San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

ICT campaign hosts happy travelers

It’s not every day you get to watch famous people dash into the airport to relieve full bladders, but those paying close attention a couple of weeks ago at Juan Santamaría International Airport outside San José were treated to just that spectacle. To be fair, Colin Mochrie – the improvisational comedian of the popular TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” – and his fellow travelers, also Canadian actors, writers and comedians, had driven five continuous hours from Nosara, on the northern Pacific coast, to make their flight to Toronto.

Mochrie was actually a tagalong on the trip, as his wife, Debra McGrath, and her friend and blogging partner, Barbara Radecki, were the ones who had scored the free trip from the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) via its “Million Dollar Gift of Happiness” campaign – yes, the one featuring the talking sloth (TT, Nov. 22, Oct. 14, 2011). Radecki’s actor husband, Philippe Ayoub, clearly had to go too, because he’s the photographer and the only one who is bilingual. (Never mind that his other language is French.)

McGrath and Radecki’s blog,, is so hot in Canada that 22squared, the U.S.-based ad firm that helped launch the ICT campaign, approached the women with the free eight-day trip; the organizers only later decided it was cool if the husbands went along. The campaign has already given away 19 trips and attracted more than 100,000 fans on Facebook, and the million bucks will go toward 2012 trips for both famous and regular people.

After doing their business and checking in for their flight, Mochrie and his group gathered in the departures lounge to speak with The Tico Times about their time in Costa Rica. It turned out they had almost nothing bad to say, except about Mochrie’s shower singing.

They had started at El Silencio Lodge & Spa, an eco-luxury hotel in the cloud forest outside San Ramón, and made their way through La Fortuna, Arenal, the Maleku indigenous reserve and, finally, Nosara, where they observed newly hatched, ocean-bound baby turtles.

The group spoke animatedly about Costa Rica’s focus on eco-friendliness and the “relaxed professionalism” of the tourism employees, and they reported being moved by their experience with the Maleku. The women brought back plenty of handmade Maleku jewelry to prove it, but Mochrie, who is less of a shopper, was bringing back only Ayoub’s unwanted bathing suit.

Apparently, Mochrie has a hard time enjoying vacation. But here in Costa Rica, he found a way.

TT: When you first heard about this trip, were you excited? Do you even like going on vacation? 

CM: I used to hate it, but it’s gotten better. Now I’ve learned to relax, mostly through Deb harping at me. (He smiles.) This was one of these vacations where I got to relax. I think part of it was because in a way it was Deb and Barbara’s trip. They were in charge of everything, and I’m a very good follower.

How did you find the humor in the country?

Everybody had a quick smile, and there were some people who were very funny. We had a waiter who made a big deal of giving us special treatment that wasn’t really special treatment. It was just water. Another guy jumped out of his car to take a picture of us by a tree full of monkeys, but he ended up taking a picture of himself so we’d have something to remember the country by.

Did the Ticos find you funny?

I have my moments, but when I’m on holiday I’m not funny. Really, in life I’m not that amusing. Deb is much funnier; she’s the outgoing personality. When I meet someone who recognizes me, I try to throw something in there so it’s not disappointing.

Were you recognized often?

It happened a lot with tourists, but I was surprised by how many Costa Ricans also recognized me. I didn’t want to ask them how, in case they had mistaken me for some Latin American heartthrob. But, uh, I guess they must have aired “Whose Line” here at some point.

As a kid, you dreamed of being a marine biologist. Were you able to get back into that on the trip?

The turtles brought back some marine biology stirrings. Just watching these little turtles struggle. Phil mentioned this in the blog, but can you imagine if when we were born they just left us on the floor and said, “Go home”? To see these little turtles making their way to the ocean, knowing that one in 1,000 survive … it really makes you appreciate the struggle of life.

What were the other highlights for you?

Definitely the turtles and meeting the Maleku tribe. And I love food. Sometimes when you travel, your diet suffers a little. But for every meal in Costa Rica, I was eating so much that I had to actually stop myself.

Also, Deb and I would have walks on the beach every morning, and there’s just something about the ocean that I love. I really enjoy standing there and being bowled over by the waves. You just kind of feel the life pulsating around you.

How would you compare this to other trips?

This is one of my top two. (The other is Italy.) We packed a lot into one week, but it was one of the most relaxing trips I’ve ever had.

Are you planning on coming back?

Absolutely. We’re hoping to get back as soon as we can. Next time we want to do some zip lining, some kayaking and definitely more eating.

I know you didn’t buy any souvenirs or adopt any orphans, but did you stumble on any comedic material that you’ll be bringing back with you?

You never know. That’s the beauty of comedy – especially with improv. You just pull things from everywhere. I could do a thing on turtles making their way to the ocean. Who knows? I’m sure there’s definitely stuff I’ll be picking out in the future.

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