We hate cold weather. So to avoid it, we did the most logical thing we could think of: we ran away to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica to escape the impending winter weather back in the states.
We chose to stay in the little southeastern beach town of Cahuita which happens to have Costa Rica’s largest coral reef, covering around 600 acres. The reef is home to over 120 species of fish, around 45 species of crustaceans and nesting sea turtles. And the best part?! The reef is located inside Cahuita National Park, so it’s highly protected and extremely well-maintained.
Obviously it was the perfect opportunity to try snorkeling for the first time!
So we booked spots for a Saturday morning excursion through Willie’s Tours (you can only snorkel with a guide at the reef), stocked up on sunscreen and managed to get up super early and make it into town for our 8:30am pickup. (Anything earlier than 9am is early for us, haha!)
The morning of, we chatted with our tour guide/captain who agreed to let us fly our drone from the shore all the way out to our snorkeling location so we can could get some badass aerial shots of the boat. We also saw a sloth on our way to the boat and the weather, which had been pretty nasty and rainy the day before, was now clear and gave us a lovely blue sky with a nice breeze. Everything was awesome so far!
Our tour consisted mainly of Spanish-speaking people, so most of the time our guide would give instructions in Spanish and then a quick recap in English. But we found out the hard way that sometimes he didn’t repeat everything for us non-Spanish speakers. For example, when he explained how to properly put on your gear, get into the water and not to worry about the jellyfish because they don’t sting… ya, we missed that.
Eric and I were the last two off the boat so we were able to watch the other people put on their gear and copy them for the most part. Putting on the fins and goggles was easy enough, but as I mentioned before, this was our first time snorkeling. So while it all seemed pretty intuitive, I had no clue that I wouldn’t be able to breath through my nose at all or that if you go completely under the water with your snorkel, you have to blow out on the way up or it'll fill with salt water that you'll swallow and choke on.
I also didn’t realize that breathing through a snorkel is extremely awkward and if you’ve never done it before, it can make you feel like you’re hyperventilating.
So what happened when I jumped in? I choked on saltwater, starting panicking thinking I couldn’t breath, immediately ran into a group of jellyfish and was sure I was going to die there off the coast of Costa Rica.
Eric must have sensed my panic (it’s really hard to tell people’s emotions with a snorkel in their mouth and huge goggles covering the rest of their face) because he swam straight over and informed me that our guide had just told him the jellyfish weren’t the stinging kind. Then one of the other more seasoned snorkelers told us the breathing-out trick for going under water. Okay, so maybe I wasn't dying after all!
Unfortunately I still couldn’t quite figure out the breathing through the snorkel part and constantly found myself holding my breath instead and having to talk myself into breathing and out of panicking.
Here’s me pretending that everything’s cool and I’m having a great time instead of quietly dying inside...
Luckily, Eric was a bit better with the breathing part and was having a great time goofing around with his GoPro underwater. So much so, that he accidentally backed straight up into a section of the reef and skinned up his shoulder pretty good.
Another lesson learned - coral is ruthless! I always imagined it’d be somewhat pliable, but nope. It's super rigid and will cut the sh*t out of anyone who comes too close!
Oh and remember that nice island breeze I mentioned earlier? Well, it ended up turning into a nice island wind which made the water pretty choppy. That, mixed with the rain from the previous day meant that visibility was pretty restricted in a lot of areas. It also meant that trying to stay on top of the water was becoming a chore as the waves were getting bigger and water was constantly pouring into our snorkels.
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks - I was seasick. I tried to be tough and breath through it, but eventually had to tell Eric that I couldn’t handle it anymore. So I swam back to the boat where I stayed for the next hour or so while everyone oooh’d and ahhh’d at sea turtles, schools of fish and sharks.
Yep, I missed swimming with turtles AND sharks... and a bunch of (supposedly non-stinging) jellyfish.
Thank goodness Eric had his GoPro so I could see some of what I was missed!
Our guide was nice and tried to make small talk on the boat by pointing out interesting things that swam by, but all I could do was focus on the horizon and desperately try not to throw up. Finally, it was getting towards the end of the swim and he relocated the boat to less choppy water so everyone could climb back on board.
I was home-free! Or so I thought… Literally some 25 feet from shore (and with everyone back on our very tiny boat) I lost it.
Yep. I threw up over the side of the boat. And not just once, but three times. I will say that afterwards I felt great! But by then we were at the shore and getting kicked off the boat. And I mean literally kicked off. The guide wouldn’t let me ride back to our starting point since he would be going against the waves and didn’t trust that I wouldn’t get sick again. So we had to walk a mile through the National Park to get back into town.
But at last, my sea-hell was over! And poor Eric’s was just beginning…
Funny thing about sunscreen, it only works if you actually apply it. And in our haste to get our drone put up and our gear on, Eric had done one of the most half-assed sunscreen applications I’ve ever seen.
As you can see, it ended up being a whopper of a burn. It was a whole week before he was able to wear his backpack or lay on his back again :(
All of our mistakes and inexperience aside, snorkeling was actually amazing! Getting a glimpse of the vast amount of life underwater was so cool and if you ever get the chance you should absolutely try it! Just maybe try to find a snorkeling excursion that starts a bit closer to shore or in shallow water so if you do find yourself feeling sick or overwhelmed, you can easily put your feet down and chill for a second. Oh and ask about the jellyfish and/or any other potentially unfriendly creatures :)
Our first time might not have been a huge success, but that just makes us even more excited for our next snorkeling adventure. And you better believe we’ll be remembering the sunscreen and dramamine!
Thanks for reading, we'll see you on the road!