Plenty of people love facing their fears — proving to themselves that there’s a deeper courage inside them, just waiting to be discovered. That’s great, find that strength within! But it’s not for me. I’m just fine with my fears! My fears are a-okay.
Because I’m deathly afraid of heights. Like, panicky, can’t look down on elevators, gets shaky at the thought of them scared. And I don’t feel the need to get over that fear. Not in the least. Yet, somehow during my recent trip to Costa Rica — what was ostensibly a journey of relaxation at Tabacon Resort’s thermal spa — I ended up standing on a shaky wooden platform in the middle of the rainforest, looking down at about a 60-foot drop.
Instead of a pumice scrub, I was still strapped into a harness, deciding whether it was too soon or too late to back out. My vest had been carefully hooked onto a well-worn, wire zip line that disappeared into the trees ahead, and at that point, it would’ve been more dangerous for me to climb off the platform and give up. Still, I thought about it. I considered making the other journalists in line behind me scoot back so I could cling to the platform, unhook my harness, and bolt back down the ladder, never to be seen again. Or at least until dinner.
In the end, the idea of having to tell my friends back home that I’d skipped out on the experience of ziplining just seemed too pathetic, so I took a deep breath and leaped into the air. I let go, and the rush was more than enough to make up for the fear. First, came a sense of confusion: Yes, I was still up in the air, sailing across the line, not falling to my death. Quick note: It’s actually harder than it looks to stay facing forward on the line, you have to use your hands (covered firmly in special leather grips) to keep things straight and secure. If you’re scared or moving around (I was both) then your grip can easily pop off, and send you spinning. I made most of my first ride backward, and the next, and the next. But by the fourth attempt, I’d figured out at least how to keep my hands in place.
Note #2: Did you know getting off a zip line is almost as terrifying as taking that first step out into the air? We had wonderfully patient guides, who knew how to slow us down on the line as we jetted into each platform, but it still looked like I was going to smash directly into a tree at least half the time. Plus, zip lines aren’t one continuous unit, at least this course wasn’t — so I had to summon my courage to keep going every single time.
Luckily, the prowess of my companions and the gentle teasing of the guides helped me loosen up and by the final stop I was really smiling as I flew across a 600-foot drop — ten times the height of what had seemed nearly impossible at the beginning. I even volunteered to go on the special tree swing, a separate stop from the zip line that swung you out above a ravine and back to safety. There was something so empowering in saying “Yes.” Not just to the zipline, but to everything that came with it. If I was there, I was going to experience it all. I hadn’t set out to face my fears, but it had happened nonetheless.
Jumping out across a ravine, I knew something in me had shifted. It wasn’t the only jump I’d make that trip.
Some vacations can end up feeling like one long lounge at the pool, and as much as I dreamed about spending my entire weekend in Costa Rica simmering in the hot springs, the adventurous activities near the city of La Fortuna — at the foot of the famous Arenal Volcano National Park — that called out to be explored. The day after I proudly completed that seven stop zip line course, I got a chance to go white water rafting. It was another opportunity too tempting to pass up. After all, I was in Costa Rica, a first for me. I’d flown from LA to the San José airport, and then driven two hours by winding mountain backroad in a van just to get to the ecologically rich region (a descriptor which could be applied to so much of the country). I’m scared of heights, yes, but water is one of my favorite things, and getting a little more speed than what the hot springs offered seemed like a good alternative to soaking all day.
Of course, my confidence backfired. On the very first set of rapids, I was flung out of the raft and into the water, where I immediately lost a contact and bobbed helplessly until our guide expertly fished me out. My dip was enough to scare the rest of the crew straight, and no one else popped out of the raft, even on the much bigger rapids that came later. We rowed as though our lives depended on it — because my unexpected dip made it seem like they might. The group lovingly dubbed my spill a “second” leap of faith on the trip, and my reputation as a reluctant adventurer was solidified.
At that point, the slow pace of the hot springs and a sweet, blended drink seemed more necessary than ever, and I spent the rest of the evening relaxing immersed in Tabacon’s thermal treatments — a circuitous maze of hot springs, soaking pools, and gardens, all of which are heated by magma flowing through the underground tunnels of the local inactive Arenal volcano. I already raved about experiencing my first-ever hot springs for the Uproxx Travel Hot List, but it’s worth being said again: Hot springs are an absolutely magical experience, especially natural ones that are outdoors, and if you can get to some this year, you absolutely should.
There’s something to be said for spending your entire day in a bathrobe, too. It’s the kind of vacation I find myself longing for, even from the sunny climes of Southern California.
Spending most of the next day submerged in water, sans phone, computer or other connections to the outside world proved a great way to reflect on the trip and soothe my internet-weary soul. That, plus my recent foray into facing my fears, led to a fairly introspective morning and afternoon (with a few naps peppered in for good measure). I carried that peacefulness with me as the group ventured back out into the natural world, to look for frogs and flowers on a nighttime walk through the jungle.
Not even lizards dashing across the rocks inches in front of me or enormous insects could shake the deep sense of calm instilled in me by a day of soaking preceded by two days of adrenaline. In fact, the whole experience was a reminder of how quickly things can change — that fear is only temporary a precursor to longer periods of calm, and that both ends of the spectrum can coexist together, each informing the other and deepening your travel experience in the process.