While I was perusing one of my travel journals looking for a place to get away from the rat race for a vacation, I came across an article that described in detail the tranquilly, beauty, and relative prosperity of the Central American country of Costa Rica. With its close proximity to Dallas, Texas (three hours by air), I informed my wife that I had found the perfect getaway for our trip. My pursuit for serenity was well intentioned but sometimes things just don’t work out as expected.
As I researched Costa Rica further I found that the small country consisting of nineteen thousand square miles and approximately four and a half million people was bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, with the Pacific Ocean lining the west coast and the Caribbean Sea covering the east coast. Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot in Costa Rica in 1502. At that time Guatemala City was the capital of Central America and Costa Rica’s distance from the hub made it difficult to make trade, so the country was left to develop in relative isolation from the Spanish monarchy. Reading further I discovered that Costa Rica had abolished its army in 1949, had a literacy rate of 97%, and is considered the “greenest country” in the world. With 0.1% of the world’s landmass, the tiny country contains 5% of its biodiversity (25% of the landmass is protected, making it the largest percentage of protected area in the world). After discovering that Costa Rica’s premier fishing lake (Lake Arenal) was located in the northern province of Alajuela, I was ready to make my reservations. What could be more peaceful than this?
With ecotourism becoming the prime industry in Costa Rica, I decided to make our reservations at a resort called the Ecolodge, which was located in Alajuela Province (northern region bordered by Nicaragua). I had told my wife that I had chosen the province because of its close juxtaposition to the volcano and the hot therapeutic mineral baths at it basin; and although this was partially true, I had a guided fishing trip to Lake Arenal penciled-in on my agenda.
Lake Arenal sits at the base of the still active Arenal volcano and is the largest inland lake in Costa Rica. The grand prize for sportsmen fishing this lake is the “rainbow bass” (Cichlasoma dovil), which has earned its name because of its gradual gradations of brilliant color. The rainbow bass or the guapote (meaning most handsome in Spanish) can be fished for like our good friend the largemouth bass with one exception: If you hold it by its lower lip for a pose, its piranha-like razor sharp teeth will take your fingers off.
My wife and I flew from Dallas to San Jose, Costa Rica and then drove approximately five hours north to our destination. Our trip proceeded without a hitch until we encountered an ox sleeping in the in the middle of road, which caused us to swerve off the side of the one way highway and into a ditch. Luckily, we had a four wheel drive truck and were able to drive our way back up the slope and onto the road. After avoiding the near disaster, we proceeded on our way and checked into the Ecolodge around ten o’clock in the evening. Opening the door to the room and turning on the lights, my wife told me that she was going to take a nice hot shower before bed.”
“Go aheadâ”€I’ll start unpacking,” I told her while flipping the suitcase on the bed. When she closed the door to the bathroom, I examined the room: There was no television or radio and a huge bay window faced Lake Arenal. Behind Lake Arenal, loomed the Arenal volcano which was spewing a red glow of lava from its peak. I could hear the tree frogs outside singing their nightly hymn and I began to fall into dream-like trance of serenity. My stupor was shattered by a piercing Psycho-like shriek from the bathroom. What the hell?”
“What’s wrong?” I asked, throwing the door open.
“When I pulled the shower curtain open, a gargantuan spider jumped out.”
“Where did he go?”
“I think it’s under the commode.”
“It’s only a spider,” I said while picking up a piece of toilet paper to use to as a disposal medium.
I got down on my hands and knees and looked under the commode, “AAAAAYYYYEEEE!” I screamed as the hairy mouse-sized arachnid darted into our room. “That son of a bitch is enormous!”
“Well I’m not sleeping in that room until he is gone.”
Not this again.
I searched high and low but could not find the eight-legged fiend that had shattered my momentary bliss, so I decided to call the front desk for help.
“Can I help you sir?” the clerk asked.
“Yes, there is a giant spider in our room and my wife will not sleep until it is eradicated,” I told the clerk.
And neither will I.
“I will send someone right over,” she said.
