Payday in paradise — from climbing a tree

Paul and I passed Jacó and were headed toward Dominical and Uvita when Paul said, “Do you want to eat at Subway?”

“Hell, no,” I said. “I didn’t come to Costa Rica to eat at Subway. I want to eat a casado at a soda.

Paul agreed and eventually pulled into a roadside soda, which for some reason is what they call basic Tico restaurants here. All of them serve a casado, which means “married,” because this is considered a married man’s lunch: rice, beans, choice of meat, salad and sweet fried plantains.

This is called comida típica, meaning traditional regional food. Comida típica is proudly advertised everywhere here, but it leads to some embarrassing gaffes when translated because in English típica is almost always rendered “typical.” There is one nice restaurant in La Fortuna with a professionally produced, glitzy, bound menu with a starburst on the cover that says, “100% Typical!”

Paul and I both ordered a casado con pollo en salsa, which was really good but the salad was tasteless, so Paul said he would never come back to this place again. But I couldn’t help noticing that he ate every morsel on his plate, which I could not.

When we finally reached Puerto Jiménez, it was a familiar sight to me — I’ve visited this town more than any other in this country, as Paul has lived here about 15 years.

Once a sleepy fishing village, the place Paul calls “Jimmy” remains a traditional Tico town in many ways, though it’s dotted with tour shops and foreign backpackers, most of them on their way to Corcovado National Park.

Scarlet macaws fly over Puerto Jiménez under stormy skies.
Scarlet macaws fly over Puerto Jiménez beneath stormy skies.

You can hardly look up here without seeing a pair of spectacular scarlet macaws flying overhead, the trees all around town are crawling with howler monkeys, and iguanas and other lizards are everywhere.

Paul suggested I spend the night for free at one of the vacation properties he manages in Matapalo, a beachfront house called Casa Tortuga.

I couldn’t resist this offer, so I stocked up on food, ice and beer — my Igloo ice chest coming in handy already — and he drove me down to Matapalo.

On the southern tip of the Osa, Matapalo is the choicest real estate on the peninsula, full of ecolodges and vacation rentals, but with no stores and only one restaurant nearby (hence the shopping trip).

Matapalo is covered in primary and secondary rain forest crawling with animals and thick with birds, with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean to the right and Golfo Dulce to the left (and Panama in the distance). The surfing break here is legendary, and I saw plenty of surfers in the water taking advantage of it.

View of the ocean from Casa Tortuga in Matapalo, Costa Rica.
View of the ocean from my back yard at Casa Tortuga in Matapalo.

I took a long walk on the resplendent beach, looking for the actual cape that was the southernmost point on the peninsula. I’m not sure if I found it or not, but I sat on some rocks jutting into the ocean with some crabs for company and drank one of my beers.

Cabo Matapalo, the southernmost tip of the Osa Peninsula.
Cabo Matapalo, the southernmost tip of the Osa Peninsula.

On the way back I saw a sign for Everyday Adventures, (http://www.psychotours.com), which I happened to know belonged to a guy named Andy Pruter who does guided waterfall rappelling here.

I found Andy sitting near the ocean playing chess with a buddy. He seemed pretty depressed because he could tell he was going to lose. I know the feeling — I have a love-hate relationship with chess, because I love to win this game but hate to lose it.

I had met Andy many years before, and we vaguely recognized each other but he couldn’t place me until I told him I was Paul Collar’s brother. I told him I’d love to do some waterfall rappelling, but he said they weren’t doing that tomorrow, though they were taking some people out to climb a strangler fig. I said I might be up for that, and he told me to come back at 8:30.

This adventure would provide the grist for the sale of my first article in Costa Rica, to Landings, the in-flight magazine of the airline Nature Air. For a quick recap, suffice it to say that this 68-foot climb, though I was harnessed and roped, was strenuous, scary and exhilarating.


A child dangles from a rope after climbing the strangler fig at Matapalo.
A child dangles from a rope after climbing the strangler fig at Matapalo.

When you finally make it to the top of the huge strangler fig, you’re supposed to ring a cowbell, take in the stunning view, and then stand on a limb holding onto two branches. On the ground, the belayer says “1,” gives a little tug on the rope, “2,” another tug, and “3” — and he yanks you off the limb and into thin air, making you fly in a giant arc like a terrified Tarzan.

I chose to do this while taking a video selfie, which turned out very cool. I posted it on Facebook — http://preview.tinyurl.com/oz782e5 —which is how it came to the attention of the editor of Landings. Just like that, I had an assignment to write an article for cash money (or airline tickets, which I chose instead).

When I was 12 years old, I decided that what I wanted to do more than anything in life was be a freelance writer, traveling the world and writing about it.

I had to wait 39 years, but my dream was coming true!

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