A Travellerspoint blog

Day Five: The Day Of Rest

Or Maybe Only Day Of Slight Rest

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Every Wednesday here at Surf Simply is a staff day off. Considering that the guys here work six days a week in one form or another, I think we shall allow them a day off every now and again! However, the guests aren't left entirely to their own devices. There are a range of excursions available to choose from that help to pass the day. The first week I had elected to go zip-lining through the jungle. I had a few preconceptions about this and in my mind I thought it would be something similar to GoApe back in the UK. I was quite a long way off the mark with this idea though.

After breakfast, all of us participating in the zip-lining (every single one of the guests except two) were taxied over to the main office of the Miss Sky Canopy Tour company. Here we were all fitted out with harnesses and safety helmets and signed a waiver of questionable legality. It was at this point that I discovered that I'd left the memory card from my nice shiny camera in my laptop from the night before. Luckily, I had also packed my pocket camera, so at least I was going to be able to get a few snaps in, although as of writing this, I've not been able to transfer them to the computer to see how they turned out.

As seems to be the way here in Nosara, the guides and office staff were incredibly relaxed and certainly didn't seem to be in a great rush to get things moving. Eventually though all tour participants were herded towards what can only be described as a cattle truck to be ferried up to the zip line course. This journey should have taken about twenty minutes to make but, as should have been expected, the inevitable happened and our overly-large taxi failed to make it up one particularly wet and muddy track.

Everyone piled out of the lorry and started walking. Luckily we didn't have to walk far before a second truck turned up being driven by a couple of our guides. This truck however was even more unsuitable than the last, in as much as it wasn't meant to transport 20+ people. While the lorry had just about had enough room for everyone, this new form of transportation was more like a pick-up truck and clearly carrying this many people had never been in the design specs. The guides actually ended up having to hang off the back of the pick-up. I wish I'd been able to get some pictures of this but hanging on for dear life seemed more appropriate.

Eventually we arrived at the our destination, atop a mountain near the coast. There was a spectacular view back towards the ocean, and with a bit of luck, once again I'll have a photo of this when I return home. We were then shown over to the first zip line and this is where my ideas concerning GoApe evaporated. For those unfamiliar, GoApe are obstacle courses in the canopies of forests around the UK with the occasional zip-line thrown in for good measure. Well, the experience here in Costa Rica does away with any kind of climbing in trees. Instead, they have essentially strung zip lines between mountains! The first line, as an example has you gliding several hundred feet above the jungle below for nearly a kilometre, and this is just one line of about twenty.

I had actually considered buying a helmet camera prior to coming out here (I'll be getting one for my next snowboarding trip), and I now regret not having done this, as it was impossible to use a camera while on the zip lines, mostly due to the thick leather gloves that we had to use as brakes. This means that, once again, I have to use my somewhat inadequate grasp of the English language to convey the experience and rather sadly, I can't really think of anything remotely realistic to compare the whole thing to. But I can imagine, and my mind suggests that Superman must get a similar feeling whilst he is flying, minus the overly-tight-in-the-wrong-places harness that I was wearing (instead replaced with overly-tight-in-the-wrong-places outside underwear). Breathtaking doesn't even cover this.

After a large number of lines, there is a change of pace. The guides remove everyone's harnesses and it's time for a short jungle trek. At this point the guides get to have some fun with everyone. You're told that the group should stay together as they are jaguars and pumas in the jungle. This is somewhat hammered home by the fact that a couple of the locals are carrying machetes on their belts! This puts everyone in a slightly nervous frame of mind, and it's this that the guides make the most of by playing practical jokes such as throwing large rocks to make the undergrowth crash and jump, walking up behind people and grabbing the backs of their legs etc.

The short trek through the trees ended at a jungle water fall and splash pool, ready for a spot of cooling, jungle swimming. I'm pretty sure I managed to get a few snaps of this on the pocket camera so we will see how they end up. Sadly, this wonderfully idyllic setting was somewhat spoiled by turning 180 degrees and finding a decrepit JCB slowly rusting away.

