Today is the day that I have designated for catching up on my blog, so here goes my attempt at chronicling events that happened a month ago (and this is a long one!).
After a wet trek through the jungle in pouring rains, an even wetter boat ride from Little Corn Island to its big brother (all of us passengers collectively held a large plastic tarp over our heads in a failed attempt to stay dry), a taxi ride to the airport, a precarious flight on a station wagon with wings back to Managua, followed by an uneventful 5-hour bus ride across the border, I arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica the afternoon of September 27th. I was met at the bus stop by Maria Jose, the wife of my friend Ernst, and she drove me to the very swanky Four Seasons Hotel – Peninsula Papagayo, my home for the next five days. I was shown to my fabulous room (Toto, we’re not in Backpackerville anymore!), briefed on the upcoming weekend’s activities by Ernst, and took my first hot bubble bath in two months, ordered room service, did laundry, and fell asleep in my heavenly bed.
In the summer of 2011, about 2 1/2 years after my accident, I was starting to think about how I could use my injury and my experiences to do something meaningful (This happened for a reason, right? Right??); specifically, I wanted to establish disabled programs in Dubai, such as community awareness and a rehabilitation facility not unlike Project Walk. I quickly realized that there were very few programs for the disabled in the Middle East–it’s rare to even see someone in a wheelchair under the age of 80. Through my research, I met Ernst Van der Poll, a scuba dive instructor who had started a disabled scuba diving program but was soon leaving Dubai and needed someone to continue the project. Over the course of the summer, we met often to collaborate and share ideas, and he sponsored my PADI Open Water Course with the intent for me to eventually become an instructor.
However, after he left I become increasingly dissatisfied and burnt-out with Dubai, and I too left in December of that year without seeing our plans come to fruition. Ernst and I have stayed in touch over the years, and when he reached out to me a year ago about his mission to start a disabled dive program in Costa Rica, as part of his company ConnectOcean, I jumped at the opportunity to be involved. A date was set for the launch event, and all my travel plans revolved around this particular week.
So fast forward to September 2013, when I found myself, after two months of gritty backpacking, at this fancy-pants Costa Rican resort for the highly-anticipated Sin Limites (Without Limits) disabled scuba diving event. After a wonderful night’s sleep, I went down to the pool on Saturday morning to watch the final session of local dive instructors completing their DDI Disabled Scuba Diving Instructor course with a man called Fraser Bathgate, whom I had met back in Dubai. That afternoon, about thirty members of the Costa Rican Paralympic team arrived to take part in an introductory pool session, and I joined in for the fun. Most of the athletes were either part of the volleyball team or swimmers, and their injuries ranged from amputations to spinal cord injuries.
Several local reporters were also there, as was a crew from HBO to document the event as part of a special on one of the other guests, Jen Bricker. The energy and excitement was contagious, and I could not have been more proud and honored to have been invited to the event. That evening, everyone gathered to watch Jen’s HBO documentary, and I was asked to say a few words which were probably pretty blubbering as I felt a bit tongue-tied speaking to so many fascinating and inspirational people in that room.
Sunday was the big Sin Limites Event. We all gathered on the beach at the Four Seasons for a full day of activities. We split up into four groups, and rotated between playing seated beach volleyball (super fun but I think I ripped my shoulder out of socket…I’m getting old!), kayaking and paddleboarding (I opted out, due to said ripped-out shoulder), and of course, scuba diving. They took us out on a boat for a short dive, and it was such an incredible buzz to be out there with others like me. I had so much fun hanging out with all my new friends, getting dirty in the black sand, and practicing my horrendous Spanish. It was a long day, so I slept like a baby that night.
The next two days centered around scuba diving. I am embarrassed to say that back in 2011 in Dubai, due to various reasons, I never completed my Open Water course, so getting Jen and me certified was part of the agenda. On Tuesday night, we all went out for dinner to celebrate Jen and Fraser’s birthdays. On Wednesday morning we checked out of the Four Seasons (it was hard to say goodbye to my bathtub/hot water/clean floors/beachfront private room), scoped out a waterfall, and then moved into the Hotel Mangaby in Playa Hermosa. The next day, a group of us spent the day at an awesome outdoor activities center, where we went canopy zip-lining, horseback riding (getting over my fears of those little demons with manes one day at a time!), and water-sliding, capped off with a long dip in their thermal hot pools while howler monkeys played in the trees over our heads. It was a perfect, adrenaline-filled day that ended with pizza and bed.
Friday, my last day in Guanacaste, was supposed to be spent soaking up the sun out on a boat; instead, it was spitting rain and we girls sat huddled on the wet boat while the guys went surfing on the point break. Nevertheless, it was still a lovely day relaxing, drinking white wine, and enjoying the fresh air.
This was also the day that I finally paid attention to my ailing toe. The number one physical ailment that has consistently plagued me since my accident involves toe blisters. Because my body is just not made for walking anymore, and because my feet and toes are completely paralyzed, I often get simple blisters that quickly turn into potentially life-threatening craters of infection. I’ve already nearly died from sepsis and had 1 1/2 little toes amputated because of it. I’ve now been educated enough on how to handle the little suckers, but I’ve had chronic problems with one big toe for years, and I’m assuming that this is because the infection is in the bone. The only way to fix this problem is to give that puppy the chop. I was fine saying Sayonara to my baby toes, because they just get in the way anyway, but the big toe? Hell, no!
And before you assume it’s because of mobility reasons, guess again. My toes and feet are paralyzed and I wear braces to walk, so my toes serve zero purpose except to ocassionally get painted. My problem is purely cosmetic: how would my foot sans big toe look in sandals? U-G-L-Y! Anyway, I’ve had a massive blister on the bottom of my toe for two months, and due to my constant walking and the humid weather, it hasn’t healed, and it had finally gotten infected. So that evening I had to go see a doctor who prescribed antibiotics and rest. Good luck with that second part!
Then next day, Ernst and Maria Jose drove me into San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, and dropped me off at my hostel. I was sad to say goodbye, but it was time to move on to my next adventure!
Before I end this incredibly long blog post, I just want to acknowledge all the wonderful people who made the week in Guanacaste so amazing and memorable. Both hotels–the Four Seasons Resort and Mangaby Hotel–provided Jen, Fraser, and I with complimentary rooms. Additionally, the day of ziplining was also provided to us all for free. Also a special thanks to all the athletes for being inspiring, amazing, and entertaining, as well as the guys from local dive company Buzos de Aventura for offering their services all week. There were also dozens of volunteers who came from all over the world to help. I also want to thank the members of the press who were there to cover the event and raise awareness in Costa Rica. Finally, a huge thank you to Ernst and Maria Jose for selflessly planning and organizing the entire event, putting their hearts, souls, and personal finances into making it an unforgettable occasion, and of course for allowing me to be a part of it. I made tons of wonderful new friends, and was inspired beyond measure.