Monday, October 6, 2008

Costa Rica Lesson #3: Jump Outside Your Comfort Zone (And Naked Into A Waterfall)

Here’s something they never told you on the “Care Bears”: Up in the clouds? It’s wet. Like, all the time. Nothing dries; everything is dampened with a cool humidity. But you never saw Tenderheart standing next to Wish Bear all set to launch a Care Bear stare like, “Holy shit, my crotch is moist! Where’s the powder? It’s like the Everglades down there.”

I’m not sure exactly how high up in the mountains the resort was, but if I had to guess I would say two miles. This is, of course, an absurd guess. But I am an absurd man. And hey, if you know off the top of your head how high up in the clouds we were in Costa Rica, then go ahead and correct me (Side note: Don’t correct me), but the fact remains that when the clouds rolled in, they rolled in our friggin windows. You’d be walking down the road and up ahead would be a big, billowing formation. And no, it wasn’t just fog. There was a clear demarcation between standing in cloud and standing outside cloud. And when you walked in, it was like being hugged by a friendly ghost.


The downside, of course, is that clouds get everything wet. At first it was annoying, but eventually we got used to it, because that’s what Costa Rica does to you – it makes you accept nature in all its moist glory.

For example . . .

It started when Brooke decided that she wanted to go horseback riding. Horses, it seems, are a viable mode of transportation in small Costa Rican towns, which I personally think is fantastic. Having not ridden a horse since I was a kid at summer camp, I was skeptical at first. But as soon as I saddled up it just felt right.


And just like when you drive a fuel-efficient sedan you scowl at SUVs, when you drive a horse you scowl at anything motorized. “My transportation is fucking ALIVE,” you think. Your horse decides to stop and bite a branch off a nearby tree. Refueling. It doesn’t get greener than this.

We met up with our guide named Cuca, who offered to take us down for a scenic ride along the beach. We had just come from the beach, so Brooke suggested we ride into the woods. We’d heard there were some beautiful waterfalls in the mountains. Unfortunately, Cuca spoke very little English so there was a lot of hand signals, butchered verb conjugation, and more wild gesturing from Brooke. Finally, though, Cuca seemed to catch on to what we were suggesting. Water. Falling. Pretty. Gringo. We smiled, mounted up, and Cuca led the way down the dirt road.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that my horse thought trotting was for sissies. The slightest kick and he would accelerate into a gallop. Cuca would laugh, saying, “¡Le gusta correr!” Good to know.

Meanwhile, Brooke lagged behind, content to meander down the path, stopping every few minutes for her horse to graze. Cuca suggested she hit the horse’s rear with a stick, but Brooke insisted that the cornerstone of a good horse/rider relationship was trust. This philosophy proved equally troubling when it came time to cross the stream.


Eventually, we made it to the end of a path where Cuca told us to dismount and tie up the horses. He then proceeded to unsheathe a machete from his saddle bag and motioned for us to follow him. Brooke and I exchange glances. I mean, Cuca seemed like a nice guy, but I don’t recall the guide book recommending zip lining, snorkeling, and following a machete-wielding native into the woods as part of the lovers’ getaway package.

But in Costa Rica, there’s a saying: Pura Vida. It translates to “Pure Life,” but means so much more. It is used as a greeting and as a farewell, as an exclamation, an excuse, an answer, and a philosophy. You’re moist? Perpetually lost? You poop out in the open? Pura Vida.

And this is exactly what Brooke said to me as we followed Cuca into the woods as he swung his machete. (Ed. note: If we were in a Chevy Chase film, the next scene would have been me and Brooke tied to boulders while indigenous tribe members danced around our bodies holding spears.)

A few minutes later, we came upon a clearing. There before us was a beautiful stream surrounded by large rocks on either side, pocked with white-water rapids and a cascading waterfall in the background. It was beautiful – peaceful, serene, truly an untouched natural enclave.

And then Cuca took off his pants.

Brooke: “I don’t think this is part of the tour.”

He must have noticed the slight shock on our face, so he motioned that now we would swim. Taking off everything except his underwear (briefs) and shirt (gentlemanly?) he jumped in the river.

Clearly Brooke and I had to think fast. What the hell were we supposed to do in this situation? Swim in our underwear with a complete stranger who took us and his machete to a secluded area where our screams would be drowned out by the cascading rush of water?

At least this would have been the important conversation Brooke and I had if she had not already taken off her shirt and jeans and jumped in the river, too. Problem solved, I suppose.

