A Vacation of Fitness and Terror, Vol. 5: The True Meaning of Fear

COSTA RICA 378

Another of Jenn’s cool pictures. This was taken on the beach in Santa Teresa.

None of us knew what to expect as we left Casa Morfo for our last full day of vacation. Our plan was to hike to the Montezuma waterfalls in the morning and then drive to the nearby town of Santa Teresa for lunch.

There were two options for getting to the waterfall—Joy and Chris were going to walk down the river—not on a trail next to the river, but actually in the river itself, hopping from slippery stone to slippery stone. (This reminds me of a time when we were hiking in Cabo Blanco, I pointed out a slick spot to Joy and said, “That’s an ankle breaker.” She replied, “Yeah, that’s a real teeth-knocker-outer.”)

Brian and Jenn would drive the car to the trailhead a little later, then hike up from the parking lot to the big waterfall. I could choose which way to go—down the river with Joy and Chris, or in the car.

My first thought was—um, hell-to-the-no. There was no way that I would step foot in that river ever again. I would take the nice, leisurely ride in the RAV-4 and the well-traversed trail from the parking lot, thank you very much.

But I guess I caught a case of the fuck-its that morning, because I was like, what the hell am I so afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? Fuck it.

I had done a pretty good job of psyching myself up when Joy, Chris, and I set off for the river trail. Then we stopped to chat with Alex for some last minute tips.

He said that it takes most people about 20 minutes. As a local, he could make it in about 10 because he knows all the best places to get his footing. When we asked him about the waterfalls themselves, I really thought that he would laugh it off and tell us that they were no big deal. (I thought he would be like, “Ha, ha! There is nothing to fear, silly gringos!”)

Instead, he looked at us with some trepidation. He said the first waterfall isn’t very high. You don’t have to jump, however it is actually easier than trying to shimmy down the rockface.

The second waterfall would be much higher. You can still jump off of it, but it is safer to climb down to about the halfway point and jump from there. If we chose not to jump off the second waterfall, we could climb around the rocks to the left where we would have to “be like Spiderman” (Alex made a little Spiderman move) and cling to the mountainside with only a very narrow ledge. He mimed as if he were scooting along a thin trail, trying not to look down.

He got very serious. No one jumps off the big waterfall, he said. People have tried it and they have died. When you are standing at the top, it looks like sheer water, but there are actually rocks jutting out underneath. Alex made a motion with his hand to illustrate a body hitting one of those sharp rocks.

We thanked him and started on our way. After hearing that we pretty much had to jump into the first pool, I started to freak out a bit. I decided to run back to Casa Morfo to leave my backpack and towel in the car. There would be no point in carrying a bag if it was just going to get wet when I was forced to jump off a waterfall.

I’m not going to lie—I seriously considered backing out on the whole thing. I mean, the RAV-4 was right there. It had air conditioning. I would have much less chance of bodily injury. But, once again, I thought, fuck it. When is the next time I’m going to be on a Chris Parkes Fitness Vacation? So I somewhat reluctantly made my way back to the trail.

As we descended the long, steep mud stairs, I determined that the only way I was going to make it through this ordeal was to attack my anxiety head on.

I thought about what went wrong the last time, and I realized that it was all about that first leap—right as we entered the water. Last time, when faced with that first leap, I let my fear take over. I allowed my thoughts to spin with negative scenarios and all the things that might possibly go wrong. (It reminds me of something my dad said recently about learning to meditate. He said in a sort of mock guru voice: “Too much mind.”)

When we got to that first leap this time, I did not hesitate. I did not hem and haw or try to find a way around it. I just jumped. And as we made our way down the river, I continued to let my instincts guide me. I looked around at the possible places to jump to next. I assessed my options, and I took the best one.

Chris makes his way down el rio.

Chris makes his way down el rio.

Sometimes I wobbled or slipped, but my attitude was completely transformed. Last time, whenever my foot slid an inch out of my control, my mind used it as evidence to convince me that I was doomed for failure. Every rock looked scarier and more slippery than the last. The feeling of danger was compounded by the knowledge that whatever I slipped down would have to be climbed back up on the return trip.

But this time, there would be no return trip, so I didn’t have to worry about that. And rather than seeing every stumble as a harbinger of further difficulty, I just decided to trust. To have faith. I didn’t overthink it. I just jumped. Fuck it.

And that worked beautifully. Until we got to the first waterfall.

Alex was right; it wasn’t too high. But it would still require getting some distance out from the rocks to clear it. And the pool drained directly into the second, much larger waterfall, which I had no desire to get sucked into.

If you didn’t want to jump, the only other way was to repel yourself down to the pool by taking hold of some black rubber water pipes that were strongly anchored (one hoped) to the hillside. Chris took this option in order to keep our supplies dry. Once he made it down to the pool area, he did a little re-con and found the trail.

Having watched the effort it took Chris to get down to the pool by clutching those weird pipes, I have to admit that jumping seemed the better option. So Joy and I stripped down to our suits and tossed our other clothes to Chris.

