Where the Pavement Ends
The majority of my two months in Costa Rica has been spent in Heredia. It certainly didn’t fit