Here is Coach Jake’s recap of the event and his travel adventure, firsthand!
So, the idea began with a quick peek at the Water World Website and I saw a Costa Rica swim. That seemed like an awesome idea. That seemed like a good reason to get a passport. That seemed like something that would not materialize. Little did I know that not only would it happen, somewhat magically, but also be the best trip that I have ever taken. Especially outside the U.S. Of course, it is the first trip for me so I am still on cloud nine. If your still reading… this is my editorial on the trip. Please take it with a grain of salt. It is a beautiful country, great beach, plenty to see, and really a good time. I am just a cynical bastard!
My trip plans included alot of absolutely nothing. I applied for a passport and thought that there was no way that it would arrive in time. WRONG! It took 3 weeks to get it. I then decided that I would learn how to downhill ski. That was an idea that my knees decided to veto and I got hurt. So, I decided to enroll in a 7 km swim, almost no training, injured, and in a foreign country that I cannot speak the language. Saddle up partner!
The plan was to basically let the chips fall where they may. No vehicle, no hotel reservations, no map, no clue. I boned up a little on the net about Costa Rica and exchanged a few e-mails with team La Ruta… in particular with specialists Roman Urbuina and Pipa Leon. Both of these folks are athletes extraordinaire. I think Roman has a resume longer than the miles I flew to get there. Medium built guy with a mack truck engine inside. Pipa was one of the neatest people I have met in the world. She also classifies as one of the toughest and adaptable individuals on my list. Her stories range from Alaska fishing to Costa Rica jungle living that made me want to crawl into my down comforter and pull it over my head.
Due to the lateness of my planning, I got an itinerary that was red-eye killer. Why make it easy? My trip from S.F. had a stop at San Salvador Comalapa International Airport, San Salvador. It was my first taste of jungle heat. I was not in Kansas anymore. Or in the bay area to be exact! I played sheep and followed the crowd because not only could I not understand what was being said but it sounded like someone was speaking through a microphone way too close. I did manage to get on the right planes though. I must say TACA airlines really did a good job. The in-flight movies were brutal but I got some pretty tasty meals for my troubles.
So… I made it to Costa Rica, and without any illegal drugs being placed onto my person. I was riding high! That was until I had to figure out how to get out of the airport. Finding a bathroom off the plane was harder than I thought. A few trips across the length of the terminal was met with success. As I have said, first oversees trip so the concept of “immigration” was lost on me. It became a desperate search to get out of the airport… like finding the holy grail. A few more tours of the concourse made me crack, and as a male I defeatedly asked for directions. A police officer standing under an “immigration” sign pointed to stairs next to him. He smiled and handed me a pamphlet about safe travels. I bet he was already thinking how this vacation was going to end.
I missed the whole point about a declaration sheet. It appears to be an official piece of paper that is given to immigration officers that allow you in the country. In hindsight, while I was on the plane I was given this sheet pre-landing and thought, ” I have nothing to declare” and left it behind. On the ground and after standing in a long line, I was told by the worker that I do have something to declare and filled out a copy in a corner of the room. I was officially in another country! A quick exchange of money to Costa Rica “colonies”, very odd looking and in high numbers, and I was off.
Pipa was awesome enough to pick me up from the airport and take me to a bus which would get me to the coast. sounded great to me! I must have had a look because a cab driver got his claws hooked in and was moving me quicklike to a cab. I muttered bus station and he jumped into action. I paused, or escaped, long enough enough to look for Pipa and was saved! She liberated my carry on bag and into her truck we went!
It was a fairly quick ride to downtown San Jose to the bus station. Pipa filled me in on her background… as I said she was deep. A quick history lesson on the country and an eye opening look at a “3rd world country” left my head spinning. San Jose was located between two huge mountain ranges with weather that flowed from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans. Somewhere there is a volcano. Farming, fruit exports, and somewhat surprising… but not really, flower exports provide a gross national product. The warning was to not get hurt. Medical costs come out of pocket. Also, no phone coverage. My phone did not work there, some kind of weird conspiracy in which non-Costa Rica phones do not work. Another challenge! Pipa did write her phone number down on my “palm pilot”.. but I sweated so much it was lost! She got me to the right bus, “hang onto your bag”… which was also the warning from the bus driver… and I was seated and off to the coast! Bus seats were assigned and I was made aware of that after a dirty look from a local who’s seat I was in and who also immediately recognized that if he said something I would not understand. Great bus ride! The drivers are like surgeons on a windy hillside road! We went over spectacular mountain passes for two and a half hours. Comfortable individual seats on a renovated “tour” bus.
