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TRAVEL AND ADVENTURE- ATVs and Zip Lines in the Mountains of Costa Rica PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Bergsman, Creative Syndicate   
Thursday, 17 November 2011 03:29

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF STEVE BERGSMAN

Carlos, the genial owner and host, welcomes guests to the well-hidden Hacienda Santa Ines in Costa Rica.

Carlos leads an ATV tour of the grounds of Hacienda Santa Ines in Costa Rica.

A skitterish visitor gets help from a guide on a zip line trip through the Tres Rios Mountains of Costa Rica.

I used to say that I'd try anything at least once, but that was when I was younger. Now that I have a bunch of decades behind me, I still try to be adventuresome, only now my feelings are a weird confluence of excitement and caution, with caution becoming a major inhibitor.

I bring all this up because I recently spent time in the mountains of central Costa Rica at a place called Hacienda Santa Ines, a combination working farm (300 acres of woodlands, meadows and gardens) and 10-bedroom guesthouse for anyone seeking extreme privacy.

Carlos, whose family owns Hacienda Santa Ines and still uses it as a private residence, asked me if I wanted to ride the ATVs, which along with horseback riding are two of the most popular activities on the place. (Hacienda Santa Ines boasts 14 miles of trails including some designated "extreme" for more adventuresome souls.)

Although ATV riding is a fairly common activity where I live in Arizona, I had never done it before and jumped at the chance. Carlos, who was in his mid-20s, originally hailed from Venezuela and was handsome, charming and extremely polite. When we went to ride, he offered me the biggest ATV.

"Much more stable," he said quietly.

I looked at the silvery beast of a machine and it looked at me. I touched the side of the animal, and I could swear I felt a heartbeat going kachunk, kachunk, kachunk. After a brief five minutes of instruction, I climbed aboard with all the thrill of a jockey in his first Kentucky Derby.

Carlos climbed aboard a smaller yellow ATV and was itching to roll, wheeling it about like a circus pony. This looked easy, I thought, and with my right hand I throttled up. The beast uncurled, leaping forward with a massive grunt and scaring me to attention.

I envisioned myself, as Carlos clearly did, as rambling over the mountain passes in the throes of speed and adventure. Reality was something different , however, and as we wheeled away from the parking area, I struggled to find the rhythm of the throttle, alternating between too much and too little, causing the unhappy beast to either lurch forward or hold back. Finally I found my zone and Carlos led on.

Hacienda Santa Ines sits about 6,000 feet up in the Tres Rios Mountains, where there is really no level ground. I had to find my comfort zone quickly because it was all either up or down. Carlos had led guests before and knew how to take it slowly at the start along the paved trail that led past the barn and reservoir. Eventually the pavement ended and riders were left with nothing but rutted dirt paths.

The first time the beast went 45 degrees, I almost jumped from the mount, thinking that this monster was going to turn over on me. The problem was that I was holding back, slow on the deep downhill runs and cautious when the trail consisted of nothing more than scrambled ruts and rocks. My inclination was to maintain maximum control instead of letting lose like a kid.

Carlos would test me, offering up options such as staying on the road where we were or looking for something more challenging. I always took the safer route, but he was a natural. At some point, we stopped at a rounded peak and looked back over the valley below, with clouds blowing through and the threat of rain in the air. He talked enthusiastically about having a much more difficult course built, like they have in professional racing, full of fast runs and jumps.

Most tourists who come to Costa Rica end up on the Pacific Coast, which boasts beautiful beaches. The central mountains are less frequently visited, unless one is following volcano trails, many of which are within driving distance from Hacienda Santa Ines.

The mountains are a different world from the touristy beaches. Average temperatures fluctuate from 59 to75 degrees, and weather systems move in and out quickly. At 6,000 feet above sea level, I could actually see storm clouds rumble through the valley below where I was standing.

Hacienda Santa Ines overlooks the city of Cartago, but it is high enough that one also sees the capital city of San Jose about 20 miles to the west. Nearby are white-water rafting, visiting waterfalls, rappelling, hiking and walking the Cloudbridge Reserve.

After a couple of days at the hacienda, my friends and I decided to spend part of our time there zip-lining, swinging down cables strung high above the floor of the rainforest. I had done the zip lines in other countries, but the one we visited a few short miles away from Hacienda Santa Ines was one of the most complex I had ever experienced with a 20-minute hike up to a mountain peak, 14 different cable passages and two rappel drops, the last one being mandatory.

Carlos joined us for the day, but he said he was not impressed. He told me he wanted to build a zip-line course on his property, but first he was looking to engineer something different, a cable line that turned direction in midflight. As I mentioned, he was young and still had the lust of adventure.

WHEN YOU GO:

Getting there: I flew Continental Airlines from Newark to San Jose, then returned from San Jose via Houston. At San Jose airport, a van picks guests up for the ride to Hacienda Santa Ines: www.continental.com.

Where to stay: To find out about Hacienda Santa Ines, visit www.haciendasantaines.com. There is no address for the property — and that is by design. Only the van driver knows how to get there. You can also book through www.villasofdistinction.com.

Steve Bergsman is a freelance travel writer.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 17 November 2011 04:43
 




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