Day trip to a Pacific hideaway

Costa Rica offers enough high-adventure activities to bring Conan the Barbarian, exhausted, to his knees. This is a land of jungle hikes, volcano climbs, scuba diving, white-water rafting, and fishing spots where it takes two hours to pull in a 60-pound tarpon. So after nine wondrous, enervating days of trekking the wilds of this endlessly fascinating land by foot, jeep, jungle boat, and horseback, I was ready for a relaxing day cruise to an isle off the country's Pacific coast. From an early-morning hotel pickup to your drop back in San Jos'e in the evening, little more energy is required than what it takes to press a camera shutter.

We were escorted aboard a bus to Puntarenas by a cheerful young guide. `Welcome to our one-day, one-way trip to lovely Nicaragua,'' he said to a tittering busload of tourists as he passed around freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee, orange juice, and strawberry croissants.

The ride from cool 5,000-foot San Jos'e to sea-level Puntarenas on the Pacific took two hours. Puntarenas was more than a tad on the warm and humid side when we arrived at 9:30 a.m. March and April, when I visited, are traditionally the hottest months here, but this day had leveled even the locals. Temperature was a mercury-popping 104 degrees F.

``It's the hottest it's been in 30 years,'' panted owner-captain David Reid as he pulled us from a launch to his 50-foot custom-built yacht, the Calypso. Never mind. Once we were under way, the breeze met us on the water. Nothing to do now but lie back, soak up those rays, and do serious damage to a bathtub-size bowl of luscious fresh tropical fruits.

And what fruit! - watermelon, water apples, cashew fruit, carambola, passion fruit, bananas, papaya, avocados, and more exotic ones like sweet peach-fleshed zapotes. If there had been grapes, the crew would have peeled them.

It was a two-hour cruise into the Gulf of Nicoya to Tortuga, an island no bigger than those in New Yorker cartoons. Here palm trees leaned toward the water shading the powder-white coral sand. We swam, strolled, snorkeled, or gathered shells - anything to work up an appetite - as the crew busily set up tables, umbrellas, and benches and spread out a gourmet lunch under a pochote tree.

The sturdy table groaned under a buffet of ceviche cocktail, barbecued fillet of corvina with shrimp sauce, hot black beans with tortillas and native cheese, three salads including hearts of palm, and a lemon cake for dessert.

The island houses only a family of five caretakers and their pig, Romancio IV, who has a particular craving for tortillas.

After two hours, we said our farewells to Romancio IV and wended our way back between a dozen small islands populated by brown pelicans and cormorants.

We learned that David Reid and family are North American transplants. ``One day about 10 years ago, I was in Hawaii learning to surf,'' said Mr. Reid, as we plowed our way back. ``I was looking out over the water and this guy came up to me and said, `Hey, bubby, you think this is nice? You should see Costa Rica.' So here we are! Like it?'' he queried with a wink.

Yes, I nodded, my mouth full of iced cantaloupe.

If you go

Day trips on the Calypso cost $65 (US). This includes all food, plus pickup and drop-off at your hotel in San Jos'e. If you are in the area, the price is $10 less. Contact your travel agent or Calypso Tours, SA, Apdo. 6941, San Jos'e, Costa Rica.

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