Rafting, World Cup Qualifier Among Day 1 Highlights In Costa Rica
Diego, the amiable guide in one of the three mini-buses that are driving the Princeton men's lacrosse team around Costa Rica, mentioned Friday morning - early Friday morning - that his country was beginning World Cup qualifying at El Salvadore later in the day.
After checking out the newspaper that Victor, the driver, bought from a vendor on the street while stuck in early morning San Jose traffic, Diego realized the game was actually in Costa Rica, at 8 p.m., not far from the hotel where Princeton was staying. And that tickets were available.
And that would be how Diego would start his day with the TIgers before 6 a.m. and still be with the 20 members of the travel party when they returned from National Stadium at around 11 p.m.
To say it was a busy first day would be an understatement.
Princeton arrived at the hotel after 11 after flying from Newark Thursday evening, and there was a 5:30 wake-up call for Friday morning.
The mini-buses rolled out of the parking lot at the fabulous Studio Hotel in San Jose at 6, with the first stop a breakfast about 90 minutes later at a spot overlooking a magnificent green valley. Along the way, Diego, on his bus, told about how Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, how the country has never actually been involved in a war, how it is the world's largest exporter of pineapples, how it gained independence from Spain in the 1820s because Spain simply didn't want the hassle of overseeing the territory anymore, how it has its first woman President, how it has nearly as many species of birds and insects as the U.S. despite having less than one percent of the land area - and many other facts about the nation of four million.
After breakfast (scrambled eggs, rice, beans), it would be another 90 minutes or so until the team reached the Pacuare River, rated by National Geographic as the third-most scenic river in the world.
After a short tutorial, it was time for whitewater rafting, a four-hour adventure through level 3 and level 4 rapids, with a short stop for lunch on the river bank a little past the halfway point. Lunch, by the way, included fresh pineapple, watermelon and guava, along with lunch meat, cheese, refried beans, chips and tortillas.
The trip down the river was amazing, and National Geographic is right on the money with its assessment of the Pacuare.
As the nine rafts with teams of five or six made their way through rapids rough enough to eject some passengers (including John McPhee, the academic-athletic fellow who was launched into the water at the first of the day's rapids) and alternatively through still water deep enough for the people on-board to voluntarily jump in, the views up the hills that surrounded the water on both sides were extraordinary, including waterfalls, wildlife and more and more untouched green in every direction.
Everyone got wet. Nobody got hurt, not even those like McPhee who wound up in the river not by their own choice.
The ride back to the hotel after the trip was through rush-hour traffic, and the buses arrived at around 6, 12 hours after they'd left.
From there for most, it was on to the soccer game.
Because the ticket booth was located about two blocks past the stadium, the Princeton party didn't reach the game until about 15 minutes had been played. By then, Costa Rica was up 2-0, which was obvious even from outside the stadium by the roar the crowd made twice.
Less than a minute after the Princetonians came into the stadium, El Salvador got one back. Then, about two minutes after that, there was a total power outage in the stadium, forcing a 30-minute delay.
El Salvador would tie early in the second half, and then Costa Rica would have chance after chance but could not break through, even having one goal disallowed, as the game ended in a 2-2 tie.
A World Cup qualfier in Central America between two big rivals was about everything you would imagine it would be, including singing, drums beating, horns blowing, fights in the stands, all of it. The energy level of the fans never wavered, including the Princetonians, many of whom bought Costa Rica jerseys and a flag.
In short, it was an insane, not-to-be-missed, experience.
The wakeup calls for Saturday won't be quite as early, but there is another full day to come.
It starts at 8:30 with lacrosse clinics for Costa Rican children and adults, followed by an exhibition of sorts between Princeton and the Costa Rican national team.
After the lacrosse is over the day, it'll be time for lunch and then ziplining.