This weekend we had the privilege of experiencing Costa Rican eco-tourism for the first time since arriving in the land of “Pura Vida;” a country known most for its thriving eco-tourism industries. In the Galapagos we had done eco-tourism activities almost every day, everything from hiking to snorkeling but we got to experience something completely new this weekend.
Our first adventure was zip-lining, or as our host family calls it “canopy,” about an hour and a half outside of Ciudad Colon. Every zip-line I had done in the past was about 30 feet off the ground and lasted a total of 20 seconds. However, the zip-lining offered by Vista Los Suenos, roughly translated to sight of your dreams, was quite the opposite. In total we went on 14 different zip-lines (one upside down) zig-zagging through the Costa Rican jungle. We zipped high above the trees so we could see for miles around us. At one point we could see the ocean while we flew through the air. At each stopping point the men efficiently unharnessed and re-harnessed every gringo that came flying down the line and as somebody who is scared of heights, their efficiency and professionalism put the butterflies in my stomach to rest. This was no joke, our leader Marco had been working there for twelve years, employing English-speaking Ticos and perfecting the art of eco-tourism. That is how Costa Rica thrives.
For our next adventure we travelled another half an hour to a beautiful river-side restaurant that doubled as a crocodile river tour. After a delicious seafood lunch we loaded ourselves on to a long boat with a jolly, English-speaking tour guide and driver. For the first few minutes of the ride all we saw were birds, although interesting, not as entertaining as the massive crocodile we saw after about 10 minutes. We all thought that seeing the 10 foot long crocodile was thrilling but when the driver got out of the boat and started to dangle chicken meat in front of the crocodile so that it had to jump up to catch the meat, the boat rocked violently as we all crowded to one side to see, mouths open and cameras out. We motored on for about an hour and a half seeing strange birds, including a group of macaws, and dozens of other crocodiles. Our guide named each crocodile we saw; choosing names like Chavez, Castro, Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and my personal favorite: Monica Lewinsky. He catered to us Americans perfectly, the same way Marco had done, speaking near-perfect English and making a mundane activity such as riding a boat on a river a profit-making enterprise.
For our first weekend here in Costa Rica, our activities could not have been more fun, but they also opened my eyes to the real Costa Rica, one that thrives on eco-tourism and that caters to vacationing “gringos” to sustain their economy.