The death-defying adventure of flesh-eating ants, adorable tree frogs, cliff dives + a broken flip flop.
Maybe we should have turned back when the baby almost walked into a spider (golden silk orb weaver) that was almost as big as his face. But where’s the adventure in turning back?
We were back at The Hill, but instead of scaling it with a vehicle, we would be hiking up the water at its base. Our cook/guide/comedian Luis was taking us to a secret waterfall that fed the creek, after many hours convincing the more timid members of our group that there were few jungle inhabitants that could kill them.
With my stocky offspring strapped to my chest, I followed the group up the creek that was so clear I could see the rainbow glint of the tiny fish who fed on the dead skin of my gross feet. Because this route was primarily unknown by tourists, the jungle was pristine and filled with bright critters who hadn't been scared away by masses of humans.
Travel Tip: If you'll be traveling with children who can still fit in a baby carrier, bring it. Being able to strap your kids to your chest or back is a life saver when you're, well... pretty much anywhere.
As we followed the sounds of the waterfall, items from my bucket list began checking themselves off:
Carry twenty-two pounds of boob sucking baby through the jungle, without serious injury to my back... or boobs.
Kick my arachnophobia in the ass.
Witness the flight of Toucan Sam, free from the constraints of the cereal box.
Swim in a Costa Rican waterfall, and explore the surrounding banks without being poisoned by one of the many tiny frogs.
But before I got to that last one, my parents and aunt got lost in the jungle.
As our group arrived at the falls, we realized we were light three people. Shit.
Our guide and my brothers set off on a rescue mission, and were gone for a painstaking hour. When they returned, they had three intact, yet very pissed off grandparents. Because the trail we followed was essentially nonexistent, and only known to our guide, they missed a downhill turn we took when my mom was held up by ants taking tiny chunks of flesh out of her ankle. As my aunt and dad plucked the ants off, we unknowingly left them behind.
Travel Tip: You know how it's a good idea to regularly count all your luggage while in transit? It's also a good thing to do with people, a la kindergarten field trip.
With our tribe reunited, attention returned to the waterfall. Much to the horror of our guide, Eric and my brothers began determining the best way to jump off the falls. According to Luis, this was not done. In his twenty years of living in this region of Costa Rican he had never seen anyone jump off this waterfall. Never. Not even the locals. Never ever. This only bolstered their determination.
While I agreed with Luis - we should continue the tradition of no jumping - I've known my husband long enough to realize he will not be dissuaded from jumping off stuff into water. So, it was decided that the “best idea” would be to climb up the wet cliff face, and jump off the slippery top into the fairly small deep portion of the pool. There was no margin for error. But on the plus side, this dangerous pursuit distracted my parents from their pissed-offedness.
Spoiler alert: no one died. The most exciting thing that happened was some belly flops and water shooting up inopportune areas.
When the low hanging sun gave us the signal to head back, we trekked through the water, buzzing with a vibrant sense of adventure and the thrill of knowing we sucked every drop of potential out of the day. And then my flip flop broke...
Travel Tip: While Costa Rica is fairly easy to navigate without a guide, it's worth it to hire one for a day or two to take you to the magical spots only known by locals. For example, the day following our waterfall hike, Luis led us down a shallow river that ended at a deserted beach covered in conch shells, a creek filled with polished rainbow-hued pebbles, starfish-laden tide pools and dramatic blowholes.
My biggest takeaway from this trip is how nourishing it is to not just look at nature, but really connect with it. I'm a lover of human interaction, but I found myself wanting to commune with nature more than people on our trip. And, I wasn't alone. During many of our excursions the group would naturally wander to private spaces to roll in the waves, climb a coconut tree, meditate on a rock, paint a flower, eat some sand... There's something for everyone.
This country seems to call forward the desire to slow down and experience the environment with all senses. One of the most common sentiments I've heard about Costa Rica is that it will change you - it will reorder your priorities, mold your perspective, massage the anxiety out of your mind, and cleanse your body with fresh foods and warm water. This is where you go to shed your old skin and start anew.