Tropical Angst

Last March I booked a tour of Costa Rica with several members of my hiking group, the Sole Mates. We depart this coming Saturday, and until now I haven’t even begun to think about this trip. I’m sure it will be beautiful, exhilerating, and a memory I will always treasure. Everyone I know who has been to Costa Rica gushes about it.  I’ve begun to go through the motions of getting ready–found the passport, bought hiking pants and a new travel pack, read the itinerary and thumbed through a guidebook.  I’m just not feeling any sense of anticipation or excitement.  So what’s the problem?

Let’s start with snakes. I grew up with a healthy fear of snakes, since the ones I saw most often in Billings, MT were rattlesnakes.  The kid across the street kept a collection of them in his basement and loved to take little kids downstairs to scare the pants off them. As a mother of two boys, I made myself handle harmless snakes at reptile exhibits just to prove I could do it. That doesn’t mean I learned to like snakes. In Costa Rica I get to move up in size to crocodiles.

Bugs don’t normally bug me. I plan to take potent insect repellent.  I wasn’t fond of the cockroaches in my Chicago apartment, but I developed a respect for a species that simply refuses to die, in spite of the savage wars constantly waged against it.  The insect world includes butterflies, and our itinerary includes a stop at a butterfly farm.  So the only problem with bugs for me is the inconclusive discussion with my doctor about whether I’m at risk for malaria. She says no. My imagination says yes. Ditto for the even smaller “bugs” in the water.

There’s an optional horseback ride. I will probably force myself to get back on a horse, because I’ll feel like a wimp if I take the alternate wagon ride. I’m a Montanan, for Duke’s sake. I got a Girl Scout badge in horsebackriding. Of course, that didn’t help me in France three years ago when I found myself galloping and running cross country on a white Camargue horse using an English bridle and saddle. The English not only drive on the wrong side, their system of directing horses is backwards too. And the difference between a car and a horse is the horse knows when its rider doesn’t know what she’s doing. 

Whitewater rafting? Looks pretty tame, only Class I rapids. But what’s in that water?  Ditto for the outrigger canoe at sunset.

I’ve heard amazing things about the Zip Line canopy tours. Strap yourself in, sit down, let gravity do the work. Some have the guides do the braking for you. I’m not sure about that; I have control issues.  And never mind the snakes, what about getting bitten by a mad monkey? I already have a bad case of monkey brain; I don’t need to make it worse.

I also never really got around to learning Spanish. I’m not sure being fluent in Latin will help much, although it may give me clues about the menu. Por favor, gracias, and hola are easy enough, and I should be able to manage “¿Dónde está el baño?” The main thing is, I hate being seen as an arrogant American tourist who doesn’t bother with the native language. I even learned some Welsh before I went to Wales, and they barely speak it themselves.  (Yachi Da! ) So what happens if I get lost and I actually have to talk to someone in order to eventually make it back to Sacramento?  Will they direct me into Nicaragua?

Of course, some things that actually have happened won’t happen in Costa Rica. I won’t come inches away from being run over by a hot pink flowered taxi cab as I did in Edinburgh, since I will know which way to look for traffic. I’m not performing, so I won’t have to remember or improvise my part when my stand partner leaves our music locked in his hotel room. I won’t have to wrestle my luggage away from a would-be thief on the subway. I know better than to put every valuable thing I own in my purse and then hold it loosely inviting someone to snatch it.

The truth is, new problems may crop up on this trip, but each travel experience has made me wiser and more capable.  Every time I conquer my fears it’s easier to face them down the next time. The payoff is that each venture outside my tiny comfort zone has taught me what a wonderful world this is, and that people are people all over the globe.

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