Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pura Vida: Zip Lines, La Fortuna, and Pizza Delivery

After breakfast at the Treehouse Hotel, our first foray was to Ecoglide for a zip line tour of the base of the Arenal volcano.  I lost track of how many platforms they had, but thankfully Becky took a picture:

This.  This many platforms.

Becky and I geared up at the base, where a guide had what he called his "pet" on one shoulder.  We called it "the big green bug that looked like leaves" but internet research reveals it to be a leaf mantis.  We didn't get a picture of the leaf mantis because we were too busy donning helmets, harnesses, and a glove with a thick pad for braking.

There were around fifteen of us in the tour group.  We took a truck up the mountain, a flatbed with metal benches welded to the back.  A short drive over steep, rough terrain later, and we were climbing rock steps up the volcano.  The volcano puts a haze in the air even on the clearest day.  Add dense foliage and you've got a dark trek.  The way passing from oppressive summer heat outside to meat locker rooms inside is disruptive to your body's ability to regulate itself, going from daylight to canopy cover is disorienting to your sense of time.  Add that to the two-hour time difference, and the days seemed to last forever.  

It's tough to show how high up those platforms were because we didn't take any shots straight down, but these pictures might give you some idea.

Not mini-cows.  Cows from high, high off the ground.
I'm not one to fear heights.  Also, I used to zip line in high school.  But these trees dwarf the oaks of central New York.  And as forty looms, you approach nearly every physical activity in terms of its aftermath.  Sure I could play football, you think when your cousins get together to relive their glory days, but what if I tear a hamstring or snap another bone?  You tell yourself, I could finish this whole plate of nachos, but my stomach will hate me for it all night long.  "I've got to head home," you say when your friends pressure you to have another round, "I really need to get some sleep or I'll be useless tomorrow."  You get accustomed to being careful, to playing it safe, even when the greatest consequence is fleeting annoyance.

Yet here's an activity where you climb to a platform built around a tree and jump off, an oft-used harness and much-used cables the only things between you a sudden plunge.  You court not just severe injury, but death.

And here's a fun fact - Ecoglide didn't make us sign a waiver.  In fact, we didn't sign anything.  We walked in, donned our gear, and got on the truck, the guides making jokes the whole time like, "If you want someone to have an 'accident,' let us know; we're very cheap and no one will ever know."  Growing up in the litigious US, the absence of any contract letting them off in the event of your catastrophic injury or death will either put you at ease or freak the shit out of you.  Guess which I went with?

"Is this dumb, Daredevil, or really fucking dumb?"
Of course, people freak in all sorts of ways.  I didn't freak out, I freaked in.  The guides asked, "How you doing, papi?" and I could hardly speak.  Thankfully, they kept us moving.  If I'd had time to contemplate the drop, I surely would have frozen.  Instead, I just went with the flow.  The adrenaline was incredible.  It thrums through the line and into your bones, promising death, but you've just got to ignore it and keep moving forward.

At no point during my zip line experience did I feel like Batman.
The death-defying urge skipped me but Becky has enough for both of us.  If you check the map above, you'll see something called The Tarzan Swing.  We stopped at a platform halfway through the course that had water coolers and no zip lines.  The guides didn't tell us what would happen, they just asked, "Who's first?"

Becky's hand shot up immediately.  They brought her to the end of the platform seventy-nine feet in the air, opened a gate, and pushed her off.

The blue dot toward the upper left corner?  That's her helmet.
Becky claims she volunteered to go first because if she saw anyone else do it, she would have chickened out.  Yeah, right.  Check out pure joy, one hundred feet up.

Click for the full effect; ie, to see her smiling face.
Afterward, back at the base, a seventy-something British woman gave Becky a big hug.  "The way you took that swing," she told Becky, "You're my inspiration."  Which is funny, because it was seeing the seventy-something British woman do the Tarzan swing that finally shamed me into taking my turn.

Where do you go after that?  Well, we went to La Fortuna for lunch.  We passed hours with a little grilled chicken, a little shrimp and rice, some fresh juice, and cafe con leche.  The pace is glacial, but we didn't care.

After a very leisurely lunch, we took an equally leisurely stroll through La Fortuna.  

The church had a clock tower with a face on each side that showed four different times.  Because fuck time, pura vida!

The fountain in the center of La Fortuna's town square / park.

Flowers like this filled the park. 

We stopped at a chocolate shop...

...then took a bus back to the hotel.  It was a good forty-five minute ride but we didn't care because Costa Rica's public buses are like Greyhounds.

Also, this was the view from the bus window.

I know, right?
Once at the Treehouse, we ordered pizza that cost five grand.

Totally worth it for the butchering of "treehouse" and "mozzarella."  I should also point out that's about ten bucks U.S.
Overall, not a bad first day.

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