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Navigating a Coral Maze

Destination: Puerto Viejo

The BOOM! of a thunderstorm woke me up 45 minutes before my alarm. Lightning lit up the still dim sky. There was no way we were taking the boat out in this. But, just in case, I got ready and went to breakfast. The storm seemed to worsen as the morning wore on, and after getting the official cancellation phone call from Crocodive, I went back to sleep.

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I woke up in a haze a few hours later. The rain had finally let up, although the clouds still looked threatening. I remembered seeing a sign for a bookstore a few kilometers toward Puerto Viejo, and began to walk.

Strolling past the surfers at Playa Cocles, where the storm had apparently spit out a pretty decent break, I was tempted to rent a board. It was a shame that I had nowhere to put my wallet and camera, and no one with me to watch my things. Talented surfers were doing jumps and tricks on decent sized waves. I couldn't participate, and ten minutes as a spectator was a tease -- so I carried on.

All-in-all, it took just under an hour to stroll from Hotel Kasha in Playa Chiquita to the Echo used bookstore. The shop was smaller than I expected, but featured a decent variety of titles. I found one I liked and took it to the register -- where the manager offered me a piece of organic chocolate. Ever the chocoholic, I gratefully accepted. It was fantastic, and I impulsively offered to buy the whole bucket (fortunately for my wallet, it was not possible to buy in bulk).

Walking back, the clouds parted and my cell phone rang -- it was Roch from Crocodive. I called a cab to take me to Puerto Viejo's little park, "El Parquecito." There, the diving crew were suited up and ready for a shore dive through a maze of coral.

Yesterday, the dive masters had described the site's tunnels of colorful plants swarming with hundreds of species of fish. Unfortunately, visibility was so poor today that I couldn't see any of it -- only shadows.

On the bright side, the diminished visibility added a thrilling element of suspense to the dive. In the murk, my mind played tricks on me as we maneuvered through narrow coral tunnels. This was definitely an experience for advanced divers who had complete control over their buoyancy -- otherwise, the risk of damaging the coral would be too great. Lots of surge and strong currents made for an exciting adventure. Challenging conditions also meant good practice for my ultimate diving goal: Islas del Coco.

Next, we practiced some of my rescue diver techniques. The most fun was trying to get control of a panicked diver, both above and below the surface. Above the water, a dive-instructor-in-training named Tanya pretended to panic. She flailed her arms about and tried to use me as a flotation device, pushing my head underwater in order to propel herself upward. This is what happens to panicked divers -- they get out of control. I learned how to sink down and approach her from behind, grab onto her tank, and keep her back to me as I pulled her to the boat. By the time we got there, I was beyond exhausted from lugging two bodies and two sets of heavy equipment through the water.

Before heading back to Playa Chiquita, we stopped at the Pan Pay restaurant by the beach. For about $3.50, I bought the biggest, most delicious sandwich in the world. A cheese omelet with lettuce, tomato and avocado on a two-foot loaf of bread. We all ordered one, and it revitalized us. I went back to my hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the pool.

That night, I ordered the Magic Ginger's Bombay chicken salad again, followed by a mouthwatering chicken dish. Louis made fun of me for not trying a new salad, but I explained that there couldn't possibly be a meal that I could favor more. We chatted and drank a couple of glasses of wine at the bar, before I set off for bed.

Navigating a Coral Maze in Pictures

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