It was a beautiful, serene pool, especially given the raging waterfall just on the other side. Right as we were about to jump, a man and a woman approached from the trail. They were the first other tourists we’d seen on the river that day. They looked vaguely European—maybe French or Spanish. They perched themselves on the rocks facing us and unwrapped their sandwiches. They looked at us like we were daring for jumping off the waterfall. It gave me a moment of pride.

I threw my hat in the water and jumped. As I climbed out of the pool wearing just my tennis shoes, my bathing suit, and my soggy hat, I felt like a real adventurer. I was like frickin’ Joan Wilder.

We scooted on our butts down a fairly steep rocky hillside to get to the second waterfall pool. I could not imagine anyone jumping from the top of it. It is as big as a proper waterfall should be. About 50 feet. None of us jumped from this one; we just swam in the pool. It was a little more unsettling too because it had a much stronger current and it flowed right into the big mama waterfall, which you apparently don’t want to go off of because YOU WILL DIE.

Overall, at that point, as we swam around the second waterfall pool, I was feeling pretty badass. I felt like I had faced something really big.

As we were leaving, a bunch of tourists started to arrive. Everyone was kind of milling around, trying to figure out where to go. Then a very athletic, tanned and toned blonde chick with a belly button piercing approached. She didn’t hesitate at all—she just climbed to the rock ledge about 20 feet up the second waterfall and dove right in.

That took some of the wind out of my sails. How could something that was terrifying to me be so easy for her?

Looking back, I realize that, rather than feeling bad because I had been scared where she was not, I want to celebrate her. She was demonstrating the very thing that I want to learn—Too much mind. Don’t think. Just jump.

And, as we found out, sometimes the jumping is the easy part. It’s the climbing out that is the challenge.

Probably the scariest part of the experience thus far was scrambling back up the rocks from the second waterfall pool to get to the trail. I mean, it was steep. And you didn’t always have great places to get a grip.

The “trail” began with a series of roots and pipes that were used to pull yourself up the side of the hill using your upper body strength. It was pretty high, and believe me, you did not want to look down at any point in this process.

We finally made it on to a somewhat normal trail—like room for both your feet and not a sheer dropoff on either side—and I honestly thought that the hardest parts must be behind us. But then, just as we were descending on the big waterfall pool, we reached a point where the trail just dropped off into a muddy hillside, which we had to repel down using ropes with big knots tied into them.

Honestly, if I had really understood what this hike entailed before attempting it, I would have been too scared. But when it was all over and we were lounging in the big waterfall pool, I felt like a different person. For maybe the first time in my life, I fully understood the payoff of pushing myself beyond my perceived limits.

Jenn and Brian met us at the big waterfall pool and we made our way back to the car. Contrary to my assumptions, the trail to the parking lot was a little rough as well. We somehow ended up off the beaten path and suspended from another hillside, dangling into the river from some more of those weird black water pipes. Thankfully, that part only lasted for a few minutes. But, needless to say, we all felt that we had earned our leisurely lunch in Santa Teresa as a reward for our efforts that morning.

As we walked up the road into town, I noticed a change in my general attitude.

Even though I have traveled in some fairly sketchy places, for some reason, this trip had me feeling especially vulnerable. Normally, I am not easily sketched out, but something about the characters milling about downtown Montezuma put me on edge. Not to mention the steep, windy, narrow roads and the lack of any discernible traffic laws.

But as we walked up the road from the waterfall, with shirtless dudes on motorcycles whizzing past—not wearing helmets, of course, and often with a small child sitting up near the handlebars—I found that I wasn’t freaked out by it anymore. I was feeling very zen.

And that lasted for about ten minutes.

We had seen the road to Santa Teresa on an earlier daytrip, so we felt pretty confident that  we knew where we were going. We might have been a little alarmed when, less than a kilometer into the drive, we found ourselves on an extremely narrow passage, with no places to turn around, and with a river about a foot or two deep rushing in front of the RAV-4.

Our options were to: 1) Keep going; or 2) Attempt to drive in reverse far enough that we found some kind of safe place to execute an extremely tight turn:

We opted to push forward.

The road was less than 10 km, but it felt like we were on it forever. We crossed more rushing rivers. We balanced our wheels around gaping holes in the dirt. We gunned it up steep inclines and prayed that the next dip, around the next curve, through the next bumpy narrow passageway, would be traversable, because there was no way any of us wanted to have to turn around and go back through what we had just passed.

It felt like we were filming a Toyota truck commercial. Only a lot, lot less fun. At one point, the trees thinned out and we found that the road was on a ledge, which dropped off into a jungle valley to our right. There would absolutely be no place to turn around here. And of course our phones didn’t really work. We didn’t have any food or water. All we needed now was for the car to get stuck, then for someone to fall and get some kind of compound fracture, and, boom. I Shouldn’t Be Alive, here we come.