Minutes later there was a knock at the door. When I opened it, I found a man who appeared to be a Hispanic “Larry-the-Cable Guy” look-alike. “Que pasa se±or?” he asked.
“My wife is being a little baby and she won’t go to bed, until we get this spider out of the room.”
“No problema,” he said while unhooking a hammer from his tool belt. We watched as he looked under the bed and then under the clothes chest. “Mmmmm, donde esta mi pocito?” Pedro-the Cable guy murmured as he looked under bottom of a chest..
“Hola puto! Wham!!! the hammer exploded, putting a hole in the floor as my wife and I recoiled backwards
“La arana (spider) es no mas se±or; buenas noches.“
And just like that the man disappeared into the darkness and my wife and I passed out on the bed from sheer exhaustion. When we woke up we went down to lodge for breakfast and were greeted by a hostess holding a jar with some type of huge beetle in it. “What is that?’ I asked.
“Every day our guides bring in one of the many beautiful inhabitants of the rain forest for our visitors to see: this here is a Rhino Beetle.”
I had seen a lot of critters living in Texas but I never seen anything like this. The insect was about the size of a small hamster and looked like a super-charged cockroach with a horn on its head. That’s real nice; do you think we can have breakfast now before I throw up?
After breakfast we arranged to go on a zip-line tour of the rain forest with one of the guides. Zip-lining is method of viewing the rain forest from its canopy and involves swinging from station to station on a pulley guided by steel cables. The adrenaline rush and my fear of heights once again had me ready to blow chow. When the day was over we sat down for dinner and I subtly unveiled my intentions, “So what’s the plan for tomorrow?” I asked.
“Why don’t we go and spend a day at the mineral baths that you told me about.”
“We can do that, but how long can you sit in a mineral bath? I hear they have a great market not to far from here: how about shopping?”
She immediately recognized the trick.
“What’s the angle?” she asked.
“Well, I just thought that while you were shopping that I would go on a half day fishing trip on Lake Arenal.”
“I knew it; we’re not here one day and you’re off fishing.”
“I’m not going off “Into the Wild,” I’m going on a half day of fishing. When a get back, we’ll go down to the bath, drink a few margaritas, and chill out.”
“You get one fishing trip and that’s it: make it a good one.”
I made arrangements with the Ecolodge and set up a guided trip the next morning for six o’clock in the morning. When I made my way down for breakfast the hostess was once again fondling a mason jar with some type of unusual critter in it.
“Buenas Dias se±ora; what do we have today?”
“We have a very special guest from the jungle: this little fellow is a vampire bat.”
Now that is disgusting.
“I’m going to pass on breakfast today but I would like to get a large coffee to go: I’m going fishing with Juan Pierre today.”
“He is a very good fisherman,” she said, “I think you will be pleased.”
Juan Pierre pulled up in front of the Ecolodge in a rickety Chevy pickup, “Buenas dias, buenas dias, buenas dias,” he said with a smile on his face.
Holy shit: this guy is a Costa Rican “Andy from Richmond.”
“Are you ready to catch some fish my gringo friend?”
“Does the Pope believe in God?”
“Then let us go drown some worms.”
There are nothing like universal fishermen colloquialisms.
Juan Pierre had us on the lake within a half and hour. “We are going to fish at the base of the volcano,” Juan said, “the fishing has been very good in that area.”
“That’s fine with me,” I replied as his matching rickety boat churned across the lake. When we reached his hot spot, Juan pulled out his tackle box and I examined its contents. The lures were exactly the same baits that we used in Texas for largemouth bass. There were: spinner baits, jigs, crankbaits, Bombers, Rapalas, and even large Rattletraps. “Cast this chartreuse Rattletrap towards the rocky structure at the base of the volcano.” Juan instructed, “and we’ll see if we can catch a few.”
Although I had heard many people brag about the effectiveness of Rattletraps, I had never caught a single bass on one of them. Not wanting to rock the boat, I took the fishing pole and started casting to area that Juan directed me to. “What pound test line is this?” I asked.
“It is fifty pound spider wire,” he replied.
“Don’t you think that’s a little overkill; I could pull a tuna out with that rope.”
