If before my muscles were sore, this morning when I awake at 6 a.m. every muscle of my body is yelping in agony, especially some muscles in my calves and glutes that I don’t recall ever feeling before hiking for two days straight.
I’m also freezing, and today I have to put on the same clothes I wore the day before, damp with sweat and that cool moisture that accumulates as a night in the rainforest passes.
I force myself into the grey shorts and, during a breakfast of oatmeal and raisins take in the green foliage that surrounds me.
Here I am in the middle of the rainforest, a two day hike from civilization and there’s no other way to describe this feeling other than absolutely wild.
A Hike Through the Costa Rican Rainforest, Day 3
There’s a dramatic change in the trail today – whereas before it was wide and gravel, today it is a narrow strip, wide enough for just one person. Ferns, bromeliads and tress encroach the trail, brushing against our bodies as we make our way through the thick mist. The scene before us looks straight out of Jurassic Park, and in that great film’s honor the entire group hums the beloved score as we march along.
The trail is so wild that we must navigate under and over fallen trees. We come to a halt as the path is too overgrown to proceed, and one of the instructors whips out a machete and cuts through the tangled foliage so that we may pass.
The trail winds through waterfalls that gush with water so fresh we can fill our Nalgenes worry free. Costa Rica is an anomaly in Central America – its water is some of the cleanest in the world, and you can drink from many sources without worrying about getting sick.
Around 11:30 a.m. we reach an open field just as the rain begins to fall. The trees here were cleared long ago for farmland, and all that is left is deep, thick mud. We tredge through to a small shack where we shelter from the rain and eat a lunch of cold pizzas, freshly smothered with tomato sauce, cheese, vegetables and deli meat enlaced with a layer of filmy mucous, having travelled with us on the hike for two days.
We pack up and head back to the trail, passing through the open field.
It’s slow going in the mud as we pause to pick up our feet with each step, careful to avoid losing a shoe and minimizing mud splattering to a knee-level impact.
A line of my fellow hikers stretches before me, and with our packs and the misty rain, I am reminded of the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C.
I think of all those soldiers not so long ago, tredging through the rice fields of Korea, and years later in Vietnam, in a climate just as humid but stickier. Their packs were certainly heavier than ours and they carried guns, food to last much longer than ten days and worry.
I think of these physical differences and the mental ones too – how terrifying it must have been to cut through this open field and move so slowly through the mud, not knowing if the enemy is near, if these steps will be their last.
As I think these thoughts I feel spoiled to have had such a negative attitude toward the hike and weak to have been having a difficult time when so many others actually have pushed on through far more unbearable circumstances.
The mud does not let up as we continue down the trail. I slip and fall, moving slower than ever as I focus on balancing one foot securely before moving the other. The path is more treacherous ahead as we make our way down through deep and jagged trenches, gripping the walls as we descend through the mud and erosion. All the while the path is muddy and I slip, slip, slip.
Rain begins to fall heavily and as we reach the site where we are to camp, we are faced with pools of mud and stagnant water. I wonder how we will be able to sleep here or ever get dry as I stand in the rain and watch the instructors set up our tarp. As soon as it is up I run under and huddle, shivering and exhausted. It is all I can manage to stay awake long enough to change into dry clothes and eat dinner. This has been our longest and most difficult day of hiking yet.
Actual time spent hiking: 7 hours
*Note: This post is the third in my series recounting my experiences during a ten-day hike with Outward Bound Costa Rica, leading through varied landscapes and small pueblos in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. During the trek we camped under tarps and stayed with local families for a culture exchange. I hiked with seven students and two instructors, however, out of respect for my fellow participants will not mention their names or stories in this series, but rather focus on my own journey of self-discovery along the trail. Read the rest of the posts in the series here.
Recommended Equipment for Hiking in Costa Rica