Downtown Jaco Beach was our stopping point, we were let off in the middle of town. I learned later that the bus station was at the end of town and would have given me a better reference point, but as I said…. I am the hobo from America! Overwhelmed, sweaty hot, no sleep for at least 36 hours, and desperate… I began walking looking for the Terraza Hotel. Needless to say, I did not find it. I shifted my goal to the Best Western Hotel. I did not find it. I did however find a cab who took me to the Terraza, 1.5 miles, away and was the most expensive cab ride of the trip. Note to self, the better the tip, the cheaper the cab rides became! That guy did not get a tip! I knew he took me. I had two others that were fair.
Panic at the Terraza came in the form of check in time, (3 pm), and hotel price. My lack of the Spanish had me looking more like a piss poor mime than anything else. After the price was set, I killed an hour touring the grounds and to my room I went. Really nice hotel…. right by the beach, clean, quiet, and was worth the clown dance. I took a picture of the bathroom because I was sooo excited about a shower! It was awesome! I tried to make a call to Pipa but due to smudges… I really pissed off some unsuspecting Costa Rican. I tried three times but I was sure HE was wrong… what a bad ego I have! I did check in with Coach Pedro.. just to have someone know I was still alive.
I slept hard for 45 minutes, it felt like 8 hours. Clock said 45 minutes. Pedro called me back and passed the message that I was still alive. I felt loved!
I took a cab into Jaco Beach, it was getting cheaper. I walked around a little to get my bearings. I had left my luggage at the hotel which made me feel less of a tourist but as I learned… I could be spotted a mile away. Male, foreigner white, stumbling along alone… easy pickings. I made sure to be careful. I found a grocery store, inter net cafe, and saw lots of places to eat. I ate a fish fry that rivaled the best in Wisconsin. YES! California does not know fish fry! The internet connected me to my California family, both Roman and Pipa, and ESPN. It became at least a once a day habit to ensure that I did not fall off the face of the earth.
I will say… Jaco Beach is a tourist area. It is also a hub for commerce both above and below board. During the day, it was safe but the fringes could be seen. After dark, the fringes took over. Travel in pairs! I have never been accused of being cautious. I was when the sun went down! After dinner it was cab (better rate!), to bed and sunrise. I thought I died! Then the morning sun woke me up.
Funday was Friday! Ziplines were awesome! A tour company was only 3 blocks away so I was walked there by the kind staff there. Hotel staff was awesome! They took mercy on me! The best part was watching a hung over young man who was afraid of heights clinging to a tree between zips. He was also from Wisconsin. That explained being hung over and pasty pale!
I can say, two days were spent almost exclusively on the beach. Friday and good portions of Sunday and Monday morning. After the zip line I wanted water. In hindsight, I did see a silhouette with a red circle with a cross as I left hotel grounds to the beach. It read to me “no trespassing”. I later learned it was “no swimming”. Oops!
I took a long walk on the beach… end to somewhat end. It was black sand that stretched forever! Then it was an exercise in duckdiving! Surfers were everywhere! Waves were huge… and I was puzzled and needed to figure out the whole process. I learned that a quick skim below the breaking wave surface worked best. I went deep and was hit with two waves. I went high and got rolled. I stood and tried to muscle through it and was sent flying up the beach like a leaf off a tree. Houses and cars got moved by a tsunami… I had no chance against a wall of water. Once beyond the break waters it was pleasant… except for a small rip current. I learned at that precise moment that I did not like rip currents. I broke the current and chose to stay closer to the beach after that panic swim to shore. The rest of the day included a nap… shower… book… and dinner in town. It was a great plate full of spicy rice, vegetables, and little shrimp, a somewhat Costa Rican diet. I learned that Imperial beer, a local brew, was tasty.
Note on sun screen. 30 spf SUCKED! I was burnt fast and deep red. It was like water in the sun. The sun screen burned faster than it took to apply it. I was given sun screen on event day and the joke was “a little late isn’t it?”. HOT sun… very HOT sun!
