When Fortune Smiles ~ La Fortuna, Costa Rica

I like winter. For about a month. Then, I’m over it. The holidays are over, and in Wisconsin, there is no end in sight. You have until at least mid April before you even begin to thaw out. In January 2016, I was in a bit of a doldrum anyway. Life was pretty gray after a psychedelically vibrant year. You could say I snapped.

The stars aligned when I realized an airline voucher was good for a new route out of the country and G Adventures offered a discount on a fast-approaching departure date. Destination: Costa Rica. I don’t think my credit card was fully processed before I started packing.

The 16 day trip started off with a week along the eastern coast. The quieter part of the trip – nature walks, boat rides, serenity, and peace. Just being outside was helping. Moving around. Smelling the earth, feeling the warmth of the sun. I knew exactly what I needed. I needed to thaw out, and then I needed to come back to life.

So it was with particular anticipation I awaited the second half of the trip, the week that would route us through central Costa Rica and to the southwest coast – to La Fortuna, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio. There will be more posts around this trip in general and those areas as well, but let’s start with the first stop – La Fortuna. The 48 hours that involved little sleep, a lot of adrenaline, and a few tequila shots.

Day one. An early start with four others in the group to raft the Sarapiqui class 3-4 rapids. My experience with rafting is this: raft guides are crazy, and I can handle a class 4 with no issue. As it would happen, all people on the trip were paired up, with the exception of myself and one other, John. He and I were put in the same raft, and he was part of the reason I spent a lot of time in the water.

The raft guides are there to make sure you’re safe, to navigate, and to make sure everyone has a great time. These guys are certifiably crazy. I made the rookie mistake – on purpose? – of being a bit cheeky to lead guide. Being a single female, traveling solo, and with a sarcastic sense of humor opens the doors to all sorts of shenanigans. The fun began – no matter how much I tried to stay in that raft, a paddle would hook my life jacket and I’d be bent over backwards until it finally gave way – or John shifted in front of me so my foot would come loose. Over backwards and into the water. John helped a bit too much, at one point tugging me in – though the guide who started that episode quickly regretted it when John and I teamed up to flip the raft over entirely, guide, fellow rafters, and all.

The Sarapiqui is an an amazing river to raft. There are few quiet sections – only a couple that are long enough to get out and swim, and even then, there’s another set of rapids around the corner. I hadn’t smiled that much or laughed that hard in a long time. The river washed away a lot of what weighed me down.

I’m back. I can feel the blood running through my veins again. My confidence is returning. I don’t have that terrified, uncertain expression. I’m lighter, and livelier. And tonight, when we all go out to dinner to the liveliest restaurant in town, I’m wearing my blue dress, and feeling invincible. I want to twirl, to spin, to keep the endorphins flowing.

Sure enough, there are familiar faces from the day who had the same idea. One of the raft guides comes over to say hello. As I go up to the bar to pay, I see John at one of the bar tables. He’s traveling solo, and invites me to join him for a tequila shot. We get to talking, and time blurs. That could have also been a result of tequila shots – there were at least five. The group had left, so I believed, though it didn’t concern me. I could always take a taxi back. I had planned on an early night – four of us were planning to hike Cerro Chato in the morning, and were meeting for a 7 am departure. But remember the lesson learned in Edinburgh: the more you insist on an early night, or “just one,” the more likely the night will spiral into craziness. Apparently, that rule truly is universal and crosses hemispheres.

After deciding to check out the town for other options – not many at that time of night – we realize we are the only ones still out. And by only, I mean only. No people, no cars, no taxis. John’s place is closest, and he says he’ll get me back by 7. So a few hours of sleep later, I’m technically awake… though tired. I don’t think I’m hungover, but at that moment, I’m probably just too tired to realize it. I refuse to call it quits, and stick to the day’s plan. It’s a physically demanding one: a hike to the top of Cerro Chato, the extinct volcano next to Arenal, and if time and luck are on our side, we’ll be able to go down into the crater. Simon, one of the youngest on the trip, Francois, the oldest in his 70s, and myself, led by Melanee.

Melanee took one look at me and I think seriously questioned if there was any chance I was going to make it, and what she would do with me if I collapsed on her. I was exhausted, dehydrated, and yes, hung over. We ordered breakfast, and she quite rightly, despite my expressions of refusal and disgust, made me sit there and eat some real food, got some coffee and Gatorade in me, and made sure we had water.

You know what a great hangover cure is? Hike, uphill, in increasingly boiling temperatures, for a couple of hours. I think I sweated the alcohol out in the first hour.  I was riding some sort of physical exertion euphoria, or maybe I was so tired I was just delusional. But that hike, and clambering through deep trenches of mud and tree roots… it was amazing. Simon kept me company as we booked it back down so I could meet the taxi Melanee had arranged to take me back into town. I was due at the outfitters office for an afternoon of canyoneering and waterfall rappelling.

A change out of muddy hiking pants and boots, and into board shorts and water shoes, and off I went. Clipping into lines and ziplining down falls, sometimes rappelling right in them, jumping into pools, and slipping and sliding through streams that had spent lifetimes cutting through the rocks, creating deep ravines. Melanee was right – hiking Cerro Chato first was exhausting, but the cool water and shade, even if physical exertion was still necessary, felt amazing and revitalized me. I held up.

I had the bus drop me off in town, where I did a little souvenir shopping, and then walked back to the hotel. I was blissfully happy. I’d enjoyed everything, I was physically exhausted, and I’d worked all the tension and anxiety out. I was relaxed, content, and walking down that road, alone, with Arenal in the distance, I reminded myself where I was. How I was. Who I was. Whitewater rafting, nightlife, hiking an extinct volcano and sliding through mud into its crater, rappelling off waterfalls and walking through streams cutting through gorges … I might have only slept a few hours over the course of it, but I was back.

More alive than ever, and positively euphoric. Costa Rica was already having an effect on me. I knew it had the ability to breathe life back into my sluggish spirit; I only had to say “yes” and take full advantage of everything it had to offer.  La Fortuna lived up to its name. Fortune smiled down from those volcanoes, and I basked in its rays.

With curiosity and courage,


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