*Note: The following series is an account of 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 this series here.
A Hike Through the Costa Rican Rainforest: Day One
As my feet take their first steps on the gravel trail in Santa Maria de Dota, I can think of 10,001 reasons why I will not be able to survive this ten-day hike through the rainforest of Central Costa Rica that I have just embarked on.
To begin with, conditioning in the form of running is something I abandoned nearly a year ago on the streets of Madrid during the first cold night of the fall, and the result is that even walking up the steep driveway to the base where I live leaves me gasping for my breath.
Today also marks the first time I’ve ever strapped a hiking backpack to my back. The longest hike I’ve ever completed previously taps out at around three hours and could be successful completed in tennis shoes.
It should be also noted that I am such a hiking expert, I didn’t even bring hiking boots with me to Costa Rica.
In fact, I didn’t actually even have any of the equipment necessary to complete this hike until yesterday, when the last of donations rolled in from my generous co-workers. By a miracle, one co-worker has the same size feet as I do so I borrowed his boots along with his water shoes, quick dry pants and carabineers. From my boss I was loaned hiking socks and a Nalgene water bottle. A pack cover, quick dry towel, dry bags to protect my camera equipment and gaiters – a contraption designed to keep mud off of your lower legs – come from yet another co-worker. An 80-liter liter backpack, sleeping bag, z-rest sleeping pad, Tupperware and second Nalgene waterbottle come from Outward Bound Costa Rica.
I am hiking with seven students who are in the midst of an intensive semester in Costa Rica learning to be leaders in the outdoor field. All are more fit, more adept and unquestionably more cheerful than I am at the prospect of hiking for ten days straight.
The first part of the trail leading out of the small town in the San José province is steep, and as I look up at the mountain we will summit I am filled to the brim with dread. My dread is mixed with drowsiness; I awoke at 4:45 a.m. to begin the journey after a night filled with little sleep thanks to my worry and two small earthquakes that shook my bed in the wee hours of the morning.
My pack feels heavy, digging into my shoulder bones and stomach as we roll up and down the small hills in the valley, entering the Reserva Forestal Los Santos, a 150,000-acre reserve where we will spend much of our hike.
The day is sunny and bright but my mind is dark with worry as we make our way toward the rainforest, passing fields of grass, cows and a babbling brook, where we take our first break after 90-minutes of hiking. I watch the water rush toward me as I stand on the bridge, and the scene seeps the first rays of light into my negative mindset.
Onwards we move from the rolling valley hills to the cloud forest, a tropical forest nearly always covered by low-level clouds. The bright sun of the morning is replaced with a dense mist that shrouds the trail ahead.
A steady rain begins to fall and my cotton tank top and yoga pants quickly saturate with water, clinging heavily to my body and weighing me down, along with the pack that still feels like a boulder on my shoulders.
The walking seems endless. Just as I feel I can move no more, a small farm comes into view. This is the village of Naranjo, and my ears are enchanted to hear that we will sleep in the farmhouse tonight.
The rain falls harder and we duck for cover under the roof of the farmhouse patio. I feel I have been hiking for days but it is only 11:30 a.m. I shiver in my wetness as we prepare a simple lunch of burritos with guacamole – one of my favorites. I am ravenous and eat with the force of a wild boar.
In the farmhouse are two small rooms with beds and one bed is reserved for me.
I remove my muddy hiking boots and wet socks, change into dry clothes, pull out the sleeping bag from my pack and crawl into the bed, unable to move another inch. I sleep away the afternoon and then the night as the rain falls steady outside. It is going to be a very long ten days, I think.
Actual time spent hiking: 3 hours, 30 minutes