Walking back up to the final zip-line, the guides played their biggest joke. About half way up, they said they were going to show us a hummingbird nest. This, unsurprisingly, had everyone's attention being paid somewhere roughly half way up a tree, which then led to quite a shock when a gorilla (read: man in a mask) came charging out the undergrowth. This earned quite a few screams from the women on the trip and more than a few chuckles from the guides. And of course, there never was a hummingbird nest.

One final zip-line and we ended the jungle-top-tour with another scary ride up some mud tracks in the pick-up truck. We (relatively) swiftly returned to base camp, and from then on our day was our own. I personally spent it chilling by the pool and snapping a few photos from around the resort. This was a nice relaxing change of pace and gave me chance to recharge my energy levels before heading back out into the water the following day

EDIT: Some photos of the zip line experience can be found on the company's website (Miss Sky Canopy Tour). Sadly, they aren't of my trip in particular, but they do give you an idea of the experience.

Posted by Exitalterego 11:49 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged adventure jungle waterfall costa_rica moutains zipline Comments (0)

Getting Through The White Water

Turtle Rolling And Pressing Up!

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So in the last post, I talked about getting outback through the white water. Unsurprisingly, if you paddle straight at a wall of white water, the chances are that it will wipe you out, push you back as far as you've just paddled forward and send your board off in a totally unwanted direction. Generally speaking, it gets a lot easier and you make more headway if you end up either doing a press-up or a turtle roll.

A press up is exactly what is sounds like; you have to do a press up on the board. This however, is far from simple when you're balanced on a fibre glass board a couple of feet wide while sitting in the middle a wall of white foam.

The second method, and slightly more interestingly named, is the turtle roll. The name is a little bit of a misnomer though as you don't actually roll yourself at all, just your board. The idea is that you turn yourself into a sea anchor for your board by spearing yourself down into the water just prior to the wave hitting you. It's a little hard to visualise, but if it is possible to imagine yourself being vertical underwater holding onto your board above your head, you end up being in a T-shape. The wave hits the board and you being vertical and deep in the water helps to stop the board from being pulled too far away.

The only downside to this method is that you when you surface after the wave has passed, you can't really tell what you're surfacing into. It could be another wave, another surfer or simply open water. Whatever is waiting for you, the idea is that you get back on your board as fast as possible and start paddling again, despite being blinded by the salt water in your eyes.

I suppose in reality I mention these techniques simply because I think anything that is called a turtle roll will amuse me!

Posted by Exitalterego 07:17 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged beaches surfing costa_rica techniques Comments (0)

Days Three and Four: Pushing Ourselves Past The Break

Discovering The Tranquillity Of Surfing

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So I'm going to combine days two and three into a single post, partly as each post is taking me a long time to actually finish, and partly because day two wasn't really that exciting in terms of writing about it.

'Woken by the call of the howler monkey' are not words I ever believed would pass my lips. I've now been proven wrong. The dawn chorus here takes on something a little closer to lots of dogs barking rather than the nice, gentle calls of birds. Not that on this particular day it minded as I had to be awake for the 6 A.M. yoga class. Yes, this is early, but out here the day kind of ends when the sun goes down, so by 8:30 or 9 in the evening, everyone is in bed. Early to bed also equals early to rise here so a 6 A.M. yoga class, at least for the locals, would be perfectly normal. For me, it was a struggle to make it out of bed. Make it I did though, and I'm glad of that, as if I had given up the yoga this early into the trip, I'd never have picked it back up again. This was also the class that felt like a gym session (from my yoga post) and felt like it took all my energy before we even hit the waves!

Surfing for the day was essentially based on practising and perfecting the stance from yesterday and catching as many white water waves as possible. While this doesn't sound overly exciting, it hammered home the fundamentals and gave everyone plenty of chances to correct any errors before bad habits set in.

While surf practice wasn't massively engaging (which after THAT yoga class may have been a good thing), the theory lesson for the day was an expertly presented class on predicting surf. Now, as an earth scientist, I have something of an inkling of how complex a topic meteorology can be and, as such, how difficult it can be to make any kind of accurate prediction. However, Harry (the instructor) gave an excellent, engaging lecture that brought the whole subject down to levels that everyone could follow and understand. Taking a difficult subject and making it appear simple is not an easy task, and to keep it engaging too is even harder. Yet Harry achieved all this without even breaking an academic sweat. I now ask that you all join me in giving Harry the round of applause he is due.

