HII in Costa Rica: Sarapiqui and the Dirty Dancing Lodge

Over the weekend, Melissa and I decided to escape the chaos of San Jose and explore the “real Costa Rica”, that which so many here call the rest of the country. As someone who has had whitewater rafting on the top of my list of “things I really want to do, but haven’t managed to arrange yet”, I was super excited to find an ecolodge where we could both raft and horseback ride.

At Selve Verde, covered walkways meander through the jungle to bungalows with running water, electricity, and AC (which I refused to use!). It’s a funny mix of a bit of luxury (for someone who is totally down for a youth hostel) and a 50’s-esque Dirty Dancing lodge vibe—sans Patrick Swayze and the townies. The amazing thing about our 24-hours at Selve Verde is that in one 2-hour hike, we wandered through the clay mud of the jungle, surrounded by green and amazing sounds in every direction. Having not seen many animals (it’s a bit hard to look up, when you want to be sure to look down so you don’t step on one of the many critters that know the jungle better than us), we finally started to relax….just in time for: a HUGE spider to land on my back, almost step on a snake, surprise two foot-and-a-half long lizards, and to squeal like little girls; I kid you not, all of this happened in the span of approximately 30 seconds. We now affectionately refer to it as the, “Thirty seconds of terror.” Amazingly enough, about an hour later, we were meandering through the grounds of the lodge when we turned a corner to the scream of Melissa. Laying there, minding his own business (I now know it was a “he” due to the orange coloring), there was a 5-foot long iguana sunning on the walkway. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a small dinosaur on your sidewalk, but this is what a large iguana looks like. Although tempted to stick him in our suitcase, we decided the Human Impacts Institute mascot might have to be a more local-to-NYC critter for practical purposes.

Later in the day, Melissa and I trekked out for our maiden white water rafting voyage. Outfitted in our gear, we laughed at the directions, “this is forward, backward, and get down. Ready?” To put it mildly, I was so right about the whitewater rafting: It took me about ten seconds to decide that I love it and that I was ready to plan my next trip. We started in on a level three rapid (we felt super badass) and were in a raft of 6 people, representing four different countries, and languages, which made the trip pretty entertaining: “What? Que? Comment? Wass?” When we weren’t taking on the Rio Sarapiqui, we relaxed by jumping off of a cliff in to the bathtub temperature water, floated along looking at monkeys, tucans, little kids playing along the shore, and lots and lots of jungle.

Day two at Selve Verde left us both walking like John Wayne. Let me say that I am a total beginner horseback rider, but I did have visions of flowing white dresses and Brad Pitt as I galloped through a field (think A River Runs Through It, circa 1992) . The guides were three boys who couldn’t possible have been more than 17 and one of whom had a horse that kept trying to buck him off as he laughed about it. As I kept my outside appearance calm and collected, a little part of me thought, “hmmm…maybe I shouldn’t get my horse too close to him. Just in case he’s a bad influence.” After about an hour of riding through the muddy fields with white-faced monkeys and tucans (and I’m sure plenty of reptiles that I was fine with not seeing), we came to a river crossing, or so I thought. It was then that one of the boy wonders announced, “now we’re going to ride in the river,” however, I was figuring my Spanish was mixed up. Moments later, I was four feet deep in the water heading down the middle of the river…an amazing experience.

The Selve Verde experience was topped off with an evening bus into the town of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, where there was a music street festival. We were told by the guy at the front desk that it was Garage Ska music from Costa Rica and both Melissa and I were psyched. In reality, it was a 15-year old beat boxer, followed by a young version of Fabio who sang Bryan Adams-esque songs in Spanish. If you can even believe it, this was not the highlight of the evening: it was our little friend we now call “Pura Vida”—a small, very excited black dog, who followed us around and wanted to get on the bus back to the jungle with us, who made our night.

All in all, the Selva Verde experience left us relaxed (well, Melissa would have been sans the spiders in every corner) and ready for our trip to the indigenous community of Bri Bri.

By Tara DePorte, Founder and Executive Director, Human Impacts Institute

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