Rincon de la Vieja

Costa Rica Cost of Living Update: One Day Pass at Rincon de la Vieja Adventure Tours— Ninety dollars

It’s always great when friends come to visit. We love to plan big excursions they’ll remember for a lifetime. And our visitors certainly remember this adventure, mostly because one of them had back surgery and Rob recommended we all go horseback riding, zip-lining and swimming under a waterfall.

I’m not sure why Rob would ever suggest horseback riding since it never ends well for him. Every horse my husband has ever ridden was eager to get him off their back. There has never been one that thought, “I like this chap, let’s take the scenic route.” They’ve all acted as if it were a rodeo, and it’s their turn to buck the jerk. I, on the other hand, have never ridden a horse that didn’t lazily saunter away, start eating grass and fart… Simultaneously. They’ve all been about as underachieving as my equestrian skills.

Enjoy this chapter from Happier Than A Billionaire: The Sequel. Maybe one day you too will ride off into the Costa Rican sunset with your friends.


Waterfalls & Canyon Walls

“Do you think you’ll be okay on a horse?” I ask.

“I hope so,” Matt replies. “But I haven’t been on one in twenty years. I stopped riding after my back surgery.”

“I doubt she’ll bounce you around, tourists ride them every day,” Rob says as Matt strokes the horse’s face. The man holding the reins nods his head in agreement, but I can tell he doesn’t understand English. I recognize his befuddled expression because I pretty much look like that all the time. I was recently at the post office where a clerk was trying to explain my package hadn’t arrived yet. Instead of moving out of the way for the next person in line, I just stood there nodding like a big, dopey bobblehead. I remained there for a good five minutes before a nice person in line told me I had to come back the next day.

Matt examines the saddle and looks over the stirrups. “She looks like a nice girl, so why not? I’m already here, right? I didn’t come all this way not to participate.”

We each get on our horse, but before we start the tour the guide hands out helmets. I notice these helmets are not the flimsy plastic ones most tourists get; gratefully, these are heavy duty. Once in Panama, Rob and I had rented a scooter and were given hard hats instead of helmets. They didn’t even buckle under our chins. I loved the easy, breezy feeling of flying down the street knowing that my protective head gear would become airborne long before my skull would smack the asphalt. It reminded me of the time I was riding my banana seat bicycle in 1978 and flew head first into my garage door. My mother gave me a cold compress, turned on Bugs Bunny, and went back to doing laundry. In those days, most mothers treated a concussion, mild blood spillage, or anything that didn’t involve a splintering bone emanating out from one’s body with minimal medical attention. I’m all but certain my friend Donny fractured his skull while jumping ramps and all he got from his mom was a pack of Fruit Stripe Gum. (He is now a city councilman.)

We follow our guide into a grassy meadow. Orange butterflies skip across purple flowers while thousands of blue dragonflies hover in the air. If a male fancies a female, the dragonfly will lift her up and fly her around during the mating process. This is about as romantic as you get in the insect world and makes me love these little guys even more. If this was three hundred million years ago, their wing span would be two and a half feet long. I have no doubt that if any of these humongous dragonflies are still on this earth, they are living somewhere in Costa Rica.

As we continue along the trail, we approach five calves sitting in the middle of the path. They look up with eyes as big as hubcaps and ears that look humorously disproportioned to their heads. After a couple shouts from our guide, they eventually get up and lazily move a few feet out of our way. It would seem no one is in a rush in Costa Rica — except for Matt’s horse. She’s getting antsy and tries to get to the front of the line. Matt gently pulls back on the reins but it only makes her agitated. Matt winces with each sharp movement.

The trail twists around a bend and narrows onto a thin ledge. One side is a dirt wall, while the other is a ten-foot drop. We continue single file, my horse’s hooves barely missing the edge. There’s no reason to get nervous since the animals have done these dozens of times. However, it’s always unsettling when you are totally relying on an animal to guide you to safety.

A man wearing a cowboy hat steps out from behind a tree and tells us to stop. He helps us off, secures the horses, and points down a path. We follow the sounds of water and find ourselves at a rocky bluff. We all gasp in unison.

The La Chorrera waterfalls rumble below us forming a circular swimming hole. The lagoon sparkles like a queen’s crown, the color an incandescent turquoise from the high sulfur concentration. It looks magical. No wonder this mountain is believed to have healing properties.

We climb down and take off our shoes. The water is icy cold, but Rob immediately jumps in and swims toward the waterfall. The current keeps pushing him back like a treadmill, but he fights his way stroke by stroke until he is under the cascading water.

“This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen,” Julie remarks. “It couldn’t be more perfect.”

I climb a metal staircase to the top of the falls and step out onto the edge. There is not one souvenir shop, fast food restaurant, or a sound of a passing car. It’s completely silent except for the thunder of the falls and the laughter echoing from Rob and my friends. I believe this is one of the best gifts Costa Rica can offer; tiny corners of serenity.

“Vamos,” a voice calls from above. Playtime is over.

“It’s hard to explain what that was like. How can I possibly tell people what I just saw?” Julie says on the trail ride back. It’s always difficult to get the adjectives right. Sometimes a place creates such an emotional connection just saying “it was pretty” doesn’t do it justice. Maybe this is for the best; people have to come here and experience it for themselves.

On the way back to the stables, Rob gently nudges his horse to take the lead. Always worrying about me, he wants to be in front to keep my horse at a slow pace. However, his horse has other plans. He gets to the front of the line but then suddenly takes off in a gallop that sends Rob bouncing down the trail and out of sight.

