go riding together. So, we talked to Erik again on the beach, requesting 2 Honda ATV’s for 5 hours at $80 a piece. Not bad. One tank of gas will take you further than you’d ever need to go out there. So off we went, first, we headed north, to Brazilito Village where we got some beverages for the beach later. We had to cross a big tidal river to get there. Then from there, we headed back across the river, back south, toward no-mans land and eventually Mate Palo and Playa Grande.

Adam Spencer is a very good ATV’er, trying to follow him as he zigzagged around trees and around puddles, over jumps,  and whatnots was a challenge. But I started looking at it just like river running, you gotta choose your lines around obstacles and such. I was naturally good at it. Next thing I know I’m doing wheelies and burn outs in the sand!

We headed out to Bay of the pirates, too some pictures, then found a cool access road onto the beach there. It was low tide, so we skirted off down the beach and over some rock outcroppings to a point at the end of the beach. There was a giant piece of tropical driftwood like something you’d see on the beach in a “Pirates of the Carribean” movie . We all took turns taking pictures of each other sitting on that log. The girls headed out for a swim and me and Adam hung on the beach talking dude stuff like kayaking and motorcycles. After a bit we started noticing the tide coming in. We called the girls in but it took them a while, by the time they had made it in and we made our escape, the water had come in so far that we almost couldn’t cross the rocks again. Whew! That could’ve been a costly mistake!

We then headed out on the fourwheeler trails I had found the previous time, and had a good time off-roading in the tropics. From there we took the main road toward Playa Grande and took a right on Cabo Verde del Sol rd. this open gated road turned gravel fast and traced a mountain’s edge. These were homesites for sale. Just like in America. Pristine lots too. We followed the road to the top of the mountain, unsure of what we’d find there. We could see there were power lines leading somewhere, but we never made it there. I took the steepest drive to the top of the mountain where someone had started building some duplex style condos and apparently given up or ran out of money or something. But this view was phenomenal. A panoramic view of all the surrounding countryside, rolling hills and mountains one direction and ocean the other! It was the most beautiful view I’d ever seen. We hung out a while, but after spotting a motorcycle headed down the trail we decided to go back down, in case he was the gatekeeper, but he wasnt.

After the mountain we rode back toward the Westin and had lunch. Then we had 2 more hours on the Atv’s. After lunch, we went down to the second strand of trees on the other side of the straight. There we picked a “home base”, set up our eno/ music in a dry bag combo, and two people rode while two people hung.

That allowed us to really test out the limitations of these things. I had already learned don’t drive straight into a big deep puddle at 40 kmh. The machine would just stop working electronically.  Adam did donuts in his till it shut off. I know the guys were mad at us when they had to tow both of us in. Thanks be to the fact that the machines just needed drying off.  So Erik if you’re reading this, we really are sorry. It was all in good fun!

The whole area there is 4

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September 1st, 2014

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