Extreme Vacation- Family Style
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Extreme Vacation, Family Style (1,486 Words)


(with apologies to the Costa Rican Tourist Board)


I think every family should take a vacation together at least once a year. Family vacations are a time to get away from the day-to-day routines and stresses and reacquaint yourselves with what makes your family special. They’re also a time when our children are particularly well-behaved since we still have them convinced that if they aren’t, we might just leave them at the side of the road at some point on our journey.


In our house, my husband plans our vacations. I only have one rule: he can do anything he wants with the first four days; the last three must be spent in a resort hotel.


So far, this compromise has worked out pretty well for me. While the kids were young I could always count on him selecting hotels with pools, microwaves, Kid Clubs and room service. As the kids got older, however, I’ve been subjected to vacations that require a little more “participation” on my part. These have included RV motoring, camping, working farms and dude ranches. This year, my husband was inspired to vault us into a category I call “Extreme Vacation”.


It began with the travel brochures for Costa Rica. They were beautiful; lush jungle; sparkling, blue oceans; a variety of wildlife only seen in magazines. He was hooked.


Let’s just say that Costa Rica is not for the faint-hearted. Imagine my surprise when I am asked to load myself into a five-seat Cessna for a one-hour flight to our first destination, the eco-lodge. This requires heavy medication because the pilots, after telling you that 25 pounds per person is the limit on luggage, immediately load everything you have into the plane- without bothering to weigh it. They must also have weekend jobs that include crop dusting, tree trimming and aerial stunt flying because they incorporate all of that into your one-hour flight. Our 11-year old immediately requested an air-sickness bag. Landing is fun. Only the pilot, flying by touch apparently, can find the landing area which materializes as a strip of earth about the size of a band-aid, but only after you have already assumed the crash position and given yourself last rites.


Upon landing you watch as your luggage is carefully and lovingly loaded onto a donkey cart which then starts off down the pristine beach. You are not so fortunate. You get to hike to the lodge after the donkey cart, about two miles, in searing heat and humidity.


I soon realize my first mistake was failing to look up the definition of “eco-tourism” or “eco-lodge” before agreeing to the trip. I assumed it meant you recycled your empty alcoholic beverage containers. Did I mention you sleep in tents? On cots? With screens instead of windows? One communal bathhouse that is up a hill away from your tent? Turns out you have electricity only two hours of each day. None of it in your tent.


We head up to dinner at the sound of the conch shell. There you get a brief orientation about all the things that can kill you. Turns out, just about everything can, or at least make you very sick. The guides are particularly knowledgeable. They tell me there are over 500 varieties of trees in the jungle plus exotic birds. I am wondering how many of them can kill me.


As night falls, bats come out and frogs, large ones, begin to croak in the forest. Other things begin to make their sounds, too, but I’m not sure I want to ask what those are. After dinner we start back down the hill to our tents with our flashlights. At some point I become lucid enough to notice that the ground is parting in front of me like the Red Sea. This is not because ocean breezes are blowing through waving grass. It’s because every insect and reptile is hurrying to get out of your way. At one point, my trusty flashlight beam picks up a spider large enough to require a license plate. My 12-year old, exhausted from the first day of travel, immediately becomes hysterical. I’ve soiled myself, but must maintain calm if I have any hope of convincing the kids they can sleep in their own tent by themselves.


Being in Costa Rica is like being in God’s Pick-A-Part lot. It’s as if God said “Gee, I have all these extra insect parts, now what can I build?” Every insect reminds me of the toys from under the bad kid’s bed in ‘Toy Story’. The aptly named “Halloween Crab” is purple and orange with bright white spots on its back. At least that’s what I remember before I start screaming.


That night we take the ridiculously small can of “OFF” insect repellent and spray it liberally around the screens, doorway, and steps of the kids’ tent. This is much like putting out whipped cream as a roadblock for a Hummer, but we convince the kids they’ll be fine. And they are. I, on the other hand, stay up all night trying to convince my bladder that I don’t have to pee. I resolve not to drink anything after 4pm for the rest of the time I’m there because I’m not going to walk up that hill to the bathroom in the dark.


The next few days bring adventures for which I am completely unprepared. There’s hiking, horseback riding and jungle canopy tours and I dutifully participate in all of them.


My husband arranges a hike in the national park. Education, apparently, is real important in the jungle because as you pay the entrance fee to the park rangers and go in, you pass a table of large and small jars that contain specimens of, again, everything that can kill you.


I learn a lot. Capuchin monkeys, for example, although real cute up close, can probably shred your legs like string cheese- particularly if you insist on taking flash photos of them. “Poison dart frogs” are called that for a reason and unless you want to see what medical care is like in Costa Rica, it’s best you resist the urge to touch them. Wolf spiders really do have teeth. “Jesus Christ” lizards really can walk on water but you’ll also find yourself saying “Geez-US” every time you almost step on one.


Every now and then during these adventures my husband hollers back at me to ask the time to which I reply: “Time to swat another INSECT off my arm!”


Special attention should be paid to the jungle canopy tours that give you another angle from which to view wildlife. There are two types. We choose the one with less bodily harm liability. Ours merely requires us to sit in a sling while the guides winch us up 120 feet into a tree. And leave us there for an hour. You can also take a version of this called a “zip line” tour. The kids must have annoyed us because we send them alone on this one. It is pretty much the equivalent of strapping yourself to a thin cable at the top of, say, the Matterhorn and letting go. You slide along the cable at breakneck speed from one platform to another. There’s also the option of spending the night on one of these platforms. I’ll see you in Hell, first, before I spend a night alone, on a platform, in the jungle, without a bathroom.


And so it goes for four days. My legs take on the misery of bruised Jello from all the exertion. At one point they are shaking so badly I can’t tie my shoes. At the start of every new adventure my husband looks at me and says: “Honey, it’s a three hour tour”. Every time he says it I begin to sing the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme song.


But, as promised and as is tradition, we eventually make our way to the resort hotel. I realize that I’ve relaxed even before we get there. The Costa Rican brochures have already come alive for me; Beautiful beaches; lush, tropical scenery, unparalleled sunsets, spectacular views; great people and wildlife; and some of the best food anywhere. To celebrate my revival I immediately order a massage and a tall, cold, frosty one only to be told that because it is the start of the Easter week holiday, there will be no alcohol sold or served for the remainder of our trip.


People tell me our vacation sounds wonderful and that, with time, I’ll have a great perspective. Our pictures show a fabulous adventure that our kids will remember for the rest of their lives. My husband is already planning a return trip; our kids want to tackle surfing and sport fishing. I figure I’ll have just the right perspective in about two years. As long as we go on any week but Easter week.


2004 Nancy Franklin. All rights reserved