Have you ever dreamed of something so long that you worry that the dream is better than the reality is going to be? That was Costa Rica for me. I had always dreamt of seeing the rainforest and ziplining above the trees. It was one of those far-off “someday” dreams. Until last year at the L.A. Travel and Adventure show I met Melanie from The Springs Resort and Peace Lodge who invited me to come to the resort for my show and do my first international episode. I felt every emotion when I booked the ticket; fear from not having traveled internationally in 11 years, excitement that I’d finally have the chance to make my dream a reality, and worry that it could never be as good as I’d imagined.
I’d stacked my September pretty full with the Costa Rica trip, a wedding and shoot in Chicago, and a trip back to Michigan and was nervous about getting it all done but I knew I had the summer to plan…and then I didn’t. About a month before the trip I found out my husband had been cheating on me and needed to find a new place, move, and start the divorce process immediately. Then about 3 weeks before the trip the friend who was supposed to join me found out she was pregnant, and with Zika virus was unable to go.
So, here it was, the trip fast approaching, feeling unprepared and my nerves on superdrive. I wondered if I had planned on too many adventures; stacking 2, sometimes 3 a day. Would it be too much to try to film everything, get the footage I needed, and organize it all each day? Would I be so tired and stressed out that I wouldn’t get to enjoy myself or fully be in the moment? And what about the forecast predicting storms every day and the news telling me it was all but a guarantee that I’d end up with Zika. At the last minute my friend Kristin decided to join and before I knew it we were off.
The first thing I learned in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida” which means pure life and that became the theme of our trip. From our driver picking us up at the airport and telling us all about the culture and people of Costa Rica, to exploring the countryside on our way to the resort, I did my best to sit back and take it all in. We showed up at The Springs Resort and Spa and between the stunning view of Arenal Volcano, the luxurious accommodations, and the swim up bar I knew this was the perfect place for me to be at this time in my life.
The first full day we woke up early to see La Fortuna Waterfall. It was something that I’d had two friends suggest but was nervous to leave the resort in a taxi and not know how to say “return” in Spanish. It was magical! I love every waterfall but a powerful, tall waterfall, in the jungle! Just perfect. We even got to swim at the base of it. It is truly one of those moments where you feel every bit of life around you and happening to you.
Later, we headed to The Springs adventure park Club Rio to check out the animal sanctuary and tube down the river. It was such a perfect combination of a relaxing day yet filled with adventure! I also quickly learned that the people of Costa Rica are truly the nicest and happiest people I’ve ever met. It’s hard to be anxious, nervous, or stressed surrounded by people truly living in the moment and trying to help you do the same. At night we decided to join one of our guides for a night on the town and experience some of the culture. It was a blast!
While my dad was born in Mexico and speaks Spanish, I never learned. I took classes in high school and as an adult but it never seemed to stick. I was too embarrassed to practice it with other people who spoke Spanish because I knew I struggled and had had a few not-so-nice people shame me for being Mexican and not knowing Spanish. In Costa Rica, everyone encouraged me to try my best and helped me fill in the missing pieces. By the time I left it was a fun game for me to try to figure out what others were saying and see how many words I could learn. I was surprised at how much I remembered from school and how quickly I picked it up. Going to a random bar in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language can be terrifying but with so many people smiling and the combined understanding of misunderstandings it was all a part of the fun!
The next day we we went to Mistico Park and checked out the hanging bridges, horseback riding, and zorbing (warning: rolling down a hill in a giant inflatable ball filled with water is NOT recommended when hungover!). Again, everyone was so amazing and kind and excited to share about their adventures. I was slowly getting addicted to this culture of Pura Vida.
By day three I was realizing that my anxiety seemed to be gone, I was sleeping all the way through the night, and I was fully living in each moment. I felt so incredibly at peace for someone with a full on adventure schedule!
I knew my biggest challenge would be ziplining. The one thing I’d always dreamed of doing in Costa Rica was also the thing that scared me the most. Here I was, again facing my fear of heights and doing so hundreds of feet in the air attached to a wire. The first line was over 600 feet tall and around 2,000 feet in length. As they strapped me in I could feel my heart beating and my sweaty palms through the gloves. The first 50 feet were through a jungle so it wasn’t until I was about half way along that the jungle truly dropped below me and I could see how incredibly high I was. I thought I’d be terrified, I thought I’d be bawling and keeping my eyes closed, it was just the opposite. I looked around and felt every inch of stress unhinge from my body and reveled in the beauty around me. It was incredible.
Next, we headed up into the cloud forest to stay at the Peace Lodge. The room was so beautiful, Kristin and I immediately started freaking out and texting pictures to everyone we knew. There was a rocking sofa and fireplace, a balcony overlooking the forest with a jacuzzi on it, and the bathroom…a simulated jungle with a waterfall in it and of course another jacuzzi. Nothing says relaxation like a fancy dinner and a glass of wine in a waterfall jacuzzi.
By the 5th day we were learning to embrace the fast changing weather, giving up on our hair, and really living Pura Vida! We checked out the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and animal sanctuary. We fed Tucan’s, got sprayed with waterfalls, held frogs, and came an arms length away from Jaguars. And yet, still had plenty of time to lounge by the fireplace in our comfy room robes.
The last day, our drivers from Odyssey Tours picked us up and suggested a tour of Poas Volcano. Not knowing what we were in for we assumed we’d get a far away view of an old mountain. Instead we ended up on top of a steaming, active, volcanic crater! Again, we had an amazing guide who took us through hiking trails and explained the plants found in the cloud forest. On the way, they stopped at a local fruit stand and he translated and explained what good fruit, cheese, and sweets we should buy; we loaded up! Afterward, they took us to their favorite local lunch spot to end our trip with an amazing Costa Rican meal.
I have travelled a lot by now and each trip seems to change and shape me in it’s own way. But Costa Rica was truly an incredible blessing to me. The perfect place for the perfect time. Adventures to remind me how to live in, and embrace each moment, luxury to relax my anxious soul, happiness from every person we met to truly embody how we should all live, and breathtaking nature to embrace and make me feel at peace. Costa Rica was one place where reality was so much more than even my wildest dreams could have imagined. PURA VIDA!!!