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Drinking Goodbye to Friends – Costa Rica day 22

We awoke for a day on the beaches of Costa Rica. The group spent the morning helping the government-employed workers tend the ground where we stayed. We picked up the debris that had fallen from trees and tore down the turtle sanctuary for the season. The last nest has hatched that morning and the sand needed to drift around and re-organize the nutrients before the next season’s horde of turtles would come to lay their eggs.

Everyone enjoyed releasing baby turtles one last time at Playa Hermosa. It was the third nest to have hatched while we were there. While the turtles struggled through the sand, everyone picked the turtle they thought would be fastest. We cheered and bantered over whose was best. Mine did well, but it didn’t pick the quickest path to the water.

A sudden bit of excitement beckoned me over to a group that was forming around a student. I rushed over to see what the commotion was all about and found a very large starfish in one of the guy’s hands. It had bright orange legs that were feeling around in all directions. It was beautiful. After everyone had a look, it was returned safely to the water.

The day was spent hanging out, playing soccer and football on the beach and trying to catch waves in the bad surfing conditions. After playing some football, I waxed my board and paddled out between sets. I waited a long time before finally finding a wave worth riding, but when it came, I hit it and got everything I could from it. I did this several times before the sun had crossed the sky and began to set.I had been surfing for hours and only found a few waves, but I didn’t care. I was moving with the warm ocean waters rather than shivering in a jacket as I would be 24 hours later. I didn’t let myself take any of this for granted.

When the sun was low in the sky, the other surfers and I caught our last waves back to shore and rejoined our respective sub-groups who we had been with for the last weeks. In the groups, we discussed the experiences we had and shared what we appreciated about each person. It was very nice to hear the uplifting talk and each person was affirmed for his or her contributions to the group.

When the meeting was over, we were taken to a restaurant to eat wonderfully prepared meal and taste the only alcohol we were allowed on the trip. Those of us who indulged were faced with a choice between Pilsen or Imperial Beer. I chose Imperial after a suggestion from one of the guides, but after trying a sip of each, I determined Pilsen to be the better brew. After weeks of sweating and being grungy much of the time, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to sit in a restaurant with clean clothes and enjoy my Cajun mahi-mahi and beer.

I found myself enjoying the company of friends in a paradise I knew would not last and I was in the best mood I have been in for as long as I can remember. It was a magnificent feeling. I knew I would not see the guides again unless there was a very fortunate turn of events. As I drank my beer, I felt like I was drinking goodbye to friends.

After dinner, the group went back to the beach at Playa Hermosa. We gathered in the sand and were given a show of Fire Poi by one of our members. It was beautiful to watch the fiery orbs dance around our member’s head while hearing the whoosh of the fast-moving flame. It put me in a trance.

When the show concluded, Felipe’s daughter of 6 years wanted some attention of her own. With a headlamp in each hand, she danced around and twirled the lights while performing her own dance. Everyone applauded for the adorable girl and watched as her face lit up from the attention.

Once the show was over, everyone began to prepare for bed. My group members and I walked down to the water to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean one last time. We would be leaving early in the morning and would not get to touch the ocean again before we left. The water was warm and everyone was happy enjoying their last bit of paradise before heading home in the morning. I went back to camp and crawled into my hammock to sleep in the warm Costa Rican air.

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Releasing Baby Sea Turtles and Surfing – Costa Rica day 21

Shortly after lying down in my hammock, a hard rain began to fall. I quickly rolled out of my hammock and threw my belongings sloppily into one of the tents that had room for an additional guy. Everyone scrambled to put the rain flies on the tents because we had chosen to sleep without them during the trip due to in the Costa Rican heat.

Around 5:00 AM came the almost daily interruption of our morning. This time, however, it was not a rooster, goose, or other fowl, but rather a new bird with a far more annoying call than any had previously made. It literally made the Dolby Surround Sound warm-up noise repeatedly for the entire morning. We were not amused.

Upon leaving our tents in the morning, we were greeted with a wonderful surprise. In the night, one of the turtle nests had hatched in the sanctuary and we were going to release them before breakfast.

A full bucket of baby sea turtles (they were carefully places in their by a man with a glove on) was brought to the beach and the turtles were poured out in a line on the sand. Some had not yet woken up from their slumber and were put back in the bucket so they could be released later that day when they become conscious. The rest began their long journey down the beach with us protecting them from the birds.

We had to release the turtles high on the beach because their journey across the beach is crucial for them to be able to return to this specific beach in order to lay eggs in successive years (The turtles have glands that learn the exact sand composition of the beach and the turtle will return to the same beach for the entirety of their life).

When all of the baby turtles had made their struggle into the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean, I took a walk down the beach. I was amazed at the variety of shells and lack of trash on the beach. It was so clean and natural looking.

Eventually, I wandered back to our camp for breakfast. The waves were not yet sufficient for surfing, so everyone helped do community service around the grounds where we stayed. Some helped with the turtle hatchery while others removed debris from the ground. Coconuts were thrown into the jungle and fallen branches stacked at the edge of the jungle.

When the waves had built enough for surfing, everyone went to the storage room and grabbed boards. Since I had previous experience surfing and have done nearly every board-sport imaginable, I was permitted to forego the padded noob boards and take a hard board. The instructor was really cool about this and took time to teach me how to properly wax a surf board and what to look for should I ever be in the market to purchase one.

