My Christmas morning was not spent unwrapping gifts. Nor was there a traditional Christmas tree. I didn’t fight any holiday traffic, or wrap a single gift! There was no holiday stress, or rush. There was, however, abundant joy!
It can be a bit difficult to get into the mood of the season without a chill in the air and never-ending Christmas music played in every retail store. In an attempt to rectify this, my wife and I decorated a small palm tree, just outside of our house, with lights and ornaments. We also played our favorite Christmas music while relaxing at home. Since we moved abroad, Cammy and I have decided to exchange experiences rather than gifts. This new tradition works better for us in two ways. First, it helps us keep our life “travel-sized.” Secondly, we seek out experiences more than objects, understanding that we can cherish them for a lifetime.Christmas day began with coffee on our terrace overlooking the largest lake in Costa Rica, Lake Arenal. The 26 mile-long lake boasts sapphire blue water that contrasts magically with the surrounding vibrant green hills. After soaking in the sights and sipping our coffee, we set out for our first caving adventure. Calvernas el Venado is located approximately 45 minutes from La Fortuna and one hour down a dirt road from Nuevo Arenal. On the way we met a friendly local, Helen, and offered her a ride. She was on her way from her house to her dad’s farm for the holiday celebrations. Walking would have taken her an hour and a half, so I guess there were presents after all!
It’s a real treat to find adventures before they are popular. It fells more organic and less like Disneyland. The caves are not well known, and are certainly off of the main tourist circuit, which translated to a monolingual Spanish speaking guide. While I do speak intermediate Spanish, at times it was hard to understand his words of guidance over the sound of the rivers and echoes throughout the environment. The next two and a half hours were spent army crawling through elaborate tunnels, wading through underground rivers and crossing under sub-terrain waterfalls.
We were not alone. We were guests to the enormous spiders, crickets, vampire and fruit bats that call the caves home. We observed the bats sleeping alone and in large groups. If we kept a flashlight on them long enough they flew down towards us. You have to be mindful where you place your hands while climbing because what goes up must come down. Here, it was in the form of bat dung. The latter, is also the reason why you cannot drink the fresh spring water. There was natural quartz, limestone, and a variety of other rock creating stalagmites, and stalactites, or pointy icicle looking structures. While the temperature in the caves fluctuated from low 70s to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, icicles still played a part in our Christmas!
I would not recommend this expedition for the claustrophobic. One of the holes that you climb through is named, “The berthing hole.” In order to make it through you have to place your arms through first and wiggle out similar to a “re-birthing.” One of the men on the tour with us was celebrating his birthday. It was a very symbolic gesture when he was “re-birthed” on his day.
Two more tips that I will pass on is, bring your own flashlight and prepare to get wet. The helmets and headlamps provided serve well for protection, however, about half of the headlamps were very dim. As far as clothing and photography equipment goes make sure and wear clothing that is comfortable after it is soaked, and that your camera is shock and waterproof.
After exiting the caves my wife and I decided that a visit to the free hot springs in La Fortuna was in order. Soaking in the warm river was a clear thank you to our bodies for getting us through each hole, tunnel, and narrow passage.
While I miss the gathering of family and traditionally delicious meals that usually accompany the holidays, I cannot say that I harbor any regrets for the new way my wife and I celebrate. Adventure and exploration is our new mantra.
[imgr]http://www.expatfocus.com/images/other/columnists/becoming-an-expat-costa-rica-100×125.jpg[/imgr]Shannon is an international resident from San Diego, currently residing in Costa Rica. Her first career of 10 years was spent serving San Diego & Kansas City as a paramedic. After a back injury her life drastically changed, and an international door was opened. As an avid traveler, Shannon had visited over 27 countries by the age of 30. She quickly chose Costa Rica as her first destination proclaiming, "My whole body comes alive when I am there." In addition to writing, Shannon owns Enete Enterprises, LLC a video and print publication company that specializes in travel guidebooks and the creation of marketing videos for the tourism, hospitality, and real estate sectors. To learn more about Costa Rica, and how to become an expat see www.BecominganExpat.com.