Costa Rica: sloths, swinging bridges and humility

Costa Rico was everything Leo and I could have hoped for and more. Leo achieved his primary goal for the trip when we spotted a sloth as we hiked through Manual Antonio National Park on the Pacific Coast the day after we arrived. Many more animal sightings followed, much to his delight.

We swam and saw dolphins in the Pacific Ocean, walked the hanging bridges in Monteverde and hiked the lava fields in La Fortuna. Leo ziplined and spelunked and rope climbed a 40-metre tree. I faced my fear of heights and got across a few handmade bridges that swayed a lot more than I was comfortable with. We lounged in hot springs. We travelled for two hours in a tractor-pulled cart to get into the jungle. We visited a co-op coffee plantation and spent the better part of a day in an Indigenous community on the Caribbean coast, where we learned about the traditional culture of the Bribri people and helped create chocolate from the cacao plant (and sampled the delicious results).

And, we had a lot of fun spending almost all of our time together for 16 days, even though one of us is very tidy and one of us is not.

Life lessons

I have learned many positive and important life lessons from my mother, but I have also learned a few that I could have done without. One of those, deeply instilled in me, is that to ask for help is a sign of weakness. Another is that you always have to finish first.

Confidence and drive are good things but, as I learned on this trip, so is humility.

While I am in good health and have lots of energy, I am not particularly physically fit. Nonetheless, I figured if I worked hard at the gym all fall I would be in good enough shape for the adventures on our trip. I settled into a daily routine in September, finding a gym wherever my work took me.

Getting derailed

But then, in early October, I tore the meniscus in my left knee. No, not while running on the treadmill, lifting weights or doing anything remotely active; I stood up, and that was that. Following my mother’s approach to life, I did not ask for help, but walked to the subway and then, once in Union Station, walked (hobbled and crawled might better describe it) to my train.

After six weeks of rest, icing, excellent physiotherapy and careful exercise, my knee felt strong, and I returned to the gym.

Two weeks later, I tripped over some broken concrete in a sidewalk and hit the ground hard, breaking two ribs.

Despair set in, but once again I followed my physiotherapist’s suggestions: I rested, let my partner and other people to do things for me, stopped travelling for a few weeks and held on to the knowledge that broken ribs usually heal within about 6 weeks, which was just what I had before the big trip.

New life lessons

I arrived in Costa Rica with every painkiller known to human kind, a walking stick and lots of determination to make the trip a success, despite my injuries.

And, guess what? My walking stick helped me keep my balance. It gave me confidence and my knee some extra strength. I got to be okay with taking breaks during long hikes and with finishing last. I stopped feeling bad when I needed someone to carry my backpack for awhile. I learned that taking someone else’s hand or arm to get over a tough part in a trail is not a sign of weakness.

I even started saying: “Can you help me?” and not feeling like a loser.

Would I have liked to be able to do a few more things on the trip? Of course. But when I could not do something that Leo wanted to do, others in the group took him under their wing. And, I did a lot more with the help of others than I could have done without it.

Leo and I returned home with mosquito bites and lots of dirty laundry as well as some great stories, photographs and plans for future adventures. I also brought home my lessons in humility, which I hope to carry with me for a long time.

As Leo said almost every day on our trip:

“Everything is better in Costa Rica.”


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