After waxing my board, I joined the others in the surf and began catching waves.  I found the board to be a lot of fun and began practicing my turns. It was challenging, but I was successful in making a few turns and was happy with the speed at which I was picking up the sport. I don’t know what it is with myself and water sports, but we just work well together.

Consumed by hunger, we took a break from the waves and went in for lunch. We had fresh pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, coconut, and sandwiches. It was healthy, filling, and delectable. Everyone left the meal with full stomachs and bodies tired from surfing (which is a lot more work that it appears to be!).

I went and laid in my hammock while the rest of the group grabbed their sleeping mats and lay in the shade around me. It was siesta time as the afternoon sun turned the sand too hot to stand. Several members of the group talked and laughed quite loudly, so none slept, but it sure was nice to rest in such a warm beautiful place. It was 88 degrees in the shade with a light breeze. Life could not be better.

Eventually, the group grabbed their boards, I grabbed mine, and together we headed down to the water. We surfed non-stop for hours. As the gigantic sun began to drown into the aquatic horizon, it painted the canvas of the sky a luminescent watercolor of every pink and purple hue imaginable.

Having paddled myself beyond the breakers, I laid half-submerged with my back atop my surfboard in order to watch as the glowing bauble in the sky sank below the horizon. I had never seen the sun so large. Viewing it from a surfboard that was gently bobbing in the warm, Pacific Ocean water made it an unbeatable experience. I found myself having one of the few moments of my life that stand above the rest. Life was pure – Pura Vida.

Upon returning to the beach, we were informed that the other group from our college would be arriving soon. We were all a little nervous as our group had formed a very tranquil atmosphere and the other group was much louder and outspoken. Their arrival, with shouts and song that could be heard from far down the road only made us more nervous. Fortunately their energy did not stay too high for very long and the two groups quickly blended together as they had in the first day of the trip.

Later that evening, everyone was asked to sign up for a one-hour shift watching and protecting the turtle nests during the night. I signed up with a girl whom I had been friends with for a long time but rarely spoke to outside the trip. We got along very well and had many things in common. It was fun to sit and catch up on the last few years where we had been near to one another, but so few words were exchanged.

While everyone got ready to go to bed, our surf instructor broke out his guitar and began to serenade the camp in his Costa Rican accent. He was a well built man with dark complexion and gnarly dreads. The girls all melted when he played “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson, but I rather preferred his renditions of “Jammin” by Bob Marley and “The General” by Dispatch.

I quickly fell asleep because I had essentially been up since 5:00 AM thanks to the Dolby-Surround-Sound-bird and had signed up for a turtle-watch shift in the middle of the night. My hammock was comfortable and I was happy to be in it again (if only for a while).

 

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So That’s Why You Wear a Helmet – Costa Rica day 20

An early morning and a brisk pace allowed us to break camp and be on the river by 7:30 AM. It was going to be a long day and we needed all the time we could get. We headed downriver and quickly came to some challenging rapids. Some flipped in their duckies but the kayaks remained upright through the first few rapids.

I flipped in a rapid called “Rattlesnake.” It was my fault, I tried to go to the right of a boulder but the river pushed left. I hit the pillow and began to roll. A good brace would have saved me, but I didn’t manage a good brace. I flipped just as I flowed off the pillow and onto the tongue to the left of the boulder.

As the current quickly pulled me downriver, I tried to get my paddle in position to flip myself back over, but it collided with rocks and was impossible to get into position. A second or two later, my head met a large boulder that was submerged. It collided hard enough that with my solid hip-snap, I nearly rolled my kayak upright from the force of the collision. I caught a breath as my head came out of the water for a moment, but my paddle was still in a very awkward position and my combat rolls were not yet perfected.

My head splashed back under water, but only momentarily. I had gotten my paddle back to a decent position for rolling and I went for the roll with everything I had. It worked and I was right side up once again. Everything had happened so fast, I couldn’t believe how well I had done with recovering after my mistake had lead me to flip. I certainly still showed signs of being a noob, but I was picking up the sport very quickly.

As I passed Felipe, he began to laugh. I inquired as to what he was laughing about and he replied by telling me to take off my helmet and look for myself. I did and was surprised by the amount of damage the rock had caused. The helmet had a 4×4 inch patch of deep gouges and scratches. I can only imagine how my head would have looked if the hard-shelled helmet was not there to protect it. I looked back at Felipe and said, “So that’s why you wear a helmet” and thank God I had. The helmet worked so well I didn’t even have a headache from the collision.

Another bit of excitement came when we took a break for lunch. We made our buffet on some rocks and began preparing the meal. After a minute or two of peaceful, quiet work, someone shouted something about a crocodile. Sure enough, about 30 yards from us a crocodile was swimming past. Throughout lunch, several other crocs were spotted across the river.

A few members of the group were a little nervous about such a powerful animal being so close. The guides tried to reassure them that it would be fine and that these were “little” crocodiles, only about 8-feet. The students who were nervous didn’t think that little was an adequate description of an eight-foot croc, but considering how large they can grow to, it was a fair assessment.

In the afternoon, the group pulled all of the gear out from the river and began the drive back to headquarters to return the rafting gear. Once that was accomplished, everyone piled into a touring van and were driven to Playa Hermosa, where we would spend the last days of our trip learning to surf and helping with the ongoing sea turtle restoration project (There will be a cool video of this coming soon so stay posted!).

 

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