Do you want me to play music?” the massage therapist asks me. “Or do you prefer the natural sounds?”
I have to stop myself from laughing. We’re standing in an open-air bungalow in the jungle of Costa Rica. I can hear the hot spring water spilling over stones just steps away from us, drowning out all other noises except for the faint whirring of cicadas and the occasional squawk of a toucan.
“The nature will be fine,” I tell her.
She leaves me alone, and I strip down and lie on the table underneath a towel, breathing in the almost-alive air. There’s a reason people come all this way for a little relaxation; a reason we drive to Logan at 3 a.m., only to deal with flight delays and cramped coach seats; a reason we brave the winding roads leading from San José to this retreat in the rainforest. And the reason is this moment, which would be impossible at home. We might burn a little incense or schedule a massage in a strip mall, but we can’t turn the world around us green. We might play a tape of nature noises, but we can’t quiet everything but the sounds of the jungle for days at a time. We need a new setting to truly transform our mind set. And so we come here.
I ring the bell to let the therapist know I’m ready, and she comes back into the bungalow and begins rubbing honey into my arms and shoulders (I’ve opted for the Honey Temptation treatment). As she makes her way to my scalp, my mind begins to wander, thinking back over the past three days.
In an instant, I’m transported back to my arrival. It’s early evening, but the skies are dark, and rain is pouring down in buckets. I settle into my spacious room, which is surrounded by lush vegetation, and then don a bathrobe and catch the shuttle to the hot springs down the road. The rain has cooled them down slightly, but it’s relaxing to lie back in the warm water and watch the raindrops plop around me, giving rise to a layer of steam that settles on the surface of the water. When it’s time for dinner, I meet up with my group, and we all eat shrimp in our bathrobes at a table near the pool and toast the trip ahead.
The next morning, we reunite for a yoga class. I’m not particularly flexible, nor am I practiced at stilling my mind, and at home my yoga practice is limited to making an increasingly frustrated series of grunting sounds while I try to mimic the poses on one of my wife’s DVDs. Here, though, in the open air of the rainforest, the movements feel more natural, and I’m at peace with my limitations. “Eliminate any thoughts or feelings that are interfering with this extraordinary moment,” our instructor says in a placid voice. Usually, this sort of instruction only sends me down a manic spiral, with my brain chastising itself for following one unproductive thought train after another. But right here, right now, I’m somehow able to focus on the right here and right now.
Later, on our drive out to a waterfall hike, Arenal Volcano looms over us, majestic. It’s often socked in by fog, we’re told, but today the views are clear. During the 500 or so steps down to the waterfall, our guide points out the poisonous bullet ants on the railing, and uses a laser pointer to show us a viper coiled up on a tree branch—reminders that the nature here isn’t all benevolent. When we reach the bottom, some adventurous souls are clambering over slippery rocks and swimming out near the thunderous falls, but I stay on the sidelines.
Just as I’m nearly asleep on the table, the massage therapist instructs me to turn over, and my memories of the rest of the trip come flooding back to me, out of order. There was the coffee tasting, where the delicious dark roast sent my fingers jittering. There was the gorgeous horseback ride beside Arenal, with the clouds making it look as though the dormant volcano was filling up the sky with fluffy white ash. There was the once-in-a-lifetime seven-course dinner, prepared and served to us in a private bungalow at Tabacón, where my taste buds lit up in delight at what the chef was able to do with seemingly simple ingredients. And then there were the trips—three of them? four?—back to the hot springs, where it was so easy to lose track of time as I breathed in the steam and let the minerals from the water soak into my skin.
After the therapist finishes work on my temples, I’m back atop a platform at a nearby zip line course. This activity has caught on at home, as well, but there’s no substitute for speeding through a rainforest canopy. I’m afraid of heights, but zip lining feels more like flying than falling, and the only part that scares me is the Tarzan swing, where you jump and fall until the rope catches you, and then you sail out into the jungle.
The swing is optional, but everyone else in my group is doing it, so I timidly climb the stairs and allow the guide to clip me in. When the metal gate swings open in front of me, I let out an unholy, terrified groan.
“It sounds like he’s in pain,” I hear someone on the ground say.
The line is tight, pulling me forward. I lean back against it, but then I feel a push from the guide, and my feet start to slip. The scream rises up in my throat.
I let myself go, and add my voice to the chorus of the rainforest. tabacon.com