The evenings meal was, again, nothing to really write home about. However two things did stand out. The first was that mojito's available at restaurant rivalled even those I've sampled in Cuba. I'd have been happy to skip the meal and just keep partaking of these rum soaked drinks! The second, and possibly more spectacular aspect of the meal, was the location the restaurant sat in. Being based on the top of a hill, the restaurant and its viranda look out over the coast, jungle and hills found slightly further North of the surf simply resort.

And now, by the magic of the internets, I am able to transport you to this wonderful location.......


As an aside, I will now hopefully embed a few more pictures into these posts now I have figured out how!

Day three marked a big day in my fledgling surfing career. This was the day we all graduated from white water waves to unbroken green waves. As such, we spent a large portion of the morning learning how to paddle a surfboard and how to avoid the white water so that we could get to the much wanted green waves. For the uninitiated (I counted myself as one of these until recently), if you imagine the beach as a line, at some point further out there is another line running roughly parallel. Between these two lines is the rather imaginatively named 'Impact Zone', labelled as such because it is where all the waves break and, potentially, impact with you. The goal of the surfer is to get through this area as fast as possible with the least amount of effort, although regardless of your technique, ability or skill, effort is going to be required.

After going through and practising the methods of making our lives easier in getting to the outback (the area past the impact zone) - more on these at a later point - we hit the water. Now, we have all seen the pictures of surfers running into the water, throwing their boards down, jumping on them and immediately starting to paddle, but in reality walking is much easier than paddling, so we waded out as far as possible before jumping on our boards. In my case, this put the water somewhere near my shoulders. A small amount of effort, and much panting, later finally saw me reach the outback; the home of the unbroken green wave.

It was at this point that I think I finally understood surfers and surfing. To get out to this point, you have to go through a lot of effort, sweat and hard work, fighting through what can only be described as mini maelstroms of swirling water and power. Yet, after all this, you all of a sudden pass an invisible barrier, a force field to the chaotic nature of the sea and find yourself in a strangely surreal calm, staring out at an empty horizon, just you and the world contemplating one another. This all sounds weirdly poetic, especially coming from me, but it is incredibly hard to put into words exactly what this feels like and as I am certainly no word smith this somewhat inadequate description shall have to suffice.

Of course, this is only one small part of surfing and once you get to this point, you have to eventually turn around and return to the shore. And here is where it all gets rather exciting. Surfing in white water is easy. The energy of the wave is all concentrated horizontally and easily pushes you back to the beach. Green waves, however are much more like skateboarding half pipes that you have to ride down before you can ride back in. As such, when a suitable wave comes along, if you catch it correctly, you end up riding down a nearly vertical mini mountain of water. There is a lot that can go wrong here, and if something goes wrong you invariably end up under the water somewhere. However, as I found out when I caught the first wave of the day, when it all comes together, the adrenalin rush it gives you is strangely euphoric. Unfortunately for me, after catching and riding my first ever green wave, I seemed to lose all of my mojo as the rest of the day was a write off in terms of surfing. I caught only one more green wave the whole day and proceeded to wipe out on it. In fact, I was unable to even catch white water waves when we finally headed back in for the evening. I can only hope that whatever black cat crossed my path has wandered off before I pick up my board again!

Posted by Exitalterego 15:18 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged beaches surfing costa_rica green_waves Comments (2)

My Thoughts On Yoga

Or 'How A Slightly Sceptical Englishman's Opinions Have Been Distorted Away From The Comfortable Centre'

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So I'm going to take a slight diversion from the day-to-day play book that I've written so far to discuss yoga. As I mentioned in the last post, there is an hour's yoga class pretty much every day. I signed myself up for this prior to even arriving using the following thought process:

Yoga = Fancy Stretches -> Stretches = Good For Physical Activities -> Surfing = Physical Activity ergo Yoga = Good For Surfing

It had also entered my mind that yoga is something for slightly hippy-minded people but as it is well known that all surfers are hippy bums, these two activities would go hand-in-hand. Needless to say that this particular train of thought did absolutely nothing to prepare me for the realities of what I would soon be facing!

