Going ‘Arriba’ in Costa Rica, by guest blogger Hollie Niblett

To convince my daughter, Maya, to move from her life-long home in Oklahoma City to Costa Rica willingly, I offered her some juicy incentives. The less diplomatic might even call them bribes.  One of these incentives was a promise to go horseback riding on a beach for her tenth birthday, in lieu of having a party with her friends and family and receiving lots of presents to celebrate her first year in double digits.

When we were still in Oklahoma, I asked her what she wanted for her tenth birthday in Costa Rica. I reminded her that our new focus on gifts was going to be the gift of experience, instead of stuff. She looked at me in the eye, held it for a moment, and with every intention of inspiring guilt, said, “I want to be with my friends and family.” Ouch. Where did she learn how to do that, anyway?

“Well, we will be in Costa Rica, Sweetheart. Hey, how about we swim with dolphins (I have since learned that swimming with dolphins endangers the animals and is not a good idea, so don’t offer this as a bribe to your children if you can help it)?”

“No, I want to be with my family for my tenth birthday,” she said, with a totally impassive face, eyes never wavering from mine.

I squirmed. “Okaaaay…how about we go to the beach? You love the beach!”

“No. Family.” She was a fortress.

“What about riding horses? I know how much you love horses.” No answer…okay, I’m getting somewhere.

I brought it all the way home. “Oooooh, wouldn’t that be so cool?! We could go horseback riding on the beach!! Can you imagine how fun that would be?” This moment, my friends, is where I sealed my fate. There was no turning back.

Horseback riding on a beach was what Maya held onto in her heart as we left everything she had ever known. “I am going horseback riding on the beach with my mommy for my tenth birthday!” She told everyone. EVERYONE.

And that is how I found myself on a crappy-fast horse, with a looming thunderstorm, galloping up a jungle-covered mountain with Maya and our Tico guide, Lusmaro.  Unlike mine, Maya’s horse was so slow, Lusmaro had to give her a switch to swat it with to get it moving. If only I were so lucky.

The experience was beautiful, dreamy, exotic. Lusmaro was a lively, friendly guide. He pointed out the monkeys, macaws, toucans, and colorful tree frogs.  We were witness to a family of wild boars running across the road in front of us. He showed us how to talk to los monos, the monkeys, and answer the birds. We were swept away by the breath-taking views of Playa Jaco and Playa Hermosa from the top of the mountain. The jungle surrounding us was dense and lush, full of bird and animal sounds. It was, in a word, amazing. It wasn’t the beach, but was close enough and seemed to satisfy her one birthday wish.


The smile never left Maya’s face. It remained during the climb up the mountain, it was there as she happily swatted at her slow mare with the little switch, and it was still present as she looked at me expectantly when Lusmaro asked us if we wanted to head back down when it started raining. While considering his question, the normal me was drifting above my wet, sore, jostled body, begging for relief, when the crazy me started moving her lips. “No, we want to keep going. Mas!” Was that me? Did I just say that??


My answer surprised Lusmaro, too. His face broke into a broad smile and he laughed a bit. “Ahhh, me gusta! Arriba, arriba, chicas!” He was either impressed with our fortitude or thought we were crazy gringas for riding up a mountain in the pouring rain. His thoughts will remain a mystery.


Of course, my ride became even less cooperative as we came down the mountain. I’m no equestrian expert, but I’m fairly certain that lots of raspberries and head-shaking is a sure sign that you have lost favor with the horse. The feeling was mutual, so I didn’t much care. To prevent me from being hijacked, Lusmaro was eventually forced to hold on to her reigns as we came down the mountain. Un caballo loco, crazy horse, is what he called her. I had other names on the tip of my tongue but nodded heartily in agreement.


Over two hours after we first trotted off into the jungle, we reached the starting place of our journey, at which point the horse and I were completely disgusted with one another.  While gingerly removing myself from the saddle, I wished more than anything I could have done so with a bit more athletic grace, just to spite the horse, while giving her a little box between the ears.

I watched with not a little jealousy as Maya hopped off her horse without a trace of discomfort. “Are you sore at all?” I asked more out of curiosity than concern. “No. I feel good.” Glad one of us did.

So, does going ‘arriba’ in Costa Rica hurt a little? If you’re older than 10, probably. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat. While she may not always remember or hang onto the stuff she has received for her birthdays, she will keep the memory of our adventure together with her always, and that’s a bribe I can feel good about.

Hollie is an Okie expat living in Costa Rica with her family. You can read more about Hollie and her adventures with her daughter, Maya, HERE.