An Existential Retreat In Costa Rica Made of 1,000 Steps
Most of us don’t consider overcoming fears while we’re on a vacation. Especially when it’s a getaway designed to be a wellness retreat.
That’s exactly what happened during the Costa Rica Women’s retreat I offered in September: tons of fear-addressing.
The trip was designed to transport members of the MGTT travel squad to another world, both mentally and physically.
In so doing, it required showcasing the natural beauty of Costa Rica. Inherent in that beauty are experiences quite unfamiliar to most of us: wild animals, energy vortexes, and natural wonders hidden behind the veil of steep elevations.
As my guests learned on this trip, anything really worth seeing sometimes requires 1,000 steps to get to it.
One of my travel squad members, Christie, recounts her figurative and literal experience with this notion on her blog.
Her story about her unplanned existential retreat in Costa Rica will have you wondering where it is that you need to go to experience your own transformation.
Please take a read. Tell me what you think. Personally, I love what she had to say:
I’ve been betrayed by every single mirror in my house… in the entire United States!
I said this to myself standing in front of the full length mirror in my hotel room. Tired. Sweaty. A little muddy. Completely disgusted with my reflection… with myself…
Just a few hours before I was on a full day of adventure through the rain forests and volcanic foothills of Costa Rica. Sandwiched between a five-mile nature hike with six hanging bridges and a 4-mile (round-trip) hike to climb volcanic rocks, was a trip to Catarata La Fortuna (La Fortuna Waterfall).
At the entrance of this tourist attraction, there is your typical gift shop, cafe, and restroom house along with a look-out platform where you can view the waterfall. From here, the waterfall looks miles away… a tiny white stitch on a large blanket of green. My thought: This is it? Actually, I think I said it out loud because our tour guide, Brandon, said “No, we are going to get much closer. We’re going to hike down there.” Okay… cool… been hiking all morning so, no big deal. Then he says… “To get to the waterfall, we have to walk down 500 steps.”
Here’s something you need to know about me…
I have a “thing” about steps. And by “thing” I mean a serious fear of them. I hate steps. HATE steps! Going up, not so bad… going down, complete terror. Whenever I approach a staircase, before I take that first step down… I see myself falling from top to bottom. True story. So every time I have to walk down stairs or even on an escalator, I have to take a quick deep breath, tell myself “you will not fall,” get a vice-grip on the railing, then take it one step at a time, exhaling panic the whole way down.
Now… back to the walking down 500 steps to see this waterfall…
My body is already fussing at me for the previous hike and now my mind has joined the protest. I practically lose my mind going down a standard flight which is only 16 steps… and I’m gonna attempt 500? Who does that?
“You don’t have to go,” says Brandon.
“You can stay up here and wait for us to come back. It’s ok.”
My travel squad, in agreement with him, say they understand as well. (sigh) And so begins the tug-o-war with myself. Wanting to have this adventure but the thought of those stairs paralyzing me. Feeling so stupid as I watch children and senior citizens eagerly and effortlessly descend. (big heavy sigh)
While staring at the tiny stitch of white off in the distance and contemplating “do or die (or both),” Tawanna comes up beside me…
“I feel you,” she says. “It’s a lot of steps. A. Lot. Of. Steps. But it’s worth it. Think about it, Christie… this isn’t like going to Florida. You can’t say ‘oh well, I’ll do it next time.’ Do you know when you’ll be back in Costa Rica? You’re here now… you might as well do it!
Who knows if you’ll get the chance again, right?”
Dammit! (deep breath) You will not fall. (exhale panic)
Ummm… Did I mention that these were no ordinary steps.
Of the 500, roughly 300 of them are actual steps… like made of concrete or wood and have something resembling real railings. The rest of them were stones or pavers with holes in them (that you have to step on just right or there goes your ankle or knee) with either a thin rope as a railing or no railing at all! But all 500 being a collective hot ass mess! Some wide. Some narrow. Some a couple of shoe-lengths long. Some you have to step sideways to get proper footing. Some that go in a straight or staircase-landing-staircase pattern. Some that curve in a half spiral or just drop off in a nearly 90 degree ladder-like angle. All of them fucking terrifying.
But… I did it.
I made it to the bottom to see the magnificent Catarata La Fortuna up close and personal. She was big and beautiful. Hard to believe that this was the tiny stitch of white I saw on the landing. So powerful, yet so calming. We sat on the rocks, dipped our aching feet in her cool, healing waters and watched the other tourists baptize themselves in her glory. The only thing left to do in this moment was to thank God… for pretty much everything.
What goes down, must come up…
I was so focused on surviving going down the steps that I didn’t put any thought into going back up. That is until I was standing at the bottom and getting a really good look at how long and far we came. From this perspective, the reality that these steps cleverly disguised the fact that you just repelled down a mountain-side and now have to climb back up that bitch, smacks you all in the face. Seriously… How did this not sink in initially?
The weight of it all came crashing down on me. Literally the weight… my weight… all of it… and just how much of it I have gained over the last three years made me abundantly aware of its presence as we began our ascent.
My body in excruciating pain that increased with every step… begging me to stop the torture. My heart threatening to bust through my chest in arrest. Air clawing its way in and out of my lungs as I hoisted… yes, hoisted… my frame one shaky leg at a time. My companions ahead of me upon my urging and my reassuring them I was okay and to not wait on me. Truthfully, I just didn’t want them to see how un-okay I really was. Thank goodness for the sweat that masked my tears.
Half way up, there’s a portion of the staircase that is well constructed out of concrete and stone with a built in bench. I stopped for a moment to gather myself. Brandon stood nearby with a concerned watchful eye, telling me to take my time. He and I both knew that taking too long of a break would make this so much harder. And, God, this was so hard!
How did I let this happen?
How could I do this to myself, again? AGAIN!! Did I stop caring? When? When did I stop looking in mirrors, again? I fought so hard to see myself… to love myself… to feel good in my skin… When did I stop? Why?
“I am in really bad shape,” I said softly to Brandon.
“And it has absolutely nothing to do with how fat I am.”
He just looked sympathetically confused and said “Are you ready?”
He had no clue just how loaded that question is. The answer is yes… and the answer is no. But yes, is the only way back to the top.
So I’m standing in the hotel room looking at someone I resemble… but don’t recognize.
I swear, I didn’t seem this big, or look this sad, or feel this unhealthy before I got here… or did I? I’m convinced that Costa Rica is full of fun house mirrors. It’s either that or U.S. mirrors are all designed to give us a false sense of self.
Or maybe it’s none of that. Maybe I’m just seeing (and feeling) the truth. After all, I went on this trip to discover myself, right?
The body achieves what the mind believes.
Clearly, I have not been very kind to myself in all the ways one can be unkind.
Costa Rica wanted to show me who I really am… and maybe who I’m not. She wanted to show me who I’m going to be… and who I need to be when I leave.
Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water.
Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.
Now, water can flow… or it can crash.
Be water, my friend.
— Bruce Lee
Originally published at Mom’s Guide To Travel .