Costa RicaCosta Rica

By Land, by Air, and by Sea

Destination: Samara

Jesse's yoga and surf lessons -- not to mention the balancing band attached to two palm trees -- tend to attract quite a crowd at the southern end of the beach. This morning's yoga class was to be instructed by a yogi/personal trainer named Rebecca, atop a platform directly on the beach. She began the class with a mind exercise originally invented by a dancer: "Sodoku for the body... but on steroids," she described it. It involved syncing head, arm, and leg movements while tossing a ball. Suffice it to say that we all struggled with this first thing in the morning, but at least it got us laughing.

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The first half of the class didn't feel like yoga. It was spent performing killer crunches and deep, concentrated repetitions based on the theme of the day: hips and shoulders.

It was a challenging workout focusing on balance, coordination, and mental fluidity. The second half of class centered upon hip-opener poses with sun salutations. Meanwhile, amateur acrobats walking the rubber balance band entertained us, along with Rebecca's fully functioning three-legged dog (that was able to dig and play just as effortlessly as its four-legged canine friends).

Sweetly sore, I changed out of my exercise outfit and into my swimsuit for a surf lesson. Having surfed a few times in Santa Teresa, I breezed right through the basics. My teacher decided to show me some tricks. He defied the laws of physics, effortlessly doing headstands on his board. My trick was much less complicated: rotate my feet and body, which begin facing land, 180 degrees until they face the ocean.

I conquered this on my first try, and moved on to the second trick: the foot switch. After catching a wave, I was to jump change my lead foot, and be suspended in the air for a split second while my feet exchanged places. After countless belly flops and nosedives, I was too tired to go on. The lesson was over, and I walked a block north to Jesse's next-door neighbor, Samara's canopy tour.

I met Debra and Manu, the canopy tour's original owner and engineer. This environmentally friendly canopy trek has been around for 13 years, with 12 platforms up to 65 feet high, and 10 cables stretching up to 400 feet long. Today our group was fairly small, consisting of Vincent, me, and three others. We walked through the woods for a few minutes until we reached the swinging bridge that would lead us to the first platform.

Here, Manu explained that Samara's canopy tour is not harmful to the dry tropical forest. Nothing is bolted or nailed to the trees, as all platforms are hanging from or strapped to branches. The cables are kept in place by tension, wound tightly around moveable girdles that press firmly against the tree without harming it. The activity is safe and family oriented; according to Manu, three year old children have gone alone, infants as young as 8 months old have piggybacked with their parents, and adults well into their eighties have zipped along the cables solo.

The first few lines were short, great for acclimating the group into the exhilarating sensation of whizzing through the air. After the third cable, we spotted a coati. Manu told us about other animals he has seen out there, including kinkajous, iguanas, monkeys, and even elusive jagaurundis. At the fifth platform we stopped to snack on watermelon, pineapple, and organic cookies, chatting as we overlooked an incredible view of Playa Samara.

Continuing on, Manu pointed out various species of trees along the way. The spiky lagartillo tree is great for a toothache; chewing the spikes numbs the teeth. The great Tempisque is green year round, and the Panama sheds its leaves four times per year. We passed by my favorite, the colossal Guanacaste with its beautiful leaves and seedpod ears.

On the last platform, we spotted a family of noisy howler monkeys. After snapping some photos, we rappelled down to the ground. This was accomplished by literally free-falling down, with Manu controlling our speeds. He teased me when it was my turn, dropping me as fast as gravity would allow, then slowing my descent once he had squeezed a happy scream out of me.

After such a busy and fulfilling day, I could not wait to shower, turn on the air conditioning, and fall into bed at the Samara Beach Hotel. My body felt wonderful from all of the activity, and my mind had so many memories to process from such an eventful trip.

By Land, by Air, and by Sea in Pictures

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