**For context, see here** 

Reciently I wrote my Life List – 100 things I want to accomplish in my version of an awesome, fulfilling, adventure-filled lifetime. One of the items is “30 by 30” (30 countries by the end of my 30th year) and another is “Learn to surf”.  A little while ago these two items got friendly and brought forth unto my life one incredible vacation. 

Heliconias Flower

Before I wrote the Life List I knew I had to use my vacation time or I would lose it.  Now, herein lies the power of the Life List.  My original plan was to go to Florida or some other US place where I could access the beach and warm weather for a few days of R & R.  Then I remembered the list.  I needed to take vacation, and I still had 10+ countries to make it to 30.  Clearly, this was opportunity to pull off a little more adventure and pick up another country.  See, its not really about reaching 30 countries and its not really about doing everything on my List.  It IS about being clear in my goals and letting my List motivate me to get out there and live the kind of life I’ve always said I want.  

  A quick scan of flight sites and a ticket was booked to Costa Rica.  

Hey…you know what else is on my list?  Learn to surf.  Hey…guess what Costa Rica has? Some of the best learner surf in the world.  Trumpets blare, bathingsuits are bought, bags are packed aaaannd she’s off! 

Thats Judy, we met on the plane - two women travlin' solo.

(Side note: My camera broke as I was packing for the trip, so all the photos were emailed from people I met along the way) 

First stop: Ciudad Colon – home of the UN sanctioned University for Peace and my CouchSurfing host for the night.  We met, talked, walked and ate dinner; I passed out early and attended class with her the next day.  They were doing a simulation of  a UN peace keeper inspecting a prison where there were reported human rights violations.  One of the students had actually been a “prison-watcher” (protecting the rights of political prisoners) and he gave a terrifyingly convincing portrayal  of a prison warden. 

That afternoon I jumped a bus (or 3) to La Fortuna to see the famous Arenal volcano.  I disliked the tourist-ridden town the minute I set foot into it, tour guides pimping their trips and flashing hostel lights everywhere – there is no town, only tourists.  Wanting to get as much done in as little time as possible I jumped at the chance to join my  hostel-mates from Germany for a night drive to watch the lava flow.  We watched the bright orange molten spew out of the volcano and moments later heard the rumbling as house-sized red-hot rocks crashed down smoldering slopes.  Earth is so cool somtimes.  After an hour of “ohhhhs” and “aaaahhh” we convinced our driver to stop at a local (read: FREE!) hotspring and took a quick skinny on the way home. 

Lava? Check.  Hot Spring? Check. Impromptu adventure? Check.  Melanie does Arenal in 12 hours or less. I woke up the next morning, saw the volcano by day light and got on the first bus north.

Am I right?!

By 2 o’clock that afternoon I arrived in what can only be described as heaven.  Heliconias Lodge and the surrounding jungles/farms/volcanoes of Bijagua is the most beautiful landscape I have ever encountered.   

 I spent six days volunteering, hiking and getting to know an amazing Community of people at the lodge.  My plan had been to stay for three, but by the end of day two I was hooked on the place and canceled the surf camp I had enrolled in. I’m telling you, I have never been so changed by a place as I was by Heliconias. 

Getting our volunteer on!

The Lodge is owned and operated by a cooperative of 10 Costa Rican families who wanted to protect the georgeous bio-diverse land around their home from trash and deforrestation.  They pooled what resources they had and purchased a large piece of land, they basically bought a mountain.  They will only develop 1 hectare of land for lodging and tourism; the rest is left for nature to get her grow on.

Another kind of Heliconias!

My morning walk.

I would wake around 5 each morning, take myself on a hike of the hanging bridges trail, eat breakfast, spend 6-8 hours doing volunteer work around the lodge, hike again before dinner, and spend the evenings with the other staff and volunteers either walking the grounds or talking in the lodge. 

I went to Costa Rica to ground and center a little before the crazy of this year begins.  It was my first solo backpack, and I had 2 goals: spend time in the woods and spend time at the ocean.  Everything else I made up as I went along.  

Heliconias Flower

Those morning walks and evening sunset sitting were deeply personal times of thoughts, reflections on community, personal goal setting, tears and admittance of fears, new-found mental quietude, and learning letting myself be okay with it all.  The days were social, filled with language barriers, laughter, crazy animals, and feeling so welcome in such a short period of time.   


American, Danish and Costa Rican Voluneers plus the Brothers Soto of Helicionas.

During those six days we somehow also managed to hike at Rio Celeste –  a National park where the river runs BLUE! blue from the minerals bubbling up from underground, visit a Helicionas (flower) and butterfly farm, and climb to the top of a volcano to jump around in lavic-mud. 

Jumping on Volcano ash-mud!

Helicionas was unbelievable (it really does kind of feel like a little dream world now) but there was no way I was going to learn to surf if I kept hanging out on volcanos. 

Kaspar, a volunteer and volcano pie.

My hand in a tapir print - so big!

My hand and a puma print - not so big.

Day 8 of my trip I packed myself into yet another bus and headed for the coast.  After 3 bus rides, with yet one more to go before I reached my final destination, I decided to take a stroll around whatever small town I was waiting in.  An encounter with a Canadian girl and a brief conversation later we hitched a pick-up truck  ride to Nossara, checked into the hostel and were on the beach by sunset. 

The next morning I had an 8 am surf lesson on what has to be the world’s largest surfboard.  The thing was a mattress with wax and a fin.  But guess what?!  On my first try, my very first “ugh…I’m not so sure, about this but…uggg….ha, ha, funnny….alright, here goes!” try….I stood up!   I rode that baby all the way into shore!  

That didn’t happen again for 30 minutes.  

Two surf lessons, a smaller surf board and about 8 hours of practice later, I was getting my timing down and my stance centered. I had a number of good rides and many more sore muscles.  Surfing by day, beaching with a beer by night – a girl could get used to this surfer thing.  I don’t know when I’ll get to surf again and I have a lot more to learn, but the addiction is there and I feel comfortable alone in the (shallow) water.  

Ladies and Dudes – I have popped up on a board, thrown my hands in the air and yelled “I’mmmm SSSUUUURRRRFFFFFIIIINGGGG!!!!!!! ” 

So we can cross that one of the list. 

Costa Rica: a two-for-one on my life list and my first solo travel!   File under: Success.