There’s something funny about the list of places I want to go and things I want to do – it keeps growing – every time I cross something off, two or three new ones take its place. That’s the adventurer DNA. My buddy Ahmed had traveled to a number of countries, but mostly in rich tourist mode. He had tourist DNA. Time to convert him I thought. We decided to go to Costa Rica and I told him he could leave all the planning to me. A few weeks before departure he called me to ask the details, to which I replied, “dude, just trust me.”
“Just trust me, don’t worry.” He thought for a second, and then said, “okay!” and we agreed to meet on departure day. Enroute to Costa Rica, he asked what hotels I had booked, to which I calmly replied that I hadn’t. Shock. I told him we would stay with Felipé, a local I had never met and didn’t know. More shock.
I had connected with him on couchsurfing.com just two weeks prior, and he didn’t look like a serial killer, so I thought why not. He even offered to meet us at the airport. Ahmed was starting to feel like the whole ‘trust me’ business wasn’t a good idea. A little late for that sentiment Chuck. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a knife,” I reassured him. All he could say was, “you’re crazy.”
People are inherently good. I told Ahmed to look out for a ‘Malaysian-looking guy’ and I gave him a shout when we spotted him. We hugged like brothers and he laid out the options – “I don’t live far, so we can take the bus, taxi, or we can walk.” Walk sounds cool. To me, travel is about experiencing everything local. By this time Ahmed had resigned himself to his fate, and when asked if he was good to walk he just shrugged. I had been teaching myself Spanish for the past month and tried to practice it with Felipé, but I had to remind him to switch back to English when he started yammering off to me like a local. Ahmed meanwhile was contemplating the fact that, “I’ve never walked out of an airport in my life.”
“¡Mi casa es su casa!,” exclaimed Felipé as he welcomed us into his home. We dropped our bags and went out for some traditional food – casado – and spent the evening sharing travel stories and discussing culture. It was an unforgettable introduction to couch-surfing. The next morning we rose with the sun and Felipé made us breakfast. We had planned on going into the city center to catch the public bus to Monteverde, but he knew of a spot on the highway near his house where the bus stopped. We grabbed our backpacks and hiked behind him through the quiet back streets. Another first, and not your ordinary ‘tourist’ experience. I always seek unique experiences, and so far Costa Rica, and Felipé, was delivering.
We did the superman zipline and tarzan jump (that’s a whole OTHER story) and went to Arenal the next morning…. by horseback. Who needs buses when you’ve got steeds? From the hostel we stayed at a van took us to the meetup point, where an amigo showed up with three horses and three pineapples. We crossed streams and trotted through wilderness till we came to a beautiful pass where we got our first vista of the Arenal volcano and enjoyed the juicy pinaepples. But what about the nuts? Well, Ahmed was still struggling to stop his horse and ‘whoa whoa’ wasn’t really working. It liked to keep up with mine so it wasn’t much of a problem… until I decided to gallop. I adopted a racer stance and his horse started to gallop alongside, and as we gained speed, Ahmed, in his not-so-racer like stance, started bouncing clumsily in his saddle… hence the title of this article. Needless to say, it was too funny.
Our host in Arenal was Arturo (another couch host), but he was at work when we got there, so he just gave us the keys to his place and told his friend to drop us there. Who does that? He also guided us to a hidden waterfall nearby. It was a half hour hike down through the forest, and when we finally reached it I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. We swam in the natural pool as the 200 foot waterfall roared and poured into it, and relaxed in natural hot springs later that evening, another local secret courtesy of Arturo. We spent two night’s at his place and I cherish the time I spent sitting with him under the stars talking about life and his reverence for the volcano. You could never get this experience in a hotel.
Day 2 in Arenal was intense – white water rafting on the Balsa river and rappelling down a canyon with waterfalls. We left for Hermosa the next day but got dropped off in Brasilito instead. Instead of worrying, we just bought some quesadillas and fresh juice and enjoyed lounging on the beach looking out at the Pacific. Eventually we got to Hermosa, scuba dived and snorkeled, and rented a car and drove to Manuel Antonio. The whole town is practically etched along a cliff overlooking the ocean, with a twisty road carved through the middle and culminating in a national wildlife preserve.
We stayed at the aptly named Jungle Beach hotel and got terrorized by a wild turkey that didn’t want us to get in or out of the car. The monkeys in the park were much friendlier though, and the iguanas just didn’t care. Our backcountry ATV ride, culminating at a local’s house for lunch, was another highlight.
I think the mission was accomplished. As we were flying back home, Ahmed proudly beamed, “these were the seven most adventurous days of my life.”
Pura Vida. I’d do it all over again.