When you’re young and you dream about the day when you, your girlfriend, and a Latin American man who you just met will ride horses to a secluded mountain oasis, undress and take pictures of one another, it always seems awkward. But you know what? It’s not.



me and Cuca

waterfall jump

We also played a ridiculously fun/dangerous game called “Don’t Get Swept Away In The Current And Crack Your Head Open on Those Rocks.” Cuca taught it to us. Basically, you let the current carry you down the river, and right before you get to the part where there’s a lot of rocks and white water, you swim as hard as you can to the shore and reach out for the stick that Cuca is holding so he can pull you to shore. It had the recklessness of the Russian clown course combined with indomitable forces of nature and the need to make split-decisions in a language you didn’t speak. In short, it was fucking awesome. (I’m thinking of having one of those t-shirts made. Like the “I saw boobs in New Orleans” shirt, except it would say “A man in his underwear saved me from drowning by pulling me to shore with a branch in Costa Rica.”)

After that, we all got dressed and rode back home without a hint of shame. And as my horse galloped wildly ahead of the pack, leaping over puddles with reckless abandon, and I heard Cuca’s booming laugh over my shoulder, I thought: Pura vida, indeed.



Blogger Peter said...

When you’re young and you dream about the day when you, your girlfriend, and a Latin American man who you just met will ride horses to a secluded mountain oasis, undress and take pictures of one another, it always seems awkward. But you know what? It’s not.

That's just genius, right there.

October 6, 2008 at 10:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger molls said...

dude, you look like you've got a six pack going on there. nice work. this post made me laugh out loud (not good in a library full of studious people). Little disappointed that Cuca didn't have to use his machete to fend off wild animals, though.

October 6, 2008 at 12:58:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Raquel said...

Dan, you are chiseled! I mean, DAMN!!

October 6, 2008 at 1:27:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Dana said...

Awesome use of Walmart smilies.

October 6, 2008 at 1:35:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Ben Sherman said...

Hilarious. Can you confirm that Cuca also uses the machete to maintain that glorious stache? I'm thinking that's gotta be the secret.

October 6, 2008 at 2:22:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you are a ridiculously good looking couple.

Cuca sounds like the best guide ever.

October 6, 2008 at 2:43:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Bumbling said...

Now I am off to Google the names of all the care bears. If Tnederheart and Wish bear are real Care Bear names I will then debate as to whether I respect you more or less.
Great pictures, fabulous placement of smiley faces. (wink)

October 6, 2008 at 2:57:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Deezee said...

just so you know, I'm developing writer envy...

October 6, 2008 at 3:09:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous mrs.strombo said...

Great story- but did Puupy win for Mr. September?

October 6, 2008 at 3:41:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favourite thing: the really, really old England football shirt.

October 6, 2008 at 3:59:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Good Girl Gone Blog said...

I think you should make a t-shirt that says, "I see Costa Rica, I see France I see Cuca's underpants."

October 6, 2008 at 4:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Tessa said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

October 6, 2008 at 5:14:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Camels & Chocolate said...

I was waiting for the part when the horse bucked you off over the side of a waterfall. When does that take place?

October 6, 2008 at 5:18:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the last time i went horse riding my camera was in my back pocket and while we were walking along it started to slip out. as i felt it going i reached around quickly only to hold it as it slid down the grooved saddle which apparently my horse took as a sign to TAKE OFF! i've never said WHOA like i did that day. the moral of the story: i saved my camera from destruction and left my life in the hands of a rental horse.
good story.

October 6, 2008 at 8:00:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Allison Hatfield said...

wow. what a good story. i hope you tipped cuca well.

October 6, 2008 at 8:11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger "Single Girl in the City" said...

You only told us this story so you could post half-naked pictures of you and your girl's ripped beautiful bodies.

seriously. you could sell your future babies for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market...

October 6, 2008 at 11:20:00 PM EDT  
Blogger sid said...

God that sounds so friggin awesome. Definitely thinking about headin to Costa Rica next.

October 7, 2008 at 10:13:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Plexus said...

Strong current so you didn't have to worry about caimans. When I went rafting there near Nicaragua, I did a diver's backroll into the river and swam next to the raft in a sedentary pool. During our break I asked our guide in Spanish, not to freak out the English-speaking tourists, if caimans were in the river.

His response was, maybe, hard to tell this time of the year. I asked if that was why occasionally he slapped the river with his paddle. That was to make them pop to the surface and look around.

Yeah, the family men there are reserved. Saw Ticos doing the same thing at the waterfall I swam at, wearing shirts that is. I didn't look close enough, but they could have been donning smiley faces too.

October 10, 2008 at 12:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Kate said...

I love these stories. I really like the t-shirt idea too.

October 10, 2008 at 2:41:00 PM EDT  
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