Riding "Nature's Waterslide" in Uvita Costa Rica
Updated: Mar 1, 2019
Fortes fortuna adiuvat: “Fortune favors the bold.”
I awake one January morning in our ochre hued house in the green tangled jungle region of Ballena in southern Costa Rica.
I slowly sip my strong black Costa Rican coffee in the kitchen, admiring the ocean's whisper within earshot, trying to shake off the cobwebs, my mind turning over the day's plans. But as my mind wanders off, my eyes latch onto a tiny scorpion skittering across the ceramic floor.
Was it the poisonous Deathstalker or some more innocuous variety?
But, more importantly, is my daughter around? I know that one glimpse of a scorpion in our house would short circuit her vacation induced brain de-fragging and possibly lead to de-camping our jungle idyll. So, with uncharacteristic nonchalance, I silently kill the scorpion and calmly dress for the day.
It is a harbinger of things to come.
Into The Ballena Mountains
We drive to nearby Uvita and prepare for hardcore fun: a Jungle ATV tour in the mountains. It turns out that learning to drive an ATV is easy stuff, even for Arachnophobes. And shortly after our quick breakfast we are off, up and down the verdant mountains, through rivers and muddy ridged roads, past ramshackle coffee plantations, and always always listening for the howler monkeys' howling.
As we ascend, the temperature plummets. We pause to engage in the serious business of sloth hunting, and I wish I had a sweater.
We find one of the tree dwelling cuties, a brown throated three toed variety. Our guide informs us that sloths are not "cute" at all, but rather foul. Their fur serves as an ecological community supporting colonies of moths and algae that helps sloths blend in with the vegetation. Rather disgusting.
After some hours in the misty mountains, we detour for some much needed fresh pineapple and mango. Sated, we begin our hike to Uvita Waterfall.
As I stand at the base of the waterfall, the afternoon sun beams down on the river and I watch, jealously, as the locals eagerly slide down the waterfall like it's a toy slide. I dig my toes into the sand of the rocky riverbank and glance sideways at the tourists who stand watching with their clutter of backpacks and cameras. None of them seem inclined to join the fun.
I wonder if I am up to the challenge, my mind leapfrogging quickly around the possible negative outcomes. A stinky fear pinches at me, but, curiously, it is not overwhelming.
The Art of The Deck Change
My swimsuit is in our backpack, and naturally there are no changing facilities in this remote area.
I contemplate a "deck change." This is a swimmer custom. The "deck" is the walking surface around a swimming pool and the "change" is into or out of a swimming suit. Due to the nature of our sport, swimmers are generally comfortable with fewer clothes. Pulling down shoulder straps or removing practice suits, outside the locker room, is common behavior at swim meets. And apparently in Costa Rica.
I walk to the least crowded area below the waterfall. My husband holds up a towel. And in a minute, I am in my swimsuit faster then Clark Kent.
Our guide looks at me, sensing my willingness, and says “You come, Madame. It is Nature's Waterslide.”
Maybe it was the sincere look in his eye, his supplication, or my own hardwired need for a geographical cure, but I follow this complete stranger across the riverbank to the sheer cliff where the waterfall crashes down, spitting cold water onto my bare legs.
Shivering, I look up the cliff. There is no ladder or easy means of access. Just iron grab bars built into the stone. He gestures for me to follow him. Having just killed a scorpion and apparently lulled into a seemingly misplaced sense of security, I acquiesce.
As I scramble up up the sheer algae covered cliff, Indiana Jones rock climber style, my mind wanders from the confines of regular thinking and I feel eerily empowered, my normal inhibitions stuffed back into my frontal lobe.
We reach the summit and I watch intently as the locals point to the launching spot and demonstrate how to position yourself for the perfect ride with the flow of the falls. “It’s easy," they say. "Go!”
Slowly, ever so slowly, I ease my swimmer's body into the designated launching spot and, immediately, without even being able to consider the possibility of a broken shoulder, I am swept into the tide and down the smooth rock flume.
Splash! I land, unceremoniously and without even a smidgeon of grace, in the greenish swimming hole, a rush of adrenaline infusing my body. With a smile I could not suppress if I tried, I laugh.
My eminently more cautious husband, who has stayed safely on shore, claps and slaps me on the back in congratulations. He exclaims, "Honey, I can't believe you did that!"
Happiness Is A Risky Business
Humans, especially lawyers like my husband and me, are innately risk averse. They don't step out of their comfort zones due to worry, stick-to-what-you-know routine, and irrational catastrophizing.
It might not be exactly rational to slide down a waterfall, even if nature intended you to. But the risk in my husband's mind was probably overstated, especially given the compelling extrinsic evidence of unharmed locals.
Taking a risk is fun. It is a chance to escape the mundane and venture out of your comfort zone. In real life, we tend to embrace sameness -- the same driving routes, the same dinner recipes, the same brand of ketchup, and the same re-runs on Netflix.
Travel is anti-sameness, a chance to get out of that rut and engage in some much needed soul stretching sensation seeking. I could tell my husband was a bit envious of my experience.