Don’t Mess With Costa Rica: Tales from a First-time Adventurer

May 25, 2015 Phil Wild

Everything I’d read about Costa Rica in preparation for my trip just screamed: “Adventurers welcome!” And while I’d never done a trip this “active” before, I saw it as an opportunity to be objectively awesome at all outdoor activities in another country. Even though I’m more of an understudy at home, I immediately cast myself in the role of Costa Rica’s adventure hero – a hero the small Central American nation neither deserved nor needed, I would come to understand.

Cut to my first rafting experience, where your fearless hero paddled furiously against the raging current in an attempt to launch his kayak. After some poorly chosen oar placement, I managed to render both myself and my paddling partner completely immobile on a clutch of rocks just 30m (98 ft) from where we launched. The laughter of our fellow adventurers drowned out the hero’s soundtrack that was playing at full volume in my head.

What follows are a few ego-checks I wished I’d packed for my trip. Had I stuffed a little humility into my backpack, I would’ve learned a lot sooner that the real star of the show is Costa Rica itself, earning its top billing with an unending list of indelible experiences.

Check your egos at the door, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s get active in Costa Rica!

Overconfidence in one’s abilities

The start of our experience in Costa Rica involved a trek to a local homestay. While not the longest I’d experienced, the 30 minutes of straight ascent on Red Hill – the most dreaded and discussed section of trail in the Piedras Blancas region – plumbed the depths of sweat glands I didn’t even know I had. Conquering Red Hill without too much trouble (other than a whole lot of sweat) emboldened me. Was this the worst Costa Rica could do?

Looking out on the Piedras Blancas region. Photo courtesy Harry K..

Getting off on the wrong foot

Once we’d arrived at the Fonseca family homestay, it was precisely this overconfidence that led me to overestimate my football skill against some of the locals. After skillfully evading three defenders as though they were standing still (if memory serves correctly), I broke away and had a clear shot at goal. Without a defender in sight, I proceeded to lose my footing and cut up my knees in the sharp Costa Rican grass. My self-appointed role as ‘adventure hero’ was on shaky ground as I hobbled off the Fonseca family’s football pitch.

Adventure sports: you’re doing it wrong

Of all the activities you can undertake in Costa Rica, ziplining seems one of the more idiot-proof. Right? All one needs to do is strap in and enjoy the ride. Enter your hero! It’s generally accepted that one stays pointed in the forward direction as you zip through the rainforest’s canopy. But who am I to play by their rules? I preferred (and eventually perfected) a technique that involved spinning around in ever-widening circles as my limbs flailed and my stomach ached for solid ground. Hey, the instructor does it his way; I do it mine.

Pictured here: the proper way to zipline.

Pictured here: the proper way to zipline.

Protect the queen!

But still I pressed on, volunteering to climb the famously large (and very tall) tree at the Fonseca lodge. This was a no-brainer. Strapped in and ready for action, I proceeded to attack the tree limbs with a fervour and grace that some might call ‘monkey-like’.

Having strayed out of earshot of those on the ground, I considered my next move. The obvious handholds no longer seemed all that obvious. Unperturbed, I probed for a grip in the most unlikely of places – a beehive. To any eager tree-climbers out there, I will tell you first-hand that when the bees emerge from their hive, the fun is over. Get out of the tree immediately. Jump out of that damn tree if you have to. After having my pride stung by a hive of marauding, vigilante bees, there was no way but up for the balance of my time in Costa Rica. Surely?

Whitewater stalling

Next on the list of activities was whitewater rafting. Once I’d confirmed we’d be paddling with the current, it seemed like this would be a straightforward exercise. Point and shoot, right? Aim the two-person kayak down the river and away you go. Foolproof, as it were, for my now-tender ego.

My paddling partner may never forgive me for the frustration that unfolded on the river that day, stuck in the rocks as we were. She has excellent judgment in a crisis and her decision to abandon me and choose a new partner was justified (although I would have preferred if she did it while I wasn’t still in the middle of the river).

The view of the rapids before we got stuck.

The view of the rapids before we got stuck.

The trip that costa me my pride

While I emerged from Costa Rica with a few more battle wounds than I’d have expected, I learned a humbling truth. The star that had earned top billing was Costa Rica itself. To say this small Central American nation is anything but a nirvana for the active set is doing it a disservice. There’s nothing quite like hiking in isolation to traditional farmhouses, rappelling down a waterfall, whitewater rafting down ancient rivers and ziplining through impossibly thick canopy. So if you’re looking for a trip that will inspire, excite, and challenge in equal measures, look up Costa Rica. This star earns its keep!

There’s the Costa Rica you see in pictures, and then there’s the Costa Rica you paddle, hike, surf, zipline, and occasionally fall your way through. Pura vida!

Getting There

Ready to get Active in Central America? Phil travelled on Trek Hidden Costa Rica. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.

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