Day 1: Golfing with Grandeur
The Interbus shuttle picked me up in Liberia at promptly 10:00 this morning. I was on my way to Jaco, grateful to shave nearly two hours off the travel time by using their door-to-door service. After a smooth ride and a snack stop for mangoes, we rolled into Herradura at 1:30 p.m.
Before I knew it, two cheerful security guards at Hotel Marriott Los Suenos were waving us through the gate to the lavish grounds. Xavier, a hotel administrator, greeted me at reception for a tour.
At the Marriot Los Suenos, absolutely everything about the resort exudes opulence, from the perfectly manicured grounds and thick orthopedic mattresses to the adorable bottles of ginger soap in each bathroom.
After touring the property, Xavier left me at the pool to unwind for a few hours. Divided by several quaint bridges and islands, the swimming area gave the impression that it was composed of several interconnected lagoons. In actuality, it is one enormous body of water. I ordered a steak sandwich from the adjacent bar-restaurant and melted into a deck chair to soak up the sun.
Before I knew it, it was time for my afternoon golf lesson. Experienced instructor, Jose, ferried me around the championship 18-hole, par-72 La Iguana course. First, we made a loop around the pro shop, zipping up and down rolling hills and over a stream. Then we passed by their signature hole, #4, named El Toucan for the gorgeous birds that frequently fly by. Jose stopped the cart so I could absorb the peace and beauty surrounding us. Tropical birds and insects chirped and buzzed, and howler monkeys cried in the distance.
Having grown up in the world of golf, the fact that I cannot successfully hit a ball has always been a bit of an embarrassment. In fact, in the entire quarter-century of my existence, I have only attempted to do so once -- and failed miserably. Today, I was determined to change this sad fact.
First, Jose administered three tests to see if I was in the right physical condition to play. For balance, he had me stand on one foot. Easy. For flexibility, he asked me to touch my toes. Done. Finally, for hand-eye coordination I had to throw a ball to a fixed point. No problem.
After passing with flying colors, my instructor taught me how to gingerly hold the club: "It's like holding a tool, like a spoon or a pen," he said. With one hand on either side of the club, I twisted my torso around so that it was facing the opposite direction of my lower body. Then I released, and felt my spine uncurl. "First coil, then uncoil," Jose instructed, "then extend your elbows and point your body to your target." Then he said in Spanglish, "Now, stick your butt out, sexy-like. More sexy, more sexy!" This, I learned, is the basic concept behind the golf swing.
Finally, I was ready for a trial hit. My first attempts were pathetic. Several tries later, I began to make contact. Finally, with a satisfying CRACK, I smacked the ball straight on, and watched joyfully as it followed the exact trajectory I had intended.
After much screaming, high fiving and jumping, I commented that the success reminded me of hitting a home run in my softball days. Jose replied, "The difference is that in baseball, you are reacting to the ball. In golf, the ball reacts to you."
Still glowing, I hopped into the electric cart for the return trip to the resort. On the way back, Jose told me stories of the seminars held at La Iguana for the physically and mentally challenged. Their facilities are completely handicapped accessible and several times a year the course opens its doors to dozens of people who might not be able to otherwise enjoy the sport.
Jose dropped off his most improved student -- me -- at their impressive gym, where I ran on a treadmill equipped with its own television screen. Once I was sufficiently sweaty, I showered off and enjoyed a luxurious 50-minute "Pura Vida Massage." After such a long day, my body was more than ready for a nice, long sleep.
When I returned to my room, I was surprised to find that it had been tidied up for a second time that day. I was even more elated to discover two miniature triangles of Cafe Britt chocolates (my favorites) lying on my pillow, along with a note from the manager wishing me sweet dreams. Falling into a cloud of pillows and high thread-count sheets, drifting off to sleep was inevitable. I could definitely get used to this place.