But, thanks to some expert driving by Chris, some solid wing-man support from Brian, and the women keeping our cries of terror to ourselves (for the most part), we made it on to a real road again. Later, the guys told Alex which route we’d taken, and he was absolutely flabbergasted. We had essentially driven through the Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve jungle, on a road that was meant for dirt bikes and 4-wheelers.

Our first impression upon entering Santa Teresa was that we would have needed to be a lot richer and better looking to have vacationed there. Brian summed it up pretty well when he said that it was like a collection of “all the coolest people from the places that they’re from.” Everyone was perfectly tan and skinny. It was horrible.

Alex had suggested we have lunch at Pranamar “Buddha Eyes” Restaurant, where they serve a lot of fresh juices, salads, and healthy dishes, as well as some good old boat drinks like pina coladas and Mai Tais. All in all, it was pretty darn swanky.

pranamar

They have a sign in the bathroom telling you that the resort has its very own sewage treatment plant. We couldn’t figure out why this was a selling point. But we did think of a good tagline: “Pranamar Yoga Retreat and Villas—Where your shit is treated as well as you are.”)

On the right, you will see the statue that I almost bought. The place was pretty much empty as we were leaving, except for a group of very fit exotic surfer dudes. Naturally, I wanted to make a good impression. We had been told to remove our shoes upon entering, and as I paused ever-so-gracefully to put them back on, I inadvertently put my fat palm right on the statue's face and sent it flying sideways, into the dining room and directly in front of the surfer dudes, where it landed with an extremely loud and echoing "THUMP." Brian yelled out to the waitstaff, "Well, at least you have her credit card number!" Thankfully, the statue survived and they did not have to use it.

On the right, you will see the statue that I almost bought. The place was pretty much empty as we were leaving, except for a group of very fit exotic surfer dudes. Naturally, I wanted to make a good impression. We had been told to remove our shoes upon entering, and as I paused ever-so-gracefully to put them back on, I inadvertently put my fat palm right on the statue’s face and sent it flying sideways, into the dining room and directly in front of the surfer dudes, where it landed with an extremely loud and echoing “THUMP.” Brian yelled out to the waitstaff, “Well, at least you have her credit card number!” Thankfully, the statue survived and they did not have to use it.

After lunch, we made our way to the beach, which was quite beautiful. The waves were fairly gentle, but there were a lot of knee-scrapers and face-smashers among the rocks just below the water’s surface, so you had to be careful.

hammock

They were offering surfing lessons:

surfing lessons

And we decided that I am going to marry a rich guy who will pay for everyone to come to our destination wedding here:

wedding altar

There’s not much to report about the return trip. There were no strippers on our ferry to Puntarenas (how unfortunate!) and the drive back was not nearly as harrowing. However, we did miss our exit, forcing Chris to execute another cross-four-lanes-of-speeding-mid-90s-sedans U-turn.

We got pretty turned around and couldn’t find the road we were supposed to be on until, funnily enough, we got our bearings again when we recognized a store with 8-10 rotisserie chickens rolling past the plate glass window surrounded by a bunch of tires and appliances. The old tire chicken place had saved the day.

That night, we basically spent a couple hundred dollars on food at the Denny’s Restaurant that shared a parking lot with our Holiday Inn. The guys watched football at the casino next to the Denny’s for a while, and we ladies watched music videos in our hotel room. This was by far our favorite:

After a crack-of-dawn flight from San Jose to Panama City, and a five-ish hour flight to Houston, we found out that our final flight to Denver was delayed at least an hour and a half, which turned into four hours when all was said and done. We were pretty exhausted when we made it back to DIA. We exited the train into the terminal and stepped on to the escalator, only to discover that it wasn’t moving. As we trudged up that last flight of stairs, we were all thinking the same thing: Damn you, Chris Parkes Fitness Vacation!

**Once again, thank you to Jenn Superka for the picture of the motorcycle on the beach in Santa Teresa. We’ve been back almost a month now, and it is all beginning to feel like a distant memory, so it’s great to have the pictures. Jenn recently shared her album on Google+, and as I was scrolling through, I noticed that she had cleverly concealed herself in some of the photos…

Okay, so it was her Google avatar. It's like Where's Waldo? Where's Jenn?

Okay, so it was her Google avatar. It’s like Where’s Waldo? Where’s Jenn?

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4 thoughts on “A Vacation of Fitness and Terror, Vol. 5: The True Meaning of Fear

  1. HAHAHA – that is so awesome that my mark is on all of those photos. BTW, the motorcycle pic was actually taken by BRIAN – it was the first time he got to try out the new camera and he got all artsy with it. (It’s okay – he forgot he took it anyways).

    We were just recounting that terrorizing day and thinking how the atmosphere at Pranamar was our calming reward for pushing ourselves. So perfect! And yet – we couldn’t forget – the dangerous beauty that was all around us (as in, those crazy-sharp rocks and undertow at the beach).

    You summed it up so beautifully! Thank you, Cara!!!
    *insert Google avatar*

  2. I have loved reading about your adventure in CR. You are so talented, Hopkins! And brave. Very brave! Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s great.

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