A Vacation of Fitness and Terror, Vol. 4: Curse of El Rio

montezuma pura vida bballPrior to departing on our Costa Rican adventure, we had tossed around a lot of ideas for possible activities, including horseback riding (check.), beach time (check.), swimming (check.), and hiking in the Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve (where we saw the busts of Nicolas Wessberg and Karen Mogensen).

Among the things still on our list were a snorkeling excursion to nearby Tortuga Island and a visit to Montezuma’s waterfalls. Pretty much the only thing that Brian (aka, The Pelican) wanted to do was deep sea fishing. The owners of our rental property, Alex and Khalida, set up a private fishing trip for the guys and arranged for a masseuse to come to the house to give each of us ladies a massage while the guys were away.

This was not just any masseuse. Her name is Devaya and she owns a yoga studio in Montezuma. Picture Joyce DeWitt (Janet from Three’s Company). Now shrink her down to about 65 pounds and give her the mouth of a sailor. Khalida told us that Devaya was also something of a psychic—while we were on the massage table, she might very well tell us our future, or give us a soul reading, or whatever.

We were all pretty excited to find out what she would tell us. Jenn was first. Joy and I went up to the big pool to give them some privacy.

big pool

Joy went to the massage table next, and Jenn filled me in on all the insights that Devaya had shared with her about her true purpose, her relationships, and her health. It sounded like they had talked pretty much the whole time.

When Joy emerged, I expected her to have lots of juicy stuff to share with us. But the only bit of insight Devaya had shared with Joy was that she needs more calcium in her diet.

I have to admit that when I first heard this, I thought it was just part of the infamous Joy Kosenski Customer Service Curse (for as long as I’ve known her, Joy has had a problem with customer service people. They just don’t like her). But then I got on the massage table and Devaya barely said a word to me either except that I “bruise easily” and that I should drink nettle tea. Thanks a lot, Jenn. You used up all the psychic powers. (It was a good massage though.)

Meanwhile, the guys were on a small fishing boat with a guy named Eric, another guy simply called “Pollo” and the owner of the boat, a man named Macho, who we proceeded to see just about every day after that riding his motorcycle from town to town.

fishing

Here is Chris, apparently having caught a fish. The big story of the trip was that Brian came within inches of reeling in a dorado, or mahi mahi—which would have been a major accomplishment. Chris got a great video of the moment when the fish jumps the hook and you just hear one of the boat’s crew (Macho? Pollo?) exclaiming, “PUNTO, MAN!” which we deduced is kind of like saying, “FUCK!”

Brian made some pretty good ceviche and fish tacos out of what they caught. The food throughout the trip was not too bad (although we all got pretty sick of salchiches and processed cheese). Some of it—like the sushi at Puggo’s and the casado at the Panaderia Cabuya—were downright delicious.

Casado is a simple dish of rice, beans, plantains, salad, and a protein (in this case, the most delicious chicken you've ever had). At Panaderia Cabuya.

Casado is a simple dish of rice, beans, plantains, salad, and a protein (in this case, the most delicious chicken you’ve ever had). At Panaderia Cabuya.

On Thanksgiving night, we had a fancy dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant called Playa de los Artistas. It was a swanky spot right on the beach where our server was a sunkissed blonde Frenchman, giving the whole experience a cosmopolitan feel. If Matt Damon were in Montezuma, he would be eating here for sure.

The menu was all in Spanish, so our Frenchman had to painstakingly translate every dish for us. If he hadn’t been absolutely dreamy, it might have been annoying to have your server sitting at your table reading you the menu with a thick French accent. After what felt like forever, we were on one of the last entrees and he got stuck on a pronunciation. He just kept repeating it: sweesharsweeshar… (We had absolutely no clue what he was saying)… sweesharsweeshar… sweeshar … sweeshar … (seriously, this went on for quite a while.)

Finally Jenn was like, “OH, ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY SWISS CHARD?” and we all realized we didn’t want that dish anyway. We got a bunch of other good stuff, like octopus salad, tuna steak, and lobster lasagna. After dinner, we ordered a whole bottle of pink champagne. That was our high-rollin’ Thanksgiving.

We joked that we needed to get up early the next morning to be first in line for all the Black Friday sales:

viernes negro

We spent quite a bit of time just hanging out at Casa Morfo and exploring the property. On the other side of the big house there was a steep jungle trail leading down to the river.

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Despite how tranquil it looks here, the river moves very fast in some places.

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The rocks were all furry and moss covered, so it felt like we were in a fantasy movie.

Our first time to the river, we walked upstream a bit and lounged in some deep, clear pools. We talked to Alex and he said that if we actually walked downstream, we could reach the Montezuma waterfalls in about 20 minutes.

So, on our second visit, we tried to walk downstream. I say “we tried” because from the moment I stepped onto the rocks, every part of my being wanted to turn around and go back.