Having participated in, at the time of writing this particular post, several yoga session I can safely say that I can see the benefits of it. The stretches that are involved would, given enough practice, drastically increase the mobility and flexibility of a person. This would have direct impacts on ones surfing skills. It can also be quite relaxing, although I think this may be as much to do with the incense burning and strange exotic chill out music that is playing during the classes. Regardless of the source, anything that relaxes both your body and your mind at the end of a hard days surfing can only be a good thing!

What I wasn't prepared for were two particular facets of this particular art form. The first, and the one that I suspect could be applied to yoga classes else where, was actually how much of a work out a class could be. The class I took part in on the second day was at six in the morning (if 6 A.M. seems quite early to you, I'll be mentioning the timing of things out here at a later date) and was clearly designed to wake the participators up a bit. I actually walked out feeling slightly pummelled and looking like I'd taken part in a particularly strenuous session in the gym. Therefore, I tip my hat to any yoga regulars who use this as a form of exercise! I now have an inkling of just how much of a work out it can be!

Having said this, and this could just be unique to the instructor here, is there really any need for the associated hippy-nonsense that is being spooned to us hand-in-hand with the actual exercise. There are two particular quotes that stick to my in particular, the first being "Breath with your lower back" and the second "Lower your arms as if through an infinite ocean of energy". Would someone please explain to me how your lower back is supposed to breath? I was under the impression that that is what lungs were for! And, by Odin's beard, can we please cut out all the mystic mumbo jumbo about feeling infinite oceans of energy!? It really isn't necessary for us to be able to stretch our muscles a little bit!

Neither, for that matter, are the poetry readings my instructor has the habit of doing while you are attempting to either tie yourself in knots, or untie yourself from said knots. I'm sure that they are meant to be inspirational and to connect with my 'inner spirit' but really, when most of your muscles are crying out from being stretched and twisted in ways they have never been called upon to do in the past, all your really worried about getting your body back into a much less painful position. Inspirational poetry is about as useful at this point as the stereotypical hole in the head.

The scientist in me tells me that yoga in good for the body and as such, good for my surfing. However, the scientist in me is also wondering how much more of the mystic stuff it can take before it cracks under the pressure of the nonsensical logic! I will however, for the scientific cause, struggle through the classes for at least the rest of this week. At least that way it cannot be said that I haven't given it a chance, although I get the distinct impression that if the metaphysical fat were trimmed from the classes I would enjoy them a lot more!

Oh well! I'll struggle through for the cause and see what happens!

Posted by Exitalterego 20:51 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged surfing costa_rica yoga exercise Comments (4)

Day Two: Let's Hit The Waves!

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Unbelievingly, some people have actually read my last post. I know this as I have a very clever number that tells me how many people have visited it! As such, I'm prompted to actually write the next post. Lets plough on and see if the interest (yours and mine) continues...

After a lengthy day of travelling I was finally in deepest, darkest Costa Rica. The actual area in which I was staying was Playa Guiones, Nosara. I believe I mentioned this in the last post, but for those with forgetful memories, I'm mentioning it again. This region is located in the North West of the country, with a coast that is totally exposed to the whims of the Pacific Ocean. This, or so I had been led to believe, put it in the enviable location of providing consistent surf for roughly nine months of the year. At this point in my vacation, it is too early to really say how accurate this prediction is, but we I will likely report on this in a later post.

The first morning, I awoke feeling somewhat refreshed after a nice nine hours sleeping in a wonderfully chilled room. I tentatively ventured outside to see if I could find any of the staff or the guests whom I had been told had also arrived yesterday, albeit much earlier in the day than myself. As my chalet was number one and was situated right next to the dirt track-cum-road, I made the logical choice and ventured up the gravel path away from the road. Half way up I met Rupert aka Ru (yes, it's pronounced in the same way as that character from Winnie the Pooh). He's the owner and manager of the resort, as well as being one of the surf coaches. He welcomed me and explained that breakfast was waiting for me at the top of the path by the pool and that he would be along shortly to give me the run down of the resort and how everything was going to be organised here.

