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Kayaking and Snorkeling at Chora Island

Destination: Samara

I finally conquered the island.

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Let me start from the beginning. I came to Playa Samara in 2005 to study Spanish and to complete three college credits. I'd rented the last two kayaks on the beach, one equipped to hold two people, the other a single. My five friends and I decided to paddle out to the nearby island, Isla Chora, with five people crammed into boats designed to hold only three -- without a guide.

Roughly halfway out, our kayak began to sink. I had to jump overboard and swim for a quarter of an hour, praying that there were no sharks circling below. By the time we'd reached the island, a storm was brewing. It was 4:30 p.m. It gets dark between 5:30 and 6:00, and we'd never find the mainland in the dark. The clouds broke, and the biggest lightning storm I've ever seen ensued. Angry waves crashed violently against the rocks, and the island's shore had all but disappeared. It was impossible to climb up its steep, rocky sides. I was petrified.

Luckily, a small fisherman's boat appeared in the distance. I miraculously flagged it down, and the sailors offered me a ride back to shore. I wasn't sure if it was safer to risk drowning on the island or to ride in an all-metal speedboat during a lightning storm in the middle of the ocean. I accepted their offer and made it to shore, vowing to safely and successfully visit the island someday.

Three years later, I got my chance. The farther we paddled away from civilization, the more relaxed I became. This time we were properly equipped with the correct number of kayaks and a guide. The sky was almost blindingly bright, and I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back for applying that extra layer of sunscreen before departure. About 45 minutes later we arrived at the island. The guide taxied us in one by one, and we were greeted by a number of birds on a sparkling, pink sand beach.

Jess and I snorkeled for about an hour. We saw angelfish and purple, deep red, blue and pink corals. The guide informed us that turtles and hammerhead sharks occasionally visited the island. Somehow, this made me brave when I was stung on the arm by a mysterious sea creature. Instead of screaming and frantically running out of the water like I would normally do, I said to myself: "this doesn't hurt that bad. This is not a shark attack, you are not going to die." This was the first time I'd been stung by anything in my 11-month stint in Costa Rica.

Once everyone finished viewing life under the sea, our guide cut up an incredibly tasty pineapple and watermelon. We feasted and rested, preparing for the journey back to shore. Perched on the rocks where the beach ends, hungry iguanas begged for scraps of fruit like puppies at a dinner table. Some kayakers threw bits and pieces, and the lizards went crazy, scurrying about racing one another for the prizes.Despite the fact that we were the youngest in the bunch, we were the slowest in the group on the way back. We arrived nearly a half an hour after everyone else.

We grabbed a quick meal of chicken, beans, rice, salad and plantains at the tasty Coco's Restaurant. Then we returned to Dragon Fly, across the street, to spend more money on jewelry and unique art. Buying Christmas presents was our official excuse to splurge.

That night around 10 p.m., we returned to our favorite beachfront restaurant for a second taste of mouthwatering steak. I had my heart set on the grilled mushroom and cheese appetizer I hadn't had the opportunity to try the night before. I was bitterly disappointed to find that they had closed the kitchen for the night. The owner recommended that we try El Manglar restaurant, which would surely be open late.

We walked five minutes down the street and found this tucked-away restaurant to be run by bona-fide Italians. Here I tasted the best Italian food I've ever had in my life -- and I'm an Italian. The waitress recommended gnocchi with four cheeses, which melted in our mouths.

We also shared an eggplant, mushroom and onion pizza, and I about died at the table. We topped it off with a homemade tiramisu. I thought out loud, "If I were on death row, I would certainly choose this gnocchi as my last meal." We were so stuffed that the three of us hobbled home like penguins.

Because we were in a tree house, and effectively among the treetops, I finally had to cave last night at 1:42 a.m. and use the mosquito net hanging over my bed. Having visited Samara in the past and never having to use one, I laughed when I'd first seen it. Now I appreciated that it was there. I spread it out over the bed and fell back to sleep.

Kayaking and Snorkeling at Chora Island in Pictures

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