There was a spot where you had to hop across the rushing water, from one rock to another. When I got to that spot, I should have just jumped. Instead, I started to analyze the situation. I played out the scenarios of what would happen if I didn’t make it. What if my foot slipped? What if I banged my knee and fell? I started to investigate other options for getting across, but no matter where I looked, the rocks were slick, the water was rushing, and my mind was spinning with anxiety.

I was slipping all over the place; I couldn’t get my footing. I fell down hard into a shallow brown puddle that looked like toilet water, bruising my ass and jarring my wrists. Every slick spot we came to, every steep rockface I had to shimmy down, every nub of a rock I was supposed to hop onto, my mind was fighting me, filling me with fear and hesitation. Fear that I would fall and twist my ankle, break my wrist, get swept away. Fear that I would experience pain, or that I would be so mentally crippled by anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to go on.

I was very thankful when we turned around and got back on the trail. And I certainly did not think that I would ever attempt that again.

The last big-ticket adventure of our trip was a boat ride to Tortuga Island. We went back to Zuma Tours and booked the trip with Ojos Locos.

That's Ojos Locos on the right. His ojos didn't look quite as locos the second time we met him.

That’s Ojos Locos on the right. His ojos didn’t look quite as locos the second time we met him.

While we were waiting for the tour, I took some pictures around Montezuma.

The town’s central park would be quite lovely:

park3 park2 park1 park grafitti park grafitti closeup park bench

If these assholes weren’t ruining it for everyone else:

At one point, one of them landed on Brian, causing him to cry out for his wife: "It touched me, honey! It touched me with its feet!"

At one point, one of them landed on Brian, causing him to cry out for his wife: “It touched me, honey! It touched me with its feet!”

We departed for Tortuga Island on a boat with about ten other tourists and three crew.

tortuga boat ride

I can’t say that I was too excited about snorkeling. My first and only other time snorkeling was a few years ago in Sayulita, Mexico. We were dropped off in choppy water and told to swim through a cave to the other side, where we would find a beautiful private beach. I am not a strong swimmer and the idea of breathing out of a tube in open water completely terrified me. But, I hopped out of the boat and tried it anyway, only to find that the tunnel we had to swim through was filled with floating debris and the “beach” on the other side was covered in sharp-looking rocks. We now call this “trash snorkeling.”

Tortuga Island was a lot better than trash snorkeling. However, it was also a lot more crowded. There must have been six or seven boats carrying 10-20 tourists each, which they all dumped off in the same place at the same time, creating a tangled traffic jam of Americans and Europeans swimming around in rented flippers and masks that are “cleaned” with spit and hand sanitizer.

But this time, I actually relaxed and enjoyed the quiet of being underwater. I saw lots of pretty tropical fish. And a lot of pasty white tourist bodies. No tortugas, unfortunately.

They dropped us off on the island, where we were given lunch. This place was the very definition of a tourist trap. Boats of various sizes drop their tourist cargo once or twice a day to buy souvenirs at the gift shop and rent deck chairs for $9 USD a piece.

tortuga-boat

The Love Boat soon will be making another run...

The Love Boat soon will be making another run…

On the way back to Montezuma, we were joined by a group of dolphins that swam alongside the boat and played with us. It was quite special, and almost makes up for the whale-watching tour I went on earlier this year where I saw no whales.

Speaking of wanting to see wildlife, we had been hoping to see howler monkeys throughout the trip, but so far had been unsuccessful. We could hear them around Casa Morfo—they make a deep, barking noise that echoes all over the peninsula—and we knew we were close to some while hiking through Cabo Blanco, but we hadn’t spotted any.

On the return boat ride from Tortuga Island, a nice woman named Anne who was on her post-divorce Eat, Pray, Love trip, told us that she saw howler monkeys around her hotel (the Ylang Ylang Resort) all the time. So, we went to check it out, and sure enough:

howler

We now realized why they had evaded us before. When you get close, they are as quiet as ninjas.

Tune in next time for the fifth and final installment, where I face my fear of el rio; the gang comes SERIOUSLY close to becoming an episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive in the Costa Rican jungle; and I almost buy a very expensive statue.

**Once again, thank you to Jenn for the pictures from Tortuga Island and the shot of the howlers. And it must have been The Pelican who took the picture of Chris and the fish. Thanks, Pelican—yours is truly a dangerous, dangerous beauty.

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2 thoughts on “A Vacation of Fitness and Terror, Vol. 4: Curse of El Rio

  1. Um, seriously?! You seemed cool as a cucumber as I desperately searched everyone’s faces for signs that they were experiencing the same mental anguish whilst hiking the waterfalls. I know you SAID you were nervous, but *SPOILER*, you exhibiting some admirable courage the next day when you hiked DOWN the waterfalls!

    Also, your pics are gorgeous.

    And I am so glad you included the blue jays. I started sketching the scenario at a meeting at work (you and me crouching with our eyes closed, awaiting the inevitable attack (but protecting our eyes), and Brian sitting stoically as a jay reaches out and touches him), but I started giggling and had to put it away.

    P.S. – I am SO glad you’re doing these – you write beautifully and it’s so fun to read a story you were a PART of!!

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