Costa RicaCosta Rica

Diving the Central Pacific

Destination: Manuel Antonio

Some people bring good weather when they travel, and others don't. Take my mother for instance, wherever she ventures, it almost always rains. When I travel, on the other hand, lady luck is with me. Similarly, on every underwater adventure I've experienced, clear waters prevailed. Unfortunately, my lucky streak ended for the first time in seven months during today's diving trip.

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Energized by the delicious coffee at Condotel Las Cascadas, I was ready to tackle whatever thrills the day had in store. On the schedule was a dive with Oceans Unlimited, one of the country's premier dive shops and technical training centers. Georgia King, affectionately known as "Scuba Bunny," was to be my dive master. Like me, she carries an underwater camera, and our goal for the day was to procure some fabulous photographs.

We departed the office at 1:00 p.m., and boarded the 25-foot dive boat at the Quepos marina. Our first stop was to pick up four divers from the massive luxury cruise ship, the Wind Star. The passengers boarded and informed me that the four larger-than-life sails are not just for show -- the watercraft does indeed sail effectively without engines.

We set our sights on Manuel Antonio National Park's 136,000 protected marine acres. The captain was taking us first to the canyons at the south point of Isla Larga (Big Island), and then to Quepos Point.

Due to poor visibility, or viz' in scuba slang, taking photos proved difficult. This problem was compounded because my new mask hadn't yet lost its factory film, a detail that made my vision maddeningly foggy. Scuba Bunny suggested I use a lighter and set fire to the lenses later -- and that I borrow an already broken-in pair.

The substitute goggles solved the problem for the time being. At depths ranging 30-60 feet, we spotted a number of barber fish, angelfish and damselfish in the sea -- in waters so warm that I dove without a wet suit. Many varieties of coral came in striking shapes and unexpected colors, my favorite being bright neon orange.

In a country as small as Costa Rica, I am always surprised to find such great diversity in marine life. Here, just a few hours south of Guanacaste, physical variations are evident in many species. For example, parrotfish in the Central Pacific completely dwarf those in the North Pacific, and are downright gargantuan in comparison to those in the Caribbean.

Although it had been a cloudy day, we finished the dive in upbeat moods. Any good diver will agree that the sport is dependent upon the tides and weather. You win some and you lose some, but being on the boat and underwater all day is a beautiful experience in itself.

Once we returned to Quepos, the rest of the afternoon was mine to enjoy. After yesterday's jam-packed schedule, I was pleased to have some time to explore my surroundings. Myriad shops, restaurants, and tour operators surround the town's most obvious landmarks, like the park, marina and soccer field. A winding, hilly road leads all the way to Manuel Antonio -- a twenty minute ride by bus and less than ten minutes in a car.

Walking around Quepos, I had my first encounter with L'angolo, a deli situated a block from the marina. True deli-style sandwiches are one of the few things I miss in Costa Rica, and here I had hit the jackpot. Over the course of four days, I ate lunch at L'angolo's so frequently that the waiters thought I would turn into a giant sandwich.

In preparation for tomorrow's big day of sport fishing, I ordered a veggie sub on freshly baked bread, to go. Outside, a man was selling sweet young coconuts full of invigorating electrolyte-water. Giving in to temptation, I bought one for the bargain price of 400 colones ($.75), and started the walk back to Condotel Las Cascadas - where I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at their pool, watching different species of birds fly overhead.

Diving the Central Pacific in Pictures

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