“When you see the teeth on “El Guapote” you will understand why we use it.”
Juan used the trolling motor to slowly move us through the rocky cove while we sent cast after cast towards the base of the volcano. I could hear a rumbling sound from up above that sounded like thunder. “What is that rumbling sound?” I asked
“That is the volcano, Se±or. When the volcano becomes active, large boulders begin tumbling down the side of the mountain.”
“Can these boulders fall on us while we are fishing?”
“I guess it could happen, but most of the rocks never make it down the mountainside.”
That’s very reassuring.
We had fished for several hours and I was anxious to catch a guapote before being smashed to smithereens by a volcanic boulder. While scanning the mountainside up above for falling rocks I had a colossal strike, “Fish on!!” I screamed.
“Make sure the hook is set well, Se±or gringo: El Guapote’s mouth is all bone.“
I jerked the rod up and did a reset of the hook while the fish headed toward a cluster of rocks that pierced the water’s surface. “Try and steer him away from the rocks or he will snap you off,” Juan advised. I tried to turn him but the fish was too powerful. Juan had informed me earlier that the rainbow bass fought harder than a largemouth because they had larger fins which create more torque. The fish quickly hung me up and the action had come to a standstill. “That’s it Juan: he has screwed us.”
“Not so fast, my gringo friendâ”€this is why we use fifty pound spider wire. I will move the boat to the other side of the rocks and we will try to jerk him out.” Juan trolled us to the opposite side of the cluster and he directed me to try and muscle the fish out of hiding. With all my strength I yanked the line upwards and dislodged the fish. After a brief fight, the guapote tired and Juan netted him. The fish was a beautiful plethora of different hues of color, with a mouth full of teeth that would embarrass a piranha: It was an eight pound largemouth on steroids. “Congratulations,” Juan said, “you have caught your first guapote.”
Our half day of fishing had just about expired and I was anxious to get back to the resort to tell my wife about my adventure. “Let’s call it day, Juanâ”€I am ready to go back and celebrate.” Juan started his boat up and we headed back. “Speaking of celebrating, do you know of a place where I might be able to catch the Stanley Cup hockey game tonight on satellite?”
“There is only one place that has satellite Se±or, but I would be very careful.”
“Why is that?”
“The place I am referring to is called the Zona Roja. I have been told that at times illicit activity goes on there.”
“What type of illicit activity?”
“I was told by one of my clients that several high-powered Japanese businessmen are vacationing here and they have brought a Russian harem along to keep them company (now he really had my attention).”
“That’s no big deal; I just want to go out with my wife, watch the game, and have a few drinks.”
When I returned to the Ecolodge, I excitedly gave a detailed account to my wife about my encounter with “El Guapote and then told her about the plans to celebrate at Zona Roja (leaving out the part about the hookers).
“Zona Roja?” Don’t you think that is an odd name?”
“No, not really. We’re just going there because they’re the only place around here that will the Dallas Stars hockey game on tonight.”
“Whatever; let’s just go down to the hot mineral bath for awhile like you promised.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon soaking in the tubs and then went back to our room, took a nap, and cleaned up for the evening’s “El Guapote” fiesta. Arriving at the Zona Roja at about nine o’clock, we had dinner and then retired to the bar area to have some drinks and watch the game. The wooden shack which was appropriately called “El Sports Bar,” had a television, two pool tables, and three patrons (that Juan was really jerking my chain). By midnight when the game was just about to end and I figured that Juan had pulled a fast one on me, a group of Japanese men in dark suits entered, followed by a harem of thousand dollar prostitutes. The women were decked out in skin tight leather outfits and decorated with expensive jewelry. Before I new it there was a full-fledged party going on in middle of the jungle. With my jaw dropping to the floor, I was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. “What’s going on here, buster?” my wife asked.
“I don’t have a clue.”
“Don’t have a clue, my ass; we’re out of here: I am the only one in here who is not a hooker.”
So as the Board of Tourism of Costa Rica may or may not say: Come enjoy the beauty, tranquility, hot mineral baths, explosive guapote fishing, and hookers, in peaceful Costa Rica.