The best day of my life

Mariellen Ward Costa Rica

Me in Costa Rica, 1996.

An adventure filled day travelling in Costa Rica

Do you know what the best day or your life is? For many years, I said that December 24, 1996 was the best day of my life.

On December 24, 1996 I woke up in a tiny hut in the jungle in Costa Rica. I was with my fiance at the time, Kirk, on a two-week vacation. We looked out that morning through the screens that served as walls to see the trees filled with white-face monkeys. The tiny eco-resort was built right into the jungle using natural materials and no electricity.

It was rustic and comfortable and as immersed into the natural world as possible.

There was a thatched-roof beach bar that whipped up fruity drinks using a blender attached to a car battery. The dining room was simply a platform with a roof. The screened-in huts were scattered around the property to ensure privacy. In other words, the entire place was designed to interfere as little as possible with the natural environment, which made the indigenous animals, like white-face monkeys, feel safe and welcome.

I started keeping a list of the wildlife I saw on that trip. And many of the most spectacular sightings took place on December 24.

Bahia Drake, Cocta rica, ecolodge, rainforest

Our jungle home — an ecolodge in Bahia Drake, Costa Rica, 1996.

That day we got up early to go on an excursion with a local guide named Gerhardt. A lean man with a rough-shod look, Gerhardt was originally from Germany, but had been in Costa Rica for many years — and I got the impression that somehow the move had saved his life. Also along for the trip was Eddie, a Harrison Ford lookalike from the USA who worked as a park ranger in Yellowstone. He was a handsome, romantic, wild man, tramping around Costa Rica in flip-flops, sleeping in a tiny tent, and nursing a broken heart.

The four of us went out across the ocean in a small boat until we reached Cano Island. This emerald dot in the Pacific is the island you see in the film Jurassic Park. It’s a very special, very mysterious place; a living museum that was for a thousand years the burial place of kings. The shallow graves had long been looted for their gold treasures — some of which are in the gold museum in San Jose — but it is still fascinating to see the grave sites and bits of pottery.

Gerhardt told us that because of this desecration, the island was haunted.

In the morning we hiked around the island, to the highest point, where I took photos of all of us and the spectacular view. We saw “Jesus Christ lizards” (so named because they walk on water), scarlet macaws and giant blue morpho butterflies. As we walked, Gerhardt shared his prodigious knowledge of the flora and fauna, telling us about things like the vines that wrap around trees and slowly strangle them. After a delicious lunch of rice, beans and fresh tropical fruit on the beach, we went snorkelling and saw masses of colourful fish.

Scarlet Macaw, Costa Rica

Scarlet Macaw, Costa Rica, 1996.

On the way home, Gerhardt relaxed the rules and shared some beer with us he had chilling in a cooler, and then he put some deep-sea fishing rods in the water and I caught a small yellow fin tuna. On the way back we saw flying fish and a school of dolphins.

That night, we invited Eddie to join us at dinner, and the resort had made the tuna into sashimi for us. I experienced the profound feeling of catching my dinner and eating it raw, which I found primal and deeply satisfying.

Afterwards, Eddie, Kirk and I walked through the jungle to a community centre where the locals were having a Christmas Eve dance.

We kicked off our hiking boots and hit the dance floor with the locals.

On the way home through the very dark jungle, we came across a chic resort with an open-air bar and stopped for drinks. Finally, we ended up sitting together on the beach as the surf roared and crashed under the full moon.

I had never felt so alive, never had a day so full of adventure, surprise, friendship, and wonder. I was doubly thrilled that I had my new camera with me, my Christmas gift from my fiance, who had given it to me early so I could capture the beauty of Costa Rica and our trip. I had the entire day on film, to remind me of how amazing life can be.

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. A photo I took with my new film camera in 1996.

When I got home, I took all 11 rolls of film I shot in Costa Rica in for processing and they all turned out great … except for the one taken that day on Cano Island. The negative roll was completely blank.

Instantly I remembered what Gerhardt had said about the island, and wondered if it truly did cast a spell on us, ruining the film but ensuring the day was deeply preserved in my memory.

