Costa Rica

Volcán Tenorio and the Rio Celeste: A Must Do in Costa Rica

A Must in Costa Rica: The Rio Celeste

The Hike: Part 1

I would guess we’d hiked down about a kilometer. It was early in the morning, so not too hot. Very Costa Rica, very jungle-y: vines, trees, etc. The kids aren’t even complaining very much. Until, Gigi shouts, “Mommy! My foot!” and starts crying. Gigi has a flair for the dramatic, so I thought perhaps she had twisted her ankle. No.

“Something bit me!” she sobbed. She was crying harder. I pulled off the rented rubber boot and shook it to see if anything fell out. In the commotion I didn’t see anything, but on the top of her foot were two red bumps, close together.

Mike looked at me. “Spider bite”. There are 20,000 species of spiders in this small country, and only a few are dangerous. Unfortunately, we had seen one of the most dangerous species all over the place in Volcan Tenorio. The banana spider. “Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you” is the conventional wisdom handed out by the admissions people, but if one was in her shoe?

I threw Gigi on my back and hustled back up the trail. The rest of the family followed, as I asked, “Does it feel tingly? Anything weird?”

“No it just hurts,” she said. I could hear the fear in her voice. We made it back out in what I would guess was ten minutes. I made a beeline for a friendly guide who had offered his services earlier.

“I’m afraid she got a spider bite,” I told him, showing her foot. He looked concerned, holding the foot in his hands. “No, I don’t think it’s a spider,” he told me, waving another guide over.

The other guide took a look. “Vespa,” he pronounced. I looked at Mike. Should we rush her to the hospital? Vespa sounds like some sort of snake, doesn’t it? The other guide pantomimed a bee buzzing down and stinging twice. The English speaker smiled, told us, “It’s a wasp sting.”

We all sagged with relief. Gigi would be fine, she’s had wasp stings before, she’s not allergic.

“So,” I asked my family, “We drove three hours to see the Rio Celeste, should we head back down?” The Rio Celeste is this amazing river and series of waterfalls that have a color that doesn’t seem real. There is a local legend that says that When God was painting the sky he dipped his paintbrush into the Rio Celeste.

“I can’t, I don’t wanna,” Gigi said. We decided to go back to our hotel and swim for a bit, see if she felt better after the cool water.

The kids absolutely loved our hotel. We stayed at the Rio Celeste Hideaway. Each room is a little cabina with one or two beds. They said we could get a roll-away so we only had to get one room. The other hotels in the area did not offer this option, we would have had to pay for two rooms. Unfortunately when we arrived they had forgotten the cot, but in typical Tico fashion they gave us another cabina for free. Our room had a gorgeous outdoor shower, which is so fun.

Outdoor showers are so fun!

The pool is beautiful, really big with three smaller hot tubs of varying temps that light up different colors. The hospitality was amazing, everyone was super friendly. I told them how much I wanted to see a sloth, so when someone spotted one, they came and got me at breakfast. We all rushed to the tree, where they helped us find the best vantage point. She was amazing. Her name was Emma. Emma the sloth.


Emma 🙂

The rooms were decorated beautifully and Costa Rican, and they were extremely clean.  The views of the surrounding jungle were phenomenal. I wasn’t crazy about the restaurant, and it’s quite a drive to get from the hotel to any other restaurants.

The view!

After swimming for a while, Gigi agreed to go back hiking, but only if we got a guide. I’m so glad she made that deal. ALWAYS GET A GUIDE! Guides in Costa Rica go to school and get a degree. They know the local flora and fauna and you see SO. MUCH. MORE.

The Hike- Part 2

We smelled leaves that smelled like lemons. Our guide showed us a vine snake, hanging from a tree. Guess why they’re named vine snakes? Because for sure my kids would have done a tarzan swing from the snake if the guide wasn’t there to tell us about him. We saw tamarin tracks and the magical blue morpho butterfly. It was an amazing, beautiful hike.

But then we got to the waterfall. The waterfall is by far the most beautiful I’ve seen. When I was little my mom read me a book about a doll with eyes that were cerulean blue. When I closed my eyes I could picture the color, but I’ve never seen it in real life  until now. The color is from minerals, and in some parts of the river you can swim, but here the waterfall is too dangerous.

So, even with our Vespa scare, I’d do it again. As a matter of fact…who is visiting soon? We need an excuse to go back!

You Take Your Car to Work, I’ll Take my Board


The first time I tried to learn to surf was with a friend. Mike and our friend Chris had successfully taught all four of our children to get up on their board. My four-year-old was surfing. Maya and Gigi were already good at it. It’s exactly the same as when I see first graders boarding the roller coaster. If they can do it, surely I can do it.

They make it look easy

Except I couldn’t.

Think of how you would normally get up from lying on your belly, then throw all that out the window. You can’t get up on your knees first- basically you push your upper body up then hop your legs forward to the correct position on the board. I don’t have great upper body strength, no matter how many f@#$ing planks I do. And it felt like I was doing burpees, except while riding a wave, and sideways. So, I didn’t get up. I gave up. The next day my shoulders and chest felt like I had done a thousand push-ups.

After nursing my wounds (pride- that was actually my only wound), I decided to take a lesson. Because there must be something I was missing. Mike has been surfing since the nineties, and I’m sure he could have taught me, but, well, I really don’t like it when he tells me what to do. A local friend hooked me up with a lesson at Costa Rica Surf Club, and I rode my bike there with excitement and trepidation.

When I arrived, they introduced me to Jesus. Not the Jesus, I’ve known him all my life, but HeyZeus Jesus.

If anyone could teach me to walk on water…

If anyone could perform the miracle of teaching me to surf…

If anyone could raise me up onto the board…

Okay I’ll stop now.

Jesus got me a rash guard, then we grabbed a (very) longboard and walked across the street to Tamarindo Beach. I felt cool during this part. Never in my life growing up in Saginaw, Michigan did I imagine myself being a part of the cool surfer culture that I saw on T.V.. We started with the board in the sand. Here, he showed me a different sort of push-up where my elbows were down along my sides rather than out like I was doing before. My  hands went under my chest and I had much more power that way. Then, I spiderman my leg to step up (think of the way spiderman sidles up buildings, knee to the outside of his body) instead of hopping, which was way more doable. I was ready to go to the ocean.

 We went out about chest deep. Jesus had me lay on my board, then gave directions. Jesus is from Venezuela, and has a bit of an accent. I’ve found that Rachel is not the easiest name to say in Spanish. Jesus rolled that first R and called out what I was supposed to do.

“Rrrrrrrach! Paddle!”

“Rrrrrrrach! Up!”

 I didn’t feel cool during this part. I asked Jesus a couple times whether I was the worst he’d ever taught. He didn’t really answer. He smiled. I think he didn’t understand.  I choose to believe he didn’t understand.

And in that way, burning Rrrrrach, paddle! And Rrrrrrrach UP! into my memory, finally, after failing and falling numerous times, at 42 years of age, I  rode my first wave into shore.

I waded back out to Jesus to surf some more, and the waves were getting bigger. As I laid on my tummy he yelled, “Rrrrrrrrach! Wah-lay!”

“What?” I panicked. “Que?” I looked around. That wasn’t the word I had learned for crocodile, but Tico Spanish is sometimes different.

Jesus had a big smile, pointed out at the horizon, where a huge water spout shot into the air.

“Whale!” I didn’t think my smile could get bigger, but it did.

This whole adventure to Costa Rica is such a departure from my “regular” life. I’m used to reading novels, fixing my kids a warm dinner in Northern Michigan, playing trivia at the bar on Tuesday nights.

I never imagined that I’d learn to surf, but I did.