Te Amo Costa Rica

It was 11:30 am on a Friday and I found myself 4000 metres up on the side of a mountain in the Costa Rican jungle running through creeks, tree roots and heaps of mud. There were clouds of mist settling in on the adjacent mountains and I could hear Daniel Petro (formerly Quadzilla of the Crossfit world) in the near distance screaming, “Isn’t this incredible!?” It was like all of a sudden I had woken up but I was still in a dream. The whole 11km trail run, I felt as if I was watching myself.

This was a metaphysical moment. How did every choice I have made in my life lead me to this exact moment?

Every so often I have these moments of an almost dissociative experience where I am looking through the world as a third person. I get this a lot because what I do – elite, fast exercising and the subsequent rewards – seem just too good to be true. Fitness, food, and travel, my three loves, I get to do on a daily basis. I am bragging a little but by god I am so grateful for all that I receive!

I was brought down to Costa Rica to compete at the HalloWod, an annual competition, in San Jose. Unfortunately, the women I was supposed to compete against either dropped out from injury or couldn’t get passports into Costa Rica. So I was there to chill and cheer on other athletes. Not a bad deal. Costa Ricans are crazy about their Crossfit. The competition was held at a school (after the Day 1 mountain scramble) where the stands were packed with people to spectate their affiliate’s most promising athlete. The Tico (slang for Costa Rican native) spectators treat Crossfit like they treat soccer. Loads of Latino passion. If one of their athletes was no-repped for any reason the entire box would stand up in outrage and yell, what I am sure, were crazed insults. Athletes will also stop to argue and make hand gesture at their judges if they think the call is bad. In the final, Alex Anderson and another beast of an athlete, Alain, from Panama were in a back to back 1 RM clean-off at the end of an insane workout. The crowd rushed the floor to surround these two on their lifting platforms. One lady and her baby were crouched a nose-length from Anderson’s 355lb bar. Safety sometimes comes second when you head south (I am not generalizing; just my experience in comps outside of North America) because the standards are a little different. The lack of safety definitely makes for way more drama and excitement. I had the most fun spectating. I even saw one guy who had ripped his hands so badly during a bar muscle-up event, bite his hand to rip off his dangling flap of skin. The women in the crowd gasped as he spat out his skin flap on the ground so he could continue his farmer’s carry; bloody-faced and absolutely savage. What fun!

I was lucky enough to have a family friend who lived in the Guanacaste region so I hopped on a sketchy Cessna out to Liberia, a town north of San Jose. By sketchy, I mean a plane straight out of the 70’s where the pilot helps load your bags into the back. The passengers squished themselves into the putt-putt and off we went. During the flight, I chatted with a cool dude who had been living in Nosara for 3 years as a teacher then vacation rental outfitter. We were talking about surf spots and tourist traps to avoid when I asked him about any hazards to be aware of during my travels. He nonchalantly told me: stinging nettles in the ocean, crocodiles in the estuaries, howler monkeys, petty theft, Nature Air (janky beach airline that crashed 2 weeks ago), oh yes and mosquitos with chikungunya or dengue fever. The last item on the list made me sweat. In 2013 I got dengue fever in Indonesia and it was brutal in both its duration and severity. To get dengue again could be hemorrhagic. I don’t know what chikungunya is but it sounds real nasty too. Apparently, viral disease-carrying mosquitos are bigger and have white legs, the young man informed me. I’ll be sure to really watch closely as a big ol’ bastard feeds on my blood before I kill him. In years past when I traveled I thought I had an iron stomach and was pretty much invincible. I have learned to be much more cautious which means no “natural” bug spray. Don’t muck around. Put on that heavy duty DEET and smell terrible.

After a surprisingly smooth landing, I had arrived in beautiful Liberia! My mission: see a sloth, go surfing, and ride a horse (I ultimately scratched this one off the list because the horses looked too skinny and I anthropomorphize animals). My family friend picked me up and let me crash at their place. Her husband owned a gyrocopter and he insisted I go for a ride with him. A gyrocopter is a mini-helicopter without a properly enclosed cabin. The next day we drove to the airfield which was off a tiny village road. A single concrete slip in the middle of a farmer’s field. We had to head in the backway apparently as tropical storm Nate had washed away many of the roads two weeks prior. Jose, the airport owner, was waiting at a twisted metal gate to let us in and we drove down the tarmac to the “hangar” which was really just a tin shed. Michael, the husband and gyrocopter pilot, began making his fastidious preparations on the gyro. In the distance loomed some ominous thunderheads so Michael worked quickly to get us up in the air. I was soon strapped into the two-seater gyro-copter. “Have you ever crashed this thing, Michael?”

There was hesitation, then: “I wouldn’t call it a crash… just an incident.” I later found out that Michael had crashed with his wife Sue coming out of takeoff. Luckily there had been a farmer’s field to crash into, not dense jungle or a crocodile-filled estuary. “I am always looking for emergency spots to land,” Michael informed me after I had heard about the “incident.”

