Peeing in the Extremes

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A night critter

The night is so dark, hot and humid. Huge trees overhead block out the light from the millions of stars I saw earlier. I stare up at the roof of the little tent I am supposed to actually be sleeping in and listen to things drop on it and scurry around. I shudder to think what is all out there in the rain forest. That would be the Amazon rain forest, and from a night hike the day we arrived, I know it is teeming with critters like spiders, insects and bats. Not the easiest environment to tent in, but we are determined to experience it all! “Mom,” I hear from the dark. “I have to go to the bathroom.” What?! This has got to be a joke. I don’t want to go out there!Where’s Rafael when I need him? We had earlier laughed when the crew set up two little tents in the small clearing. One of them was clearly a honeymoon suite with hearts and flowers in it. Did they really think I could leave my 10-year-old daughter to sleep in a tent alone in the Amazon? Obviously, they don’t have kids. I’m not laughing now. I should have made her father sleep with her, but who knew? She never, ever gets up in the night at home! I try pleading. “Are you sure? You don’t think you can wait until it gets light?””No Mom. I need to go now!”

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Our home for the night

Shit. Okay. I’m a grown woman. I can handle this. I turn on my headlamp and look around. At least we are both fully dressed. I unzip the tent and peer out, cringing as I hear something fall on the roof. Luckily Rachel doesn’t hear anything, or things could really go south. Our high jungle boots are outside the door. I pick them up, turn them over and give them a good shake. We’ve been warned about things crawling in. I have to wonder why we weren’t allowed to take them in with us. I guess our guides didn’t pack a vacuum to clean up the mess in the tent. Amateurs.

Off we go, into the night. Our “bathroom” is a hole in the ground with a portable toilet seat on a stand above it. “Don’t sit down, Rachel. I can’t see what might be under that seat.” She does her thing with no complaints while I look out into the trees. Wow, it is so amazing here. It’s warm and a little breezy and so alive. Camping is a total pain, but it is so worth it right now. This is a sight not many people get to see, and we are here!

Since I am both a mother and over 40, there is no way I can pass up a chance to pee, so I take my turn and we head on back to camp. That wasn’t so bad!

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Fast forward 8 months. It is bitterly cold and we are sleeping in a block of ice. Literally. We are at the Ice Hotel in Quebec. The place is beautiful, amazing, another adventure! It is also very hard to sleep in. The very thin mattress sits on a block of ice. The air is so cold that it actually hurts to breath in through your nose. If you pull your neck warmer up to over your nose, it quickly becomes wet and you feel even worse.

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At check-in, we are given a class on how to prepare for bed. We take all our toasty clothes to a locker room, where we change into bathing suits. The terry cloth bathrobe is a flimsy shelter from the cold as we make our way to the outdoor hot tub. We gingerly settle into the water, shockingly hot on our frigid toes. Our mission? Get as overheated as we can stand. Once we are suitably boiled, we race back into the locker room and put on our layers. Lots of wool to hold in the heat. We make our way directly to our room and zip into our sub-zero sleeping bags. I’ve never slept in a ski hat before and spend all kinds of time trying to make it comfortable to lie on. Whatever. I anticipate a difficult night anyway. A few hours go by and I’m drifting, on that edge of sleep where you’re relaxed but still aware. “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom.” Oh no! What is up with this? Does she do it on purpose to torture me? If I leave my cocoon, I’ll never get warm again. I don’t want to go back in the hot tub! “Are you sure you can’t wait until morning?” “No, Mom, I have to go now!” I am defeated. Well, it’s not like my bladder hasn’t been complaining for the last hour. After a trip to the bathroom, we stick it out for another half hour, too cold now to even pretend to sleep. Luckily, part of the Ice Hotel package is a real hotel room. With heat. “That’s it guys,” I say. “We are heading to the hotel.” I get no arguments, and we gather our stuff and trudge out to the van.

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That is not a thick mattress!

I wonder where our next peeing adventure will be? We love to rock climb, and Rafael and I watch all these amazing climbers who go up a mountain partway and have to attach a tent to the side of the mountain to sleep. Maybe we should try that. I don’t even know how they pee, as they don’t seem to highlight that in their films. Spoilsports. I’m sure Rachel will love it!

 

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How Much Can You Cram into a Day?

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The river water is clear, cold, and moving fast. The rocks slide by as my rubber kayak bounces off boulders and careens down the rapids. Ahead is a seven foot drop, which seems really big from where I’m sitting. I lift my paddle above my head so it doesn’t smash my face, and laugh as the boat tips down and hits with a splash. What a rush! I am with my sister, Suzanne, and we are having a day of adventure in Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica is all about eco-travel and organized adventures for tourists. The adventure is pretty tame compared to others I have experienced, but it is still a lot of fun. Our tour starts with some tired-looking, slightly ornery horses, who obviously do not enjoy their job. We amble slowly in a line on a dirt path to the edge of the river. Left to their own devices, the horses just turn around and walk back to the barn. Not an exciting day for them!

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For us, the river is a real highlight of our day. We each have our own kayak and guide to get us down the rapids. At times, the jungle closes in with abundant trees and other vegetation.  At others, the river flows through canyons, with sandstone walls on either side. My guide is a joker, splashing water on my sister and pretending to throw a spider in her boat. The spiders are cool, but we definitely don’t want one on us! They hug the canyon walls, right near the water’s edge. They’re big, too! We also see these amazing bats that sleep on a tree trunk. They join together to make the shape of a snake. When they feel threatened, they undulate to mimic a snake climbing the tree. Fascinating, and effective, too.

We dock our boats and climb up to a rope swing hanging over the river. My sister and I are the only ones in our group of ten who are brave enough to go off the swing. It’s a lot of fun and not hard at all. Our clothes are now soaked, but it’s worth it.  Why should kids get all the fun?