Before bed I met Roman. He and his crew were camping and preparing for the next day’s events. Roman is an ass kicker. He walks it, talks it, and would be someone I would pay to watch compete. This trip is worth meeting someone like that. I thought camping sounded awesome. After a hike in the jungle… I felt stupid. There are some scary critters out there. They got rained on that evening… a storm went through and little sleep was had by all. Everyone rolled with the punches and they were solid for the event. An unflappable crew!
Event day Saturday was awesome! I got my ass kicked… as I should have. The locals swam like swordfish… I was the flounder (cheetah of the sea). The swim was tough and long but I got to see some fish which was cool. A pack of “bait” fish swam by. It was like a moving black cloud next to me. Thousands of these things paced me for what seemed awhile. I also saw two “predator” fish. I could not tell you what they were but they had telltale sharp looking top fins. They swam slowly beneath me and disappeared like ghosts. The water support crew was excellent and I never felt alone the whole time! Dry land felt like heaven! The end of the event was like a blur because of event high, food, awards, and the prospect of an umbrella drink filled my mind. It was really fun talking to the other swimmers. Great group of people.
I was able to locate an new hotel, La Cometa, in the middle of downtown. shortly after the event. Now, it sounds quite exquisite. It was not. It was clean, it was very simple, it had a locked gate, and safe. I slept on spongebob sheets. It did the job. The owner, by the way, spoke French, English and Spanish. I think he knew more. I am still amazed that so many people spoke multiple languages well. Shower and a run for an umbrella drink, pina colada, filled my itinerary. I napped like a kid after that. On my way to dinner, I met with Pipa and her friend and had some company. It was a great evening. We talked about lots. Pipa rose higher on my admire list when she ordered a steak RARE! My favorite type of steak! I had a local cut that was really a good chunk. RARE! It was heavenly!
Sleep in town was harder. Music and noise, and bar bands and honking seemed to go on forever. Let me spend a moment on honking…. Costa Ricans honk for everything. Cabs honk at cabs. Cabs honk at trucks, trucks to buses, buses to buses, buses to cabs, cabs to people, cars to everybody, scooters to buses, trucks to scooters. It was like a weird song or piece of music. I will say that none were honked in anger.. it was more like a wave or saying hello. Pretty cool actually.
Sunday was a beach morning and … wait for it…. scooter road trip! I rented a scooter and hit the open road. I probably should have rented a motorcycle! I took a trip to the Carara National Forest and took a nature hike. I learned at that moment that I would not like to camp in the jungle! Ants were so big that I think if they wanted to, they could carry me off to their nest. Flowers, banana trees, iguana type lizards, monkeys, toucans, and saltwater crocodiles appeared in my view. It was beautiful. I took the scooter the opposites direction and from the road saw large cattle farms, crop farms, really interesting villages and lots of open space. When I returned, the renter did not seem to happy his scooter was running at 80 kph. No damage, no cry!
Dinner was a treat of mahi mahi in lobster sauce with potatoes. I cried when I was done! It was beautiful!
Monday was a beach morning and the beginning of the trip home. the funniest part of the trip was at the end. While at breakfast I saw a very well put together woman walking down the middle of the road… on the phone and appeared to be searching. It seemed odd and stuck in my mind. While getting my bus ticket there was a gentleman in front of me. This woman appeared out of know where and corralled my traveling compatriate. He had not paid for “3 sessions”! The look of future trouble (like broken limbs) by the beautiful woman and panic by the gentleman signaled that specific services were not paid. Someone was on the run from the bill. HA! Life of the tourist! When I say gentleman… it is like a strip club is considered a gentlelman’s club.
It was an uneventful flight home. Long, somewhat boring, and standing in an immigration line really sucked. Going back to work was an even worse prospect!
All in all, I had a great trip. My next adventure down there will include a road map, rental car, and a companion for the Spanish villages. There was alot to see and the learning curve was huge for me. Pack very light, it is so hot that not alot of clothes are needed. Pack plain. I learned that non-advertising and simple clothes help make you blend in. Be happy… everyone else there was! I was too by the way! Happy that is! Also, bring an open mind. There are lots of places to stay and logistics can be worked out on the fly. A solid plan is comforting, seat of your pants works well too.
As in the words of our famous former governor ” I will be back”!
Coach Jake will be co-launching a fabulous Water World Swim Escape TriClinic in May with Coach George and Coach Pedro. Stay tuned for details!