By Natalia de Cuba Romero
Caribbean Travel and Life
White-water rapids and eight-hour jungle hikes may not seem very romantic. But our Costa Rica adventure revealed a magical netherworld where the air is cleaner, the greens are greener and life a little slower and sweeter, Francisco and I see it differently. Think, ''Me Tarzan, you Jane."
Jungle is sexy; cold showers and sleeping on the ground are not. Fortunately, Adventure Life Journeys offers us the Lost World by day and real beds by night.
From the air, our first view of Costa Rica is of lakes shimmering and the cones of volcanoes thrusting through the clouds. We plummet through the mist and arrive.
We board a raft on the Pacuare River to begin our first Costa Rica adventure. Francisco and I grab paddles, sitting side by side in front of our guide, Pepe. We quickly learn the teamwork needed to battle Class III and IV rapids. It's a watery roller-coaster ride that takes us through 18 miles of lush forest reserve. After beaching for lunch, we jump in the river and float together behind the boat, holding hands in the cool water as the current takes us through a mossy canyon.
The next stop on our Costa Rica tour is the southern Caribbean coast and Almonds & Corals Tent Lodge. Tent lodges are roofed, screened platforms on stilts. Under each roof is a curtained bathroom; an interior tent serves as the bedroom (with real beds). There's also a hammock built for two, and we swing together in drowsy companionship, a little buzzed on all the fresh air.
Costa Rica's Caribbean is not the classic image of palm-fringed strands. There are palm trees, but there is more -- dense tropical flora battles for space right up to the edge of the beach. This was for sure the most relaxed part of our Costa Rica adventure. Over the next two days we laze around and visit the nearby village of Puerto Viejo, drink Imperial beers, eat fried snapper and black beans with coconut rice, and watch multicultural, surfboard-toting dudes and dudettes saunter by.
We're getting the rhythm of Costa Rica. By 9 p.m. we're tucked into bed. It's a good thing, as our neighborhood howler monkeys scream reveille at 5 a.m. Later we see them, inky-black shadows in the jungle canopy.
We leave the beach for even denser jungle at Selva Bananito Lodge, 3,300 acres of privately owned primary and secondary rain forest. Surrounded by some 3.3 million acres of World Heritage Biosphere Reserve, Bananito is part of one of Central America's most important green zones.
We ford a river to reach the lodge, where the mountains and mists are breathtaking. The 11 wooden one-room cabins scattered over the property are carpeted in tropical blooms.
The jungle portion of our Costa Rica adventure begins. Vigorous hikes are highlighted by bright-red frogs, armies of leaf-cutter ants and flame-colored heliconias dripping from the trees. We drink sweet water from streams and splash through rivers amid mahogany trees so tall we can't see the tops and so wide we hide behind the roots. Our guides toss ropes over a roaring waterfall; I'm too afraid of heights to rappel down on my own, but I make it with the help of new friends. I'm a little shaky when I reach the bottom, but Francisco is there and holds my hand the rest of the walk. That night, with the accordion doors of our cabin open to the mountains, fireflies illuminate our room.
Over the next few days we gallop horses across banana plantations, and Francisco climbs trees while I admire from below. We laze on hammocks, drink wine, watch wildlife, wake to birdsong and live by candlelight. We get all the Costa Rica adventure and romance we dreamed of. And as we had back to ''civilization,'' we realize we've learned a lot more than just how to go native: that bird-watching from your balcony is more romantic than going to the movies. That getting over rough spots in a river is possible when you work together. And that it's easier to overcome fears when someone who loves you is there to hold your hand.