“That’s not going to be good for his hernia,” Matt remarks.

“Nadine, where did he go?” Julie asks.

“I have no idea.” I can’t believe another horse has taken off on Rob. I can only hope they are on their way back to the stables. I’m anxious to get there but all three of our horses continue their slow pace, oblivious to the one that disappeared. Fifteen minutes later, I can see the stables and Rob sitting on the side of the path.

“Why did you take off like that?” I shout. “I was so worried, at every bend I’m looking over the edge terrified you were down there with a broken back.”

“Why are you yelling at me? You know that fifteen-minute trail ride you just had? I did it in thirty seconds. The horse barely stayed on that narrow ledge before careening me into the stables. Every time I’m on a horse, all he can think about is kicking me off.”

“Why are there red blotches all over your face?” I ask.

“I smacked into a hundred dragonflies going fifty miles per hour, that’s why.”

A stable boy helps us off our horses and Matt walks over to Rob. “How are your balls?” he asks.

“Don’t even ask, man. Don’t even ask.”

We are escorted to a neighboring hotel which provides us lunch as part of the paid tour. There is a large buffet of chicken, beans, rice, and assorted fruits. While in line I ask Matt how he is feeling.

“You know, not too bad. Between the road and the horse, my back is surprisingly okay. Better than expected.”

“So, what’s next?” Julie asks.

“We are going to zip-line through the jungle,” Rob says while finishing the last of his plantains. “It’s going to be easy. I’ve done a dozen of them.”

Matt looks down at the brochure and slides it over to Rob. “It says right here that it’s nothing like any other zip-line in Costa Rica.”

“Trust me. This is going to be a breeze,” Rob says.

It’s exactly these words that ring in my ear as we are soon standing:

On a five foot wide ledge.

Along a canyon wall.

Over a roaring river five stories below.

I am terrified, but there is no other choice but to scale the rock horizontally to the next platform. With the amount of concentration one could only muster when faced with the possibility of a very uncomfortable and disheartening fall, I briskly latch onto a handle and steer my legs blindly to an adjacent peg. I repeat the process until I am safely on the next rocky ledge.

“A breeze, heh?” Matt mumbles under his breath while following me. I can see his hands are shaking. Once he joins me on the ledge, we both watch Julie and Rob work their way across. “I thought Rob said I would be zipping from platform to platform. This isn’t at all what he described.”

Like many things Rob suggests, he didn’t quite research this excursion thoroughly. It’s not just zip-lining, but a vigorous workout that includes rappelling, rock climbing, and the occasional Tarzan swing just in case you’re looking to increase your odds of smashing your face into a stone wall.

Julie slowly makes her way across. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she says repeatedly under her breath. Even though she is questioning herself, she never stops or hesitates. It’s amazing how the adrenaline kicks in, forcing you to keep moving.

“Did you know we would be doing all this?” I whisper to Rob once he finally reaches the platform.

“No way. Nadine, I swear, I would have told them. But this is really something. They’re not kidding, this really is the best zip-line tour in Costa Rica.”

There is no time to explain all that to my friends since the guide is urging us to rappel down the canyon and climb our way out. Rob and I decide we will go while Matt and Julie take pictures from above. Doing these crazy excursions makes me realize not to think too much; I can easily talk myself out of doing something and later regret that I never tried. When the guide gives me the green light, I disappear over the edge.

I feel like a dragonfly as I float over the Rio Blanco River before being lowered onto a platform. The river tears through this narrow passage, stealing with it little grains of minerals. One day it will be as wide as the Grand Canyon. I glance up and see Matt and Julie staring back down at me.

My brain tries to stitch together this new point of view. The images — like snapshots — slowly piece together to form one glorious, panoramic picture. A rush of exhilaration runs from my toes to my head; I am completely present in this moment. I grab a rope and Tarzan swing to another platform. Here is where I start my intrepid ascent.

As I climb, I feel the safety of the rope attached to my harness. When I begin to slip, the trusted guide pulls on the slack and gives me the confidence that I will not fall. I push myself harder than I’ve done in years. I dig deep, grabbing each handle and occasionally pressing my face into the rock. I’m so close I can taste the dirt. I finally make it to the top, drag myself over the edge, and receive a round of applause. Rob is quick to follow and we all continue on with the rest of the tour. It finishes with an Indiana Jones hanging bridge, with a sign that reads: Only Two People at a Time.

“I love it… only two people at a time. It’s like your internet at home. It looks like Costa Rica is a two person country,” Matt laughs. We both hold onto the railing and try to balance ourselves. It feels like I’m on a sailboat in a storm; each step I take bounces me in the air. As I make my way across, I think about what Matt just said. Maybe Costa Rica is a two person country. It’s definitely a two flush country according to Scott.

We’re all exhausted and happily look forward to covering ourselves in mud and soaking in the thermal springs.

“You know, if I had known too much about that tour, I might not have done it,” Matt confesses.

I nod my head in agreement. “Maybe it’s best not to know. Sometimes anxiety can keep you from participating in a life changing event.”

Matt and Julie sink into the hot water. This was a great day; a unique combination of nature, adventure, and relaxation. They got to enjoy some of the best things about Costa Rica and will leave with great memories. Once again, I got to share a piece of our life with friends.

I can’t imagine my life getting any better than this.