Further up the slope I found a whole gaggle of people and was promptly swamped with names of the staff and the other guests. I, in my natural way of things, forgot most of these names within thirty seconds and am, even now, still trying to learn everyone's names! I sat down and got stuck into a hearty breakfast of tea and toast (a good way to set up any day!) and was soon joined by Ru so he could give me the run down of the resort. I was actually quite surprised to learn how structured the whole day was, with breakfast being promptly followed by one and a half hours surfing, followed by an hours theory lesson, lunch, another one and half hours surfing, an hours yoga (more on this later!) and finally dinner. This is pretty much the structure of each day, with some slight variations occasionally. It's actually quite nice to know that there is always something happening and that you aren't left to your own devices for large stretches of time. After all, while sunning oneself by the pool is good, it's not why I came hear!

After breakfast came the reason myself and all the other guests were here; the surfing. We loaded up the resorts quad bike and trailer with boards for everyone and clambered into the truck that is used for getting all the guests around. The resort itself is a couple of minutes drive away from the beach, down the aforementioned dirt track; close enough to walk if you wanted, but carrying an 8-9 foot the entire way would leave you tired before you even got in the water.

We split into two groups to begin with, those with experience and those without. It's not hard to guess which one I fell into. I wasn't alone though as out of the 13 guests the majority of us were surf virgins. This first lesson was spent talking about how to ride on a board, the importance of weight distribution on the board and what this does for us, turning the board (both trimming turns and carving turns) and the general process of catching a wave. I've thrown in a few technical terms here to show off my new found knowledge and to highlight just how much information was being presented to us. We spent this first lesson practising all of this in the white water (waves that have already broken) as this would form the basis of all further instruction and these skills represented the very core of being able to surf.

The first theory session was a video based lesson that Ru and Harry (the second main instructor here) gave to highlight weight placement on the board. They then also introduced the beginners to what is called 'the functional stance' so that in the afternoon lesson we could all get up standing on the board.

The second lesson rolled around, further instruction was given on where to stand on a board, how to get onto your feet, the stance and then we were off. All this instruction may have seemed excessive, yet on my second white water wave of the afternoon, I was on my feet and riding it into the shore! Something had obviously been sticking, the tuition was working and I was now a surfer! The rest of the afternoon was spent practising all that we had learnt up to this point, refining it and getting our stances as close to perfect as possible.

At this point I should say to all those non-surfers reading this, I realise 3 hours surfing out of a full day doesn't seem like much, especially when snowboarding or skiing will take place over a full 8 hours, but believe me when I say that after those three hours in the water, you are beat! Surfing has sapped my energy faster than almost any activity I have ever turned my hand too.

Now I did mention earlier about yoga, but as this particular entry has gone on already, I'll save that for another post. I'll finish off by saying that that night we went out for a meal, which while nice enough didn't have a lot special about it. However, it was a good chance to get to know the fellow guests a little bit. Most of my fellow transients were American (unsurprisingly), but there were also a couple that have come over from London and the guy from this relationships cousins were from Canada. We had a law student approaching her bar exam, an engineer who works on missile technology, a marine biologist and the couple from London were bankers, not to mention the ever-successful geophysicist! It was a nice mix of people who bonded quickly and, as is always a bit of a gamble in these situations, everyone got along with everyone else. A meal and good company; a pleasant way end to a brilliant first day wearing my new title of surfer!


Now, after my last post (maybe that should read 'first post') I've already had demands for photo's. Obviously these are in progress, but considering that the priority here is to spend time surfing, I've not had chance to transfer them off the camera. This will happen after I finish posting this!

I've also now turned on the comments section in case anyone feels like leaving any insightful statements, which I've no doubt several of you are itching to do! Fire away.

More to follow ASAP.

Posted by Exitalterego 16:55 Archived in Costa Rica Tagged beaches surfing costa_rica Comments (0)

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