Before takeoff, I did feel very exposed sitting in the cockpit and I was sweating profusely. I was in shorts and a long sleeve. I could hear my father’s stern words in my head, “Cover up completely when you are flying in case there is a fire…” (he is a pilot himself). My legs were very uncovered and images of death by fire in a gyro-copter ran through my head. Soon, however, we were up in the air and I couldn’t stop smiling. Another derealization moment: 2000 feet up in the air in a gyro-copter cruising over the coastline of Costa Rica. Pretty high stoke. Pretty surreal. We headed north buzzing down low and shooting up high into the clouds. As we were circling back we noticed a large thunderhead sitting atop the Tamarindo airport, right where we needed to land. Shit. Michael decided to take me on a few more sights to see if the cell would move along. When we turned toward the cell, a blast of cold air hit us and the gyro waivered back and forth. I was thinking what we would do if this little gyro got caught up in a storm. Surely it would be imminent death. We were also running out of fuel so Michael made the safe decision to head south to a different airstrip in the town of Nicoya. We landed safely and found a Tico in an FBI shirt smoking a cigarette under a tin carport with shit everywhere. In broken Español, Michael tried to see if he could leave his gyro there for a few nights while I tried to go secure us a cab at the attached police station.

“Jugas deportivos en estados unidos amiga?” the toothy police officer asked me.

“No no en Canada!” I guess my thunder thighs gave it away that I’m into sports. In 30 minutes, our taxi man arrived to take us back to the other airport about an hour away. By nightfall, we reached the initial airport only to find it covered with cows and bulls. Guess the nearby farmers thought the tarmac area was good grazing land.

In Costa Rica, everyone talks about Pura Vida: pure life or simple life. Ticos use the term to say hi, bye, thanks, what’s up, I am happy, life is good… I love this colloquialism because the people I met on my adventures totally embodied this slogan as a way of life. To live the Pura Vida life is to slow down, relax with loved ones, and to cherish simple pleasures. And I certainly felt this warmth the whole time I was there. Jon, the organizer of HalloWod, got me anything I needed and even had a BBQ at his house for the competitors the night before the competition. (It was a total bro BBQ complete with massive steaks, no forks or knives, Imperial beer, and hot muchachas). Allison Scudds, a good friend of mine who regularly competes in San Jose, hooked me up with Ed or “Camion” (which means truck in Español) who graciously picked me up early on his weekend morning for breakfast, coffee, training, and sightseeing around San Jose. Ed then got me in touch with his good friend Sasha who lived out at the beach with her boyfriend Brandon. Incidentally, Brandon used to work at Diamante, one of the best eco-parks in Costa Rica. The connections through the Crossfit community are amazing but the people I met in Costa Rica went above and beyond normal North American hosting standards. Sasha picked me up in her little Ford Fiesta (40 minutes out of her way, I’ll add) and the first thing she asked me was, “Have you ever listened to Serial Killers? Want to listen to the one about lesbian retirement home serial killers?”. Unfortunately, the internet didn’t work.

Okay, let’s talk about Costa Rican driving. It’s absolutely nuts. I have been to other Latin American countries and Costa Rica is by far the highest speed, riskiest driving I’ve ever encountered. Sasha informed me that driving in Costa Rica is like Nintendo. Think the jungle level on Mario Kart N-64. Skinny ass roads in stick-shift cars. Green Shells = cyclists on edge of skinny road. Banana = garbage, jungle branches, dead cats. Goombas (those little angry mushrooms in Mario Kart) =  uniformed school children walking on skinny ass road (“We just leveled up,” Sasha said, “Kids on the road”). Player traffic jam = man riding several horses. Red Shells = potholes.

The potholes were massive craters washed out by the rainy season that had just ended. Sasha, as any good Costa Rican driver would do, didn’t let the potholes slow her down. When she could, she would swerve into the oncoming traffic lane to avoid the pothole. If there was traffic, well, you could either slow right down or do what Sasha did, “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.”

 SLAM!

“FUCCCCKKKK! That was a bad one.” The car would smash into the pothole and I could feel my spine compressing. This happened a few times throughout our 40-minute journey. I later learned from Brandon that the shocks on Sasha’s car were completely shot.

Diamante was incredible. Mile long, 800 foot high zip lines over the canopy, animal sanctuary and a private tour with the one and only Sexy Lexi (Brandon and Sasha’s friend and fellow CrossFitter) who knew everything about each animal. Sloths, monkeys, jaguars, crocodiles, frogs, butterflies, and snakes. Costa Rica really has their environmentalism down. I was so taken aback at the willingness and openness of the Costa Rican people… there is no missing out or finding the next best thing. They value hanging out right here and right now with the ones around them. It was incredibly refreshing.

Back to my dissociative experience… Throughout writing this blog post I have been able to digest and contemplate what that was all about. Since January, I have been going through a value shift. Everything I thought I once identified with is changing (perhaps too much Sam Harris and Mark Manson?). It is an unnerving feeling but one I know is crucial for personal growth and development. The question on my mind is finding the flow between ambition, goals, and enjoying the ordinary moments of life (which are fucking amazing). After discussing this question with several different people from vastly different backgrounds, I have gleaned that the goal is the journey (I am sure you already knew that but we seem to forget this). We have been conditioned in life, or at least I have, to believe that each accomplishment will act as a happiness/fulfillment finish line. Another step towards total completion. After you have achieved another goal the high is short-lived and then you have a void inside which you must fill with more – more things, friends, experiences, social media. It can be a dangerous path. Goals shouldn’t define you because they will never fulfill you. The journey, the everyday, the seemingly mundane; living completely and totally for this precise moment will be the meaty, delicious, juicy, sensual bite out of life that you hunger for. A friend of mine recently asked me what are my 3 core values in life. These 3 values will dictate my path, my journey. Adhering to these values will not only direct me towards the right endeavours but also nourish my soul. Sit down, clear the old monkey mind, and write down your 3 values. A tough but necessary exercise. And don’t worry – if you are feeling stuck that is good. It is the predecessor to real understanding of yourself.

Pura Vida my friends.

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Emily Abbott

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