Costa Rica is Heavenly!

Last September I embarked on a multi-sport adventure in Costa Rica starting near the Atlantic Coast and finishing on the Pacific Ocean. The experience was simply divine.

We started by staying at the Pacuare Lodge on the Pacuare River. This stay ended up being the highlight of the trip. The Pacuare Lodge is an eco-lodge where everything is natural. You get to the lodge by crossing the river by cable tow. The residences are gorgeous. They are perched in the middle of the forest with breathtaking views of the river. There is no running water, electricity or sewage. All use rain and sun as their only source of water and heat. You use candles and a wind-up flashlight as your only source of light. All the food is grown on the property itself and was fantastic.

The next day we went rafting on the Pacuare River with class IV rapids. The ride was thrilling and made all the more engaging by the majestic scenery. It also provided my closest brush with death in years. Towards the end of the run, the guide asked us if we wanted to do the last rapids which were only class II with our bodies. Several of us jumped in the water to see what it would be like. The experience at first was disappointing. The waves were small and the current did not feel that strong. Unexpectedly, I encountered two countervailing currents and was pulled straight down to the bottom of the river. As I looked up, I saw all the other swimmers and the raft go by as I was seemingly stuck in place. I swam upwards towards the light as strongly as I could but did not make any progress. After a few seconds, I decided to stop to conserve my oxygen. I calmly concluded that with my life vest and the air in my lungs I should be buoyant and that I just needed to wait for them to do their job. As the seconds passed by for what felt like minutes and my oxygen started depleting, I thought this would be an extremely stupid way to die. I could not hold any longer and started simultaneously swallowing water, throwing up and blacking out … just as my head crossed the water.

I was saved! This served as a good reminder of how tenuous life is even in seemingly benign conditions – as everyone else reported the body rafting part as incredibly easy and uneventful.

From there we went to Arenal. The first day we started out with a canyoning tour. I had never rappelled down waterfalls and adored the experience. After a few hours of rappelling down cliffs and hiking, we headed to the Arenal Reserve. We went up the Sky Tram and did the Sky Trek ziplining. This was by far the longest zipline I had ever done – the last leg is almost half a mile long! We ended the day in style by relaxing in the hot springs of the Tabacon Grand Spa Resort.

The next day we did a full day bike tour of Arenal. The riding was grueling with rough unpaved road and numerous hills. We biked all the way to the base of the volcano and watched eruptions while surrounded by cooled lava. We wound down with amazing massages at Tabacon.

From there we flew to Quepos on the Pacific Ocean for a combination of sea kayaking, tennis and mountain biking. Once again, the experience was fantastic. After a weeklong adventure, our journey came to an end. We flew back to San Jose on a small propeller plane, but got caught in a thunderstorm on arrival with fog so thick we could not see the runaway. After two aborted landings we flew back to Quepos and took a cab to San Jose to fly back to the US.

This one of the most intense and fun vacations I have ever been on and look forward to similar adventures in the future!

  • Oh my! I relate tremendously. When I started to read the part in which you jumped in the water immediately I recalled my own near-death experience while white-water rafting in Ecuador a couple of years ago. Our river was a level V. As we got stuck in a corner we were prompted by the guides to perform a high side maneuver but the current was so strong and overpowering that it flipped the raft upside down. I tried to hold on to it with all my might but I was sucked under by the current and stuck underneath the raft . This water comes straight from the Andes so it was cold and dark. I tried to relax and come out but to no avail. Since I didn’t have a full breath of air when I went under, my oxygen reserve depleted rapidly.

    After three unsuccessful attempts and already over 30 seconds underwater, the “life-flashing-in-front-of-my-eyes” experience did happen. However, I was not sad. Instead, I was angry because I knew that a few miles downstream there was a huge waterfall that feeds the Amazon River. For a second I visualized my floating dead body being eaten by vultures and like you I felt it was an idiotic way of departing this world. As I pictured this, another current pushed me around and for a few seconds I felt like I was inside a washing machine. I finally decided to let go. In my case, the life vest did not help as the current was so strong. The air in my lungs was gone and so were my attempts to surface. I felt I was 95% gone. Suddenly, I started to see a little bit of light. My head broke the water surface and I heard the chilling screams of my guides prompting me to swim towards the side of the river. I tried to take a deep breath but I had already started to swallow water and those few seconds that followed were even scarier than the ones underneath because now I had oxygen available but I couldn’t breathe.

    Survival instinct kicked in and I coughed up water and swam as strongly as I could to the edge of the river. Once I got out, my friends told me that one of the guides actually said “I don’t think your friend is going to surface.” In the end I found out I was underwater for about a minute and a half and I was nowhere to be found. Months later, the World Kayaking Championship took place in the same rapids and as I read the article, that same river had claimed the lives of 4 people the year prior. Sorry for the rambling comment but I got an idea of what it feels like to get trapped underwater and I wanted to share it. It gave me a new appreciation of life.