There are moments in life when things just click. You know, the moon and stars align with the planets just so and everything comes together. Ocean First Diver's Thanksgiving 2010 trip to Ocotal, Costa Rica was one of those moments.
From the very beginning the group chemistry was amazing, especially since nobody knew each other before this trip. Laughter and smiles were ever present, despite our 6am departure out of Denver. Our arrival into Liberia, Costa Rica was the start of a dive adventure that will not soon be forgotten.
Ocotal Beach Resort is perched atop a hill overlooking the sleepy cove of Ocotal Beach. The group was pleasantly surprised with room upgrades to deluxe accommodations, complete with private mini pools at each cottage. Imperial and ceviche flowed on the first night, everyone excited and anticipating a week of fun and great diving.
Checking into the dive center was a breeze. The group was split onto two boats and we headed out to see what the Pacific Ocean had in store for us. We were greeted immediately by a pod of dolphins as we made our way out of the cove... a good sign! Although the visibility was not the best (30-40ft) and the water was refreshing (73-75F), the dives were fantastic. We started off with some close, local dives to get buoyancy and equipment sorted out. Cute pufferfish, barberfish, Emperor angelfish, moray eels, sea stars, and stingrays were commonly encountered on every dive. Adjustments were made to our exposure protection due to the cool water temperature and the group was ready for more challenging diving at Catalina and Bat Islands.
Catalina and Bat Islands are farther away, requiring earlier departures. Upon arriving to Catalina, mobula rays were leaping out of the water on all sides of the boat. The adrenaline was definitely pumping as we donned our dive gear. Surge and a mild current greeted us, along with numerous stingray encounters and fleeting mobula ray sightings. Dolphins were once again our escort as we made our way back to Ocotal.
Bat Island was all about the bull sharks and schools of eagle rays. The 1.5hr boat drive gave everyone the chance to visit, sunbathe, and chill out before the excitement started up again. The seas were a bit rough out at Bat Island, an exposed, rocky island close to the Nicaraguan border. Everyone did a fantastic job of getting off the boat efficiently and we made our way down to the lair of the bull shark. After a few moments the first sharks arrived. These beefy, graceful animals were 8-10ft long and barrel chested. Packs of horse-eyed jacks escorted the bulls as they made close passes by the divers. Pulses accelerated with each encounter, especially when there were 5 or more surrounding the group. Our second dive was essentially a blue water drop over a sea mount. Immediately upon descent a squadron of 20-30 eagle rays slowly cruised by the group in midwater. Enormous schools of jacks patrolled the sea mount and nobody was really sure which direction to look as there was so much going on! Upon ascent it was a unanimous decision to return to Bat Island the next day!
Afternoons were spent either by the pool, at Father Rooster's beach restaurant, or walking into the nearest town, Playa Coco. We spent one afternoon ziplining through the rainforest canopy. Everyone in the group even went upside down on the longest zip, an exhilarating experience! A few brave individuals went "superman style", meaning facing the oncoming canopy with a guide behind you. It was a great way to spend an afternoon in Costa Rica.
Thanksgiving Day was full of fun. Diving at Bat Island in the morning, Imperial by the pool in the afternoon, and then a group dinner at Papagayo Seafood in town. Everyone agreed that this was a great way to spend the holiday! After dinner a few intrepid individuals tried their hand at Blackjack at the local casino. Significant funds were lost, but lasting memories were made and everyone came out on top in the end. Dancing followed gambling and a great time was had by all.
Our return to Denver was bittersweet. Lifelong friendships were made on this trip, something that doesn't always happen on a vacation. Plans are already in the works for a reunion in the future. Every so often we get lucky in life and Costa Rica 2010 was one of those rare opportunities. Pura Vida!