Living La Pura Vida


Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Condé Nast Traveler China

Photographer:  Gina Sabatella


BOOM! I wake in the middle of the night to roaring thunder and a vehement downpour through the trees, crashing against the roof of my bungalow. In the pitch-blackest darkness, my eyes never adjust, with minimal city lights permeating the atmosphere in this little coastal town called Tamarindo in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica. My sense of hearing heightened, my ears revel in the cacophony of wild animals celebrating this highly anticipated storm. Water means life, and nature has been comatose for about five months here.

On this inaugural storm of the rainy season, the local howler monkeys cry out with their guttural roars one after another, in between continuous rolls of thunder powerful enough to shake the bungalow. Several species of birds sing their gratitude, too. It may as well be Jurassic World out there. The sounds are so loud and clear that the only thing reminding me that I’m indoors is the fact that I’m still dry. Sleep is elusive, with thoughts of critters seeking refuge in my bungalow crawling around in my head; but eventually I surrender to the truth that this moment is the essence of pure life.

. . .

Sergio, along with two other guides, Danny and José, are shooting pool in a sort of open-air game room. They introduce themselves with all the tico charm I’m growing accustomed to. We all jump into the back of Alex’s flaming red Mad Max-style pickup truck modified with benches on each side of the bed. Our destination is the top of the highest mountain of the reserve’s Three Camels, but the first stop is a visit with the adorable resident donkey, Indie. Still practically a foal, she bounds about her pen like a puerile puppy, nuzzles me and eats berries out of my hand.

We bounce along dirt roads climbing the mountain, Alex’s mutt, Guarda chasing after us. At the top—a rustic gazebo and what Alex calls a “stairway to heaven” leading to a 360-degree vista of Guanacaste. The landscape is not quite as green as it will be after the rainy season, but I’m not complaining. Suddenly, I remember that the whole reason I’m up here is to fly over that tree canopy down there.

The first zipline is about 1,250 feet – the longest of all nine lines. After giving us the safety lecture, José effortlessly zips down ahead of us. Danny straps me in and asks, “Ready?” Yes. “Sure?” Yes. And here I go flying through the air at nearly 35 miles per hour. Within seconds I’m safe at the other end, but I couldn’t tell you what just happened. My eyes had been locked in on José the whole time as I waited for the signal to brake. No problem, I’ve got eight more chances to pay attention to the scenery. Danny comes last, flipping upside down halfway down the line. Okay, these guys are showing off. I ask them if they like their job and they laugh, because they feel ridiculously lucky getting to spend all day showing people how to fly.

In between lines, José tells me about the time he spotted a jaguar in the wild—one of my dreams. There are two jaguars on the reserve here, but they have only been spotted twice in 10 years, only emerging during the rain.

On the last line Danny mischievously tugs the cable up and down, springing me weightlessly through the air the whole way down. At the end, Guarda, who had been hot on our trail the whole way is there cheering us on. No doubt, he’s loving life, too.

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