By Joanne Blanchard
Sometimes when touring around other countries, especially not-so-affluent countries, the challenges aren’t so much in the flying. What gets your heart pumping and palms sweating is the stuff going on while being a mere ground-trotting tourist like everyone else.
|Cort Montague - Our Spanish language expert|
That’s Costa Rica. And really, it would help to know something of the native languages, something more effective than arm waving or currency waving, which works pretty well but tends to reinforce the American stereotype.
When our diverse group of 17 hit the road in San Jose, Costa Rica in February, 2010, for a tour of the Pacific coast, we bragged of the big air we knew we’d spend all day, every day in. We loaded four rental vehicles, laughed, partied, hit the road. And pulled over. And turned around. And turned around again. We must have been a real spectacle by then because a local motorcycle Policia with blue light flashing, led us far enough out of town that we could not possibly return by the end of his shift.
|Rich Hass at Dominacal, Costa Rica|
Everyone knows the harrowing experience of highway driving in such areas. But half a day later, at the hotel in Dominical, our vehicle doors flew open, the empty cans fell out, and we followed. Fearless, we were ready, in the morning, for a flying site discovered a couple of years ago by Rick Hubbard and Mike Freeman. Two mountain launches look over a valley and then an ocean to die for. Well, you could die for it if not conscious of the riptides and occasional wayward crocodile. Swimming and surfing was outstanding on water safe days.
But we came to fly and that’s exactly what we took our 2WD overloaded van with wimpy tires to upper launch to do. Until we couldn’t get there. And we weren’t about to send one of the other three 4WD rigs through that swampy, slippery wet almost-a-road trail when we could let two local macho tree smugglers in an ancient Toyota four-wheeler pull the van free. (Here’s where some currency waving was completely legitimate).
|Looks good. You go first! - Tom Allen, Rich Hass, and Mike Brand|
Dominical’s launches are short, flat, with steep drop off, and a challenge in very light wind. But we all ridge soared and made either the soccer field or the beach. Fantastic, gorgeous place…until the local madman comes with a long stick and a short temper, making threats and prohibiting us from flying near his home or landing on the public beach. Yeah, whatever, we’ve heard that before.
We were assured by other locals not to be concerned and we were scheduled, anyway, to move north to Jaco Beach. A modernized, congested town, Jaco is popular with tourists and Costa Ricans from San Jose, who make the weekend trek for swimming and lounging. There’s no soliciting like “buy this, buy this” - a relief - but the other form of solicitation is legal and accepted….. Just a side note, no relevance to anything.
From Jaco, we enjoyed flying Caldera, an hour north at a private home. A pilot offers his patio seating and large, manicured cliff launch for $5-10/day. Mid-day conditions are typically quite strong but flyable for some, and tapering to 10-12 for sweet glass off into glowing sunsets, landing at the beach below. Fresh seafood dinners were excellent everywhere. How about stopping for a coconut, hacked open with a machete and a straw inserted?
|Tom Allen - Caldera, Costa Rica|
The non-pilots in our group toured native reserves, sat poolside, did the hang by your feet zip line and hand fed the crocodiles. Okay, they didn’t do that. But they did have a good time. Some earned 5 continuing education credits in Drivers Training, with extra credit for willingness to carry insurance in Costa Rica: How to load a GPS and load a cooler; Driving 2WD likes it’s 4WD; Traversing steep mountain terrain - Practicing the Hail Mary and Our Father; What to pay local machete-yielding gate keepers; and How to locate most XC pilots most days. Others earned 1 Phys Ed Credit for Ocean Swimming: Judging water safety conditions relative to alcohol consumption; The aggressive swim stroke technique while in a riptide; and Sharing the ocean with crocodiles - volunteer participation only.