Perhaps that day was too special to be caught on film, too light to pinned down by a snapshot, too special to become a dusty archive.

But photos or no, for many years, I said that December 24, 1996 was the best day of my life. (Until the night I spent in the desert of Rajasthan, India on a camel safari, but that’s another story …)

Costa Rica rain forest

In the rain forest of Costa Rica, 1996.

EcoAdventure Media trip to Costa Rica

From that day in 1996 to this, Costa Rica has always held a special place in my heart for providing all the raw ingredients for that magical day. The garden-of-eden-like natural environment, preserved by stringent eco-conscious rules, played a large part in the making of “the best day of my life.” Costa Rica was not only blessed with natural riches like dramatic coastlines, cloud forests and jungles teeming with creatures, it has also been blessed with a stable government that early on recognized that the best way to capitalize on its treasures was to preserve them.

Now, many years later, I am going back to Costa Rica — but this time as a professional travel writer and a member of Eco Adventure Media.

This trip will take me to all new locations in Costa Rica. Last time, I went to Bahia Drake / Corcovado and Manuel Antonia in the south; this time I am going to the central region and the Pacific north,  leaving November 29 and returning December 13, 2013. Here is an outline of my first week, as a guest of Costa Rica Tourism:

  • San Jose Walking tour & food tour of the Central Market
  • Visit to Casona Rio Fortuna / Cultural tour
  • Arenal Volcano, hanging bridges
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
  • El Trapiche tour
  • Visit a local family
  • Hotel Punta Islita
  • Visit to Islita art museum and the community art associations
  • Visit to Ara Project
  • Tico cooking lessons

So please follow along with me here on Breathedreamgo, on my Facebook page, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+ and on Twitter by following the hashtag #EcoCostaRica or the EcoCostaRica Timeline.

Pool at Hotel Punta Islita, Costa Rica

The infinity pool at Hotel Punta Islita, Costa Rica. Photograph by Hotel Punta Islita.

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27 Responses to The best day of my life

  1. wanderingeducators November 17, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    So ready to read of your new adventures!!
    wanderingeducators recently posted..Living Through Antigua’s 1773 EarthquakeMy Profile

  2. Doreen Pendgracs November 18, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Lovely post and pics, Mariellen. Costa Rica is indeed a magical place. Haven’t ben to Cano Island, but it definitely sounds intoxicating.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted..Dandelion Chocolate is one of San Francisco’s finest chocolate makersMy Profile

  3. costaricacurious November 18, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    So glad I found this post. In June of this year I moved to the central valley town of Grecia and live up in the hills. I have not ventured too far away and am enjoying reading about the jungle adventures people are having. Thanks for sharing and I hope your next trip is a great one.
    costaricacurious recently posted..The Blind Masseuse – An Interview With Author Alden JonesMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward November 18, 2013 at 10:34 am #

      Thanks for the comment! I will be reading your blog too, and may contact you!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..50 ways to celebrate CanadaMy Profile

      • Greg November 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

        Sure – shoot me an email I am always happy to chat about our story and answer any questions.

  4. Samantha November 18, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

    it’s really cool to see pics of Costa Rica compared to then and now! Have a great time on your trip, looks like a fun agenda!

    You’ll love Arenal and Monteverde! I’ve mostly been in the N. pacific and Central Valley and yet to make it to the Manuel Antonio area but everyone says it’s gorgeous!

    • Mariellen Ward November 18, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

      Oh thanks, I can’t wait! I remember planning that trip and leaving out Arenal And Monteverde, wondering if I made a mistake. And now the universe is giving me the opportunity to go …. love how everything always works out 🙂
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..50 ways to celebrate CanadaMy Profile

  5. Bret @ Green Global Travel November 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

    Such lovely memories, Mariellen, and a well-told story! For some reason Costa Rica has always been associated with major turning points in my life and career: It was there that Mary & I actually came up with the idea for Green Global Travel! Perhaps there’s some connection between the fertility of the ecosystems there and the fertility of our creative consciousness, for I’ve always found inspiration from our travels there. Can’t wait for #EcoCostaRica to begin!
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..#EcoCostaRica: Announcing GGT’s Next Big Adventure!My Profile

    • Mariellen Ward November 18, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

      That’s a good point … it was obviously an important destination for me too. I think it was in Costa Rica that I began to discover my adventurous side. Though now I think it more than a “side” — more like the whole enchilada!
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..50 ways to celebrate CanadaMy Profile

  6. Alfredo Begazo November 18, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    Nice read, and well written too!

    It looks like everyone is going to Costa Rica these days.
    Gerhardt seems to be a special kind of guy.
    Alfredo Begazo recently posted..Travel to Manu National Park along the Manu RoadMy Profile

  7. Barbara Weibel November 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm #

    I’ve been to a few of the places you’re bound for – sounds like a wonderful itinerary. Looking forward to your stories as you discover Costa Rica.
    Barbara Weibel recently posted..PHOTO: Worshipers light candles at Dormition of the Theotokos Orthodox Cathedral in Cluj-Napoca, RomaniaMy Profile

  8. Sylvia November 19, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Stunning pictures and a great blog! I’m just looking for honeymoon’s destination as I’m getting married next year and Costa Rica is definitely on my list after reading your blog. I just hope I’ll manage to organize it. Thank you for giving me this idea I’ll let you know once the tickets are purchased, fingers crossed. 🙂

  9. Jim O'Donnell November 19, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    That is a wonderful story! A great memory of a really great day! I look forward to getting down there and to meet you too!
    Jim O’Donnell recently posted..Big Horn Sheep Ram – My Shot of the Day – November 18, 2013My Profile

  10. Matthew Karsten November 19, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    I love those Jesus Christ lizards. Amazing to watch them run on water like that!

  11. TOEFL Classes In Pune November 22, 2013 at 5:56 am #

    Pictures Are Awesome.
    Specially The Pool Picture.
    The Narration Is Very Good, I read It & Liked It Alot.

  12. Charli | Wanderlusters November 24, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

    Such a lovely piece. We spent 6 months in Costa Rica in 2011 and the country had such a soothing effect on me. It was my first taste of life in the tropics and I instantly fell in love with the vibrant natural environment and laid back lifestyle.

    I’m looking forward to reading about your forthcoming Eco Adventure!
    Charli | Wanderlusters recently posted..Hiking The Scottish HighlandsMy Profile

    • Mariellen Ward November 25, 2013 at 6:56 am #

      Thanks for your comment Charli, Costa RIca does seem to affect people. There is something very powerful there, a powerful, felt sense of nature.
      Mariellen Ward recently posted..50 ways to celebrate CanadaMy Profile

  13. Gaelyn November 25, 2013 at 12:58 am #

    How magical to return to a place that so filled you the first time. Costa Rica is definitely on my list so look forward to your take on it this time. Although I’m mostly a tent in the jungle type I Want to be in that infinity pool.
    Gaelyn recently posted..2014 South Africa diversity EcotourMy Profile

  14. Linda McCormick November 25, 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    So looking forward to reading all the adventures from your trip, and the rest of the EcoAdventure Media crew. What you’re doing as a group is so great for the future of other travel bloggers. It’s exciting to watch it all unfold.

    And love your film photos, especially the one with the fungi – would make a great entry for ‘White’ in the Capture the Color photo comp 🙂
    Linda McCormick recently posted..Why You Need to Know About Passports With PurposeMy Profile

  15. Rakesh Kanyakumari December 4, 2013 at 12:02 am #

    Few days back only i start to read your beautiful articles..Which really make feel that we too travel in that places…Great work…have a very Nice days for you in COSTA RICA….

  16. Nosara Hotels January 28, 2014 at 11:19 am #

    Always read a good article about Costa Rica is a great experience. Traveling to CR is one of the best ideas. Costa Rica is one of the most incredible destinations in America. To live through a few holidays surrounded with nature in a pasis of the kind people. Very good article.

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