Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Branching Out
  |  Gorp.com

Trust-building and pushing one's limits can take many forms in the rainforest, as we discover the day we climb a 100-foot tree after breakfast at our third and last homestay. After being spoiled with food and love by Mauricio's parents, we head out to the grandfather tree and prepare for the ascent.

While Mauricio and Bonanza (our tomboyish, sage instructor from British Columbia) demonstrate the intricacies of safe climbing and belaying, we strap on harnesses and practice tying figure-eight knots on an old rope. Mau free-climbs to the top, something he's been doing in that tree since he was a small boy, and sets up the top-rope that would save us in the event of a fall. We go over the knots once again, repeating the climbing calls that sound strangely childish—"On belay?" "Belay on." "Climbing." "Climb on!"

One by one and barefoot, we attempt the tree, wedging our toes into gaps in a gigantic strangler fig that wrapped its rough vines around the host. There are not many activities that bring back childhood exuberance as much as climbing a tree. Applied ecopsychology encourages activities like this to awaken our senses, and as I ascend, I feel something coming alive in me.

The task isn't easy. There's some highstepping, some traversing around tricky sections of the trunk, and some plain old pulling. My forearms ache by the time I reach the platform at the top. Mau just sits there grinning, pushing me to do the work myself. I mantle onto the platform with a satisfying sigh.

And what a reward: Up high, a new ecosystem emerges. We look into the center of bowl-shaped epiphytes. We search for insects that live nowhere else in the world, bugs that attract birds that rarely drop to the jungle floor. We search for monkeys foraging high in the trees, and see flowers in bloom that at a lower elevation would die. We rappel from the tree, having gained yet another perspective of rainforest life.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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