Howlers and Hikers

Monday, February 25, 2008 /by

Caballeros2 Mornin', Tribe. Hope y'all had a great week. Once again, Central America proved to be a great choice for a vacation. This time, we were in Costa Rica. My wife, Lisa, likes the beach, I like mountains and Cowboy Luke likes pretty much anywhere you can get ice cream. Costa Rica is all  beach and mountain, with many heladerias (ice cream shops), so everyone was happy.

Programming notes, for those of you who don't especially want to read my summary of the trip: I'll  be posting over at ESPN today, but as I have to turn around this Cliff Drysdale piece for the mothership (Tennis magazine) in two days time, blogging will be light for the next few days. Of course, I'll drop a Watercooler every day and hope we'll be back to business as usual by Wednesday.

I want to publicly thank the Mod Squad for doing its usual, fine job in my absence, along with Kamakshi (Tennis.com's webmistress), who directed traffic and posted many of the TW entries that appeared while I was away. And, of course, special thanks to our TW contributing editors and writers - Richard, James, Ed, Rosia, Andrew. . .

Our trip to Costa Rica was a big success; it was smooth, easy, and fun - which isn't always the case if you're knocking around some country instead of holing up in a luxury resort of some kind. Lisa aced the research, and found us three great places to hang out hats - all of them smallish, family-type establishments offering a nice combination of privacy and, well, connection with our hosts, or the local culture. We stayed for about five days in the high country near the Arenal volcano and then Monteverde, and three days on the Pacific coast at Playa Carillo (no relation to Mary).

Lisa had booked a number of tours in the vicinity of the Arenal rain forest and the Cloud Forest at Monteverde. This was my first real exposure to "eco-tourists"  - you know, those earnest folks who don't go anywhere without the birding book, the backpack, the quick-dry, zip-off-at-the-knee "adventure" pants, telescoping walking sticks, and "technical" shoes (which is odd, because on these guided tours, you're obliged to remain on nicely graded and smooth trails).

I found it kind of depressing the way my fellow tourists would all gather around some little tree frog or three-toed sloth and listen, rapt, to a half-hour lecture on the danged thing, then spend another 15 minutes taking pictures of it, while this voice in my head was screaming, louder and louder by the minute: People, it's a friggin' frog - not that I have anything against frogs or they're not cute or anything,  but. . . it's a frog!!!!!

Maybe Lisa's right about me being a butthead about all this but, hail, I guess I'm just into large mammals or something. I confess I can't get too fired up about seeing a hummingbird - not unless it happens to be flying with a big old racoon or woodchuck dangling from its beak. Lisa was more understanding of the reigning sensibility, but Luke decidedly was not. He was less interested in contemplating the ways of the Leafcutter ant (Not that I have anything against Leafcutter ants!) than in swinging from vines (not allowed), stripping ferns (Please! Do NOT touch the flora and fauna!) and throwing rocks off the narrow, semi-scary hanging (read: swinging) bridges - a practice I aggressively tried to prevent, purely out of consideration for my fellow travelers.

But the little cowpoke is as crafty as a pickpocket about such things, and I'm just glad he didn't bean some poor Howler monkey  - or hiker - with any of the things he chucked over the railing.

When I asked Luke today what part of the trip he liked best and least, he replied promptly. He most enjoyed our long trail ride on horseback in the mountains aboard Luna Azul (a fine little filly). He was adamantly unimpressed by the guided tours, or, as he put it "Going in the rain forest with the teachers. . ."

I just didn't have the heart - or dishonesty, I guess - to try to move him off his position.

The last portion of our trip was spent on Playa Carillo on the Nicoya peninsula. It's a large, picturesque, beautifully sheltered bay right off the Pacific, and there could not have been more than two dozen people along the two-mile stretch of fine-sand beach at any given time. The bay effect kept the breakers to a mangeable three and four feet - just enough to make tackling them both joyful and daunting for Luke. He wore himself out, allowing the waves to cuff him around, with his floatation vest serving him like a built-in boogie board.

We had quite lunches and dinners, either in Playa Carillo or nearby Samara (which is slightly larger, but still small). The Costa Ricans were friendly, helpful and courteous - it was especially noticeable in restaurants, stores and at gas stations, where the help often has every right to cop an attitude with gringo tourists afoot. Nobody ever did. It was a terrific trip, and I'd return in a heartbeat.

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