I’m entrepreneur and digital transformation strategist, Bob Carilli and this is the inaugural episode of the sketchy dot-com podcast.
I’m going to be telling the story of the time I got lost and almost died in a Costa Rican Jungle with my friend and Kappa Sigma Fraternity Brother from my time at San Diego State University, Michael Katz who now owns and operates 8ctavo Rooftop, which is located in the Hotel Sheraton San José, Escazú, Costa Rica if you ever find yourself in the area looking for a place to go.
I’ve included a recent photo of Mike on the sketchy dot-com podcast episode page so you know what he looks like these days.
While consulting for the Public Relations Company Mike worked for in early 1997, I ended up flying to San Jose, Costa Rica for a working visit.
At this time in my career I was consulting for several of the early digital agencies around Manhattan producing web projects for clients like Proctor & Gamble, Travelocity, Swatch, and Pfizer.
After a few days in the company’s San Jose office, we decided to head to a place called Puerto Viejo for the weekend.A small beach town on the Caribbean Sea that had a nearby national park sounded like a great way to celebrate our productive time together.
Mike invited his previous roommate, Jen, and her friend Johnny to join us.We left early Saturday and arrived with enough time to find a place to stay, play in the 80 degree water, and relax in the sun on the beach.
There were no alcohol sales due to the presidential elections underway so we enjoyed a local dinner and called it an early night.
We headed to Cahuita National Park early Sunday for a day of snorkeling and relaxation on the beach.After entering the park, we walked along the beach and there was a trail that lead off into the jungle.
Mike thought it would be cool to try and find some monkeys, so away we went.It was unlike anything I had ever seen before as we were quickly surrounded by over fifty White-faced and Howler monkeys.
The monkeys followed along in the trees as we went deeper into the jungle, making tons of noise.We split off on to a little trail and walked for about twenty minutes before we realized we were lost.
We tried to find the trail but everything around us looked the same.As we started to wander looking for a way out, Johnny was the first to discover the quicksand by sinking knee deep.
Reality had not set in at this point and we all made light of the situation by taking pictures and joking.After an hour or so, Jen remembered she had a compass and we headed East, figuring the beach had to be to the East since we were on the East Coast.
We walked for a while before discovering a small river that appeared to be flowing East but it led us into a swamp.
At first our feet were getting stuck, then it started to get deeper. At times, we were in mud that was chest-deep, crawling on our hands and knees, grabbing anything in reach, just to get through.
The first few hours it was a bit amusing, we would come to an obstacle and change direction to get around.We really started getting worried when it was about two or three in the afternoon.
We knew we were about to lose the sunlight.I think we were all freaking out inside but no one was voicing it.I clearly remember thinking that I was going to die in the jungle and no one would ever know.
I had put bug repellent on before leaving the hotel but the combination of sweat and mud had worn it away.
Every type of bug imaginable; spiders, ants, mosquitoes and other unidentifiable bastards bit me.
At one point, I walked within inches of a snake, Mike yelled to warn me, I had not seen it.The snake was small but judging by its bright colors (red, yellow, and white), it was quite deadly, fortunately, it did not strike.We were all exhausted and there was only two cups or so of water for the four of us… And no food.
We heard waves every once in a while, and motors from either cars or boats, but we could not figure out where they were coming from.
When we first started hearing the motors, we yelled for help but all we heard were each other’s cries, “auxilio, auxilio…”
We realized no one would be looking for us and we eventually decided to save our voices.
The sun was going down and we could no longer afford to avoid the obstacles.We went over, under, and through every obstacle that was in our way.We stepped on and grabbed branches covered with ants and spiders forging our way through plants with thorns that make rose bushes look like nothing.
Mike had on sneakers.Jen, Johnny and I all had sandals.Our feet got worked.
A few hours into the adventure, all the mud and tension forced our sandals to break.
Johnny had been carrying flippers for snorkeling so he ended up wearing those.
Darkness descended on us at around five; the moon and stars became visible.The mosquitoes started hammering us.
I thought for sure we were going to spend the night in the jungle.We just kept heading East and never stopped to rest.
The others suggested we stop but I would not, I planned to keep going until I collapsed or got out.We eventually saw some palm trees so we knew we were close to the beach.
We hurried to the trees but only found more trees for as far as we could see.The waves were getting louder. We were getting closer.I wanted to rest so badly but the waves sounded so close we just kept going.
Johnny had wandered ahead of us and all of a sudden, we heard him screaming.We rushed to find out what was going on and saw that he had found a road and just beyond it was the beach.
We all went directly into the water.
The salt water stung our bites and wounds but I think it was the best pain I have ever felt in my life.
After twelve hours lost in the jungle, we did not care about anything else but being in the water.
Soon after we saw headlights and waved down a truck.After some pleading and the quick version of our story, he took us to the main road.
We walked from the main road into town but we did not care as we were just glad to be out of the jungle.
We stopped at the first place we saw; a bunch of locals were hanging out watching the election results.They were not going to sell us water, seeing it was election eve and they were not supposed to be open.
They were not going to sell us water, seeing it was election eve and they were not supposed to be open.
Mike told them what had happened and they eventually gave in.You have never seen people drink so fast, our stomachs began to swell with all the water we were consuming.
We continued walking into town and found some folks that let us use an outside shower and their pool, they even gave Jen a dress to wear.We were moved by their kindness.
After showering and sitting in the pool for a while, we joined several Rastas that had been jamming in the restaurant.We told our story and they consoled us, telling us we were lucky the crocs did not get us.
I had not even thought about crocodiles, although I think I heard the snorting of a wild boar at one point.
One of the Rastas commented on my rash, I told him it was actually bites on top of bites, he wandered off telling me that he had something that would help.When my new friend came back, I believe he had some kind of Sarsaparilla that he rubbed on my inflamed skin, it momentarily soothed the pain.We got in the car and headed back to the hotel.
The ride to the hotel was very strange, I kept thinking I was seeing people in the street.Every now and then we would pass a car filled with locals celebrating the recent election, it was surreal.
When we got back to the hotel we took some well-needed showers.I was the first to shower.As far as I had experienced during my visit, there was no running hot water in Costa Rica; the shower heads were outfitted with electric water heaters that could only heat a small stream of water.It was impossible to get a good lather to scrub away the mud.
The bottom of the shower was disgusting but when I was done showering, my skin still looked dirty, I think the sun had baked some of the pigment from the mud into my skin.
We all had trouble shutting our eyes because we kept seeing the plants, vines, and swarms of bugs.
We woke early and took inventory of our wounds.All you could see on Jen’s legs were cuts, scrapes and bites.We were all filled with thorns and I am sure we did not leave a bug in the jungle hungry.
I headed home Tuesday… Jen and Johnny decided to cut their trips short and do the same.
I was diagnosed with Pleurisy shortly after returning home but after a few weeks of steroids and such, I was back on my feet.
This near death experience changed my perspective dramatically.It helped me to gain clarity around what was important to me and how I wanted to live my life.
This is one of the first times I remember having the feeling that my brain had been “altered” to encompass more but I’ll leave that conversation for another day.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this as it’s the first of several podcasts that will explore stories with jungle themes from my past.
These stories include tales from my time consulting for the Ecuadorian Military in the Ecuadorian Amazon Jungle while launching GoEcuador.com as well as my early journey into the Heart of Darkness while attending Boston University.
Thanks for checking out the first sketchy dot-com podcast!