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Next on the agenda is the river spa. We stand in a row and get painted by warm mud, which we leave on to dry. One of the guides, who is also our driver, remembers our conversation in the car about wine, and goes out on his own to get some for Suzanne and I. So nice of him! The others drink the local beer, which we aren’t that fond of.  We all head into the sauna to bake until we are completely overheated. There is a nice cliff by the river, so Suzanne and I jump off into the cooling water. It feels great. We are all able to soak in the hot tub by the river, sipping our drinks. It’s beautiful and relaxing. We are not done adventuring yet, though!

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We move on to ziplining and rock climbing. I have done enough ziplining that I don’t feel much of a thrill any more. The scenery is nice, though, and everything is safe and well done. The rock climbing is much harder than I anticipated, especially after downing half a bottle of wine. Two others and I make it to the top of the climb, while the others watch from a swinging bridge. We’ve worked up an appetite, which is good because they have a feast waiting for us. All the traditional foods; rice, beans, chicken, plantains, salad and dessert are on offer. We try it all, get cleaned up and walk to the vans for the return trip.

If you are looking for hardcore adventure, this is not it. If you are looking to have a fun day and squeeze in as much into as possible, this is the tour for you. I plan to use every moment of my five days here. Tomorrow morning, I am up bright and early to go scuba diving. Wonder what I will see?

Helpful info:

We use Go Adventures for our day trip. The guides are great and it is a very fun day. They  come and pick you up at your hotel and deliver you back at the end of the day. I  recommend them. http://www.goadventurescostarica.com

Bring your waterproof camera or you won’t get many pictures. I use the Olympus Stylus Tough and love it.

I could write a dissertation about renting a car in Costa Rica. Suffice to say, it was not a good experience. At home, we were given a quote for the 5-day rental. When we arrived, we were told that we had to add on all kinds of insurance, which doubled the cost of the rental. In addition, they want to put a hold on your credit card for thousands of dollars. Everyone trying to pick up their rental car was in the same situation. We ended up walking around to check out different companies, but the situation was basically the same everywhere. I don’t have an answer to how to solve this, but since I’m going to be in Mexico next month, and I have heard similar complaints about their rentals, I will be coming up with a solution fast! In Costa Rica, if you can manage without a car, do it.

Good luck!

A (Slightly Terrifying) Bike Ride Down a Volcano

I cling to the handle bars as I race down the mountain on a bike. It’s so rough that, with small rocks and gravel making up the road, my seat vibrates too much for me to sit. Instead, I stand on the pedals and resist the urge to hit the brakes. I’ve already figured out that if I break too hard, I slide sideways. Inside my head I keep repeating, “It’s okay. I’m good. I can do this.” Really, I’m not so sure riding bikes down the Cotopaxi Volcano was such a great idea.DSC_0036
My husband Rafael, our 13-year-old daughter Rachel and I are at the Cotopaxi National Park in Ecuador, just south of Quito. I’m the one who signed us up for the tour, which includes a ride to the park, the chance to climb a part of the volcano, and then a 25 mile bike ride, starting on the side of one of the world’s highest continuously active volcanoes. Sounds great! Our guide even throws in some winter jackets for us to wear since we don’t have anything warm enough.DSC_0030
The drive to the Park is beautiful. The scenery is gorgeous, all jagged gray mountains, crystal clear lakes and verdant green valleys. Once we reach Cotopaxi, we are driven up to a parking lot where we will start our bike descent. First, though, we have the chance to climb up to the Jose Rivas Refuge at 15,953 feet. The wind and cold at this height are fierce. The air is very thin for anyone not used to it. Rafael is the only one of us to make it to the top. Rachel and I are content to sit on the side of the trail and enjoy the scenery.P1010093
After the climb, we get on our bikes and start downhill. Rachel and I are not mountain bikers and that was immediately obvious! It is tough going. The views, though! We make it to the bottom fairly quickly since we are afraid to use our brakes too much. Then it is a ride through fields, dirt roads and small wooded areas. We stop for a picnic lunch in a field of grazing horses. It feels nice to get off the bike and walk around. A couple hours later we are done. Yippee! This is one of those adventures that you are glad you did, but are happy it is over!P1010076

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level:  3 This is not a walk in the park, but it is not as scary as some other things we have done. The worst part is controlling the descent of the bike on the mountain. If you are good with mountain biking, you should be fine here. Once off the mountain, it is much easier.

Fitness Level: 3 Luckily, there is not a lot of uphill pedaling. A couple times, my daughter and I have to walk our bikes up a hill because we just cannot get enough breath to do it while riding. If you are in reasonably good shape, you can do this.

Do I need special gear?

If your tour company does not provide warm jackets, then you need to bring them, as well as ear warmers or scarves. Gloves were provided for us. Sneakers or hiking shoes work well.  Wear sunglasses. Make sure you have something with a pocket for your camera. I used our Olympus Tough and just held it and let it bang against the bike handles.P1010099

More info?

We used Aries Bike Company. The guide, who rode in a chase car in case we had problems, was very nice and accommodating. He served a huge and yummy picnic lunch. The cost was very reasonable for the Great Cotopaxi Mountain Bike Tour.

http://www.ariesbikecompany.com/pages/one_day_tours.htmP1010102

In Quito, which is where they pick you up for the tour, we stayed at La Casona de la Ronda. This was a great place in the Old Town, with a top-floor living room complete with a view of El Panecillo (the statue of the Winged Virgin that you can see above Quito.) The rooms and breakfast were wonderful and the staff was incredibly nice. When we asked one of them for directions, he came with us for three streets to make sure we didn’t get lost!

http://www.lacasonadelaronda.com/

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