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Nicoya Peninsula: On An Island in the Sun

Destination: Montezuma

Isla Tortuga (Turtle Island) never ceases to amaze me. Today I went for the third time in my life, each visit better than the last. While the boat ride there was a bit bumpy, and I was stuck next to some very loud French-Canadians, I found the snorkeling to be phenomenal and well worth the scenic 45-minute trip across the water from Montezuma.

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I guarantee that as you read this blog I am still beaming, and probably will for the rest of my adult life, about the enormous humpback whale I spotted on the way to the island. The rare creature enjoyed showing off for the camera, repeatedly parting the surface with its long majestic body and jetting water out its spout in loud bursts.

Once we arrived at Tortuga, our guides distributed goggles and flippers. In the clearest water I've ever seen, we explored a bright rainbow of sea life. Back on land, Vincent played with Tortuga's resident peccary, and I soaked up the sun, chatting with locals who might know which species of fish we were so lucky to share the water with.

It turns out there are at least 20 different varieties of fish and countless other species around Tortuga, among which we saw angelfish, puffer fish, live coral, blue spotted jacks, eels, an octopus, lobsters, oysters, needlefish, and many more. Across the way we could barely see Playa Quesera, where we had visited just yesterday.

Moray eels were perhaps the most exciting underwater find of the dive. These yellow, patterned creatures have exceptionally sharp teeth and grow to be about five feet long. Upon finding one hiding in a shallow alcove between two rocks, I quickly learned not to haphazardly rest my hand without a safety check. The eels look timid and harmless, but are known to become quite aggressive when disturbed or defending their territory. While they prefer to flee than to fight and rarely attack humans, they should nonetheless be treated with caution.

Vincent inadvertently rescued a nearby octopus, the Moray's favorite snack, by snapping a photograph. The eight-legged cephalopod retreated into an impossibly tiny slit among the rocks, an escape made possible only because they lack bony skeletons which would impede movement.

Perhaps this invertebrate's most impressive method of defense is its uncanny ability to blend in with its environment. Although life expectancy can be as short as six months, octopi utilize complex nervous systems and highly developed problem-solving skills during their time on earth, making it easy to outsmart predators.

A fresh lunch of chicken, rice, garlic bread, and potatoes was barbequed and waiting for us when we returned to the beach. To drink, we had our choice of ice-cold bottled water, canned beer, or soda. The best part was dessert: juicy watermelon, coconut, pineapple and cantaloupe.

After stuffing themselves, everyone lay on their towel for a short nap to prepare for a second round of snorkeling in paradise. I read my book in between watching games of volleyball, petting the island's domesticated peccary, and chasing after the island's turkeys for a photograph.

By this time, I was nursing a sunburn. "It's always a good idea to reapply your sunscreen midday," I always preach to visiting friends and family, somehow continuously managing to forget my own advice. Instead of returning to the sea, I retreated to the shade for a deep talk with a parrot belonging to the souvenir shop. "Hola," the parrot said. "Hola," I said. "Hola," the parrot repeated.

Shortly into this discussion the Argentinean couple who had sat next to us at lunch joined me for a livelier chat, and we compared Spanish accents until the guides arrived to take us back to Montezuma. The sun was beginning to set by the time we returned, and I couldn't wait to get home to relive the day through my photographs.

Nicoya Peninsula: On An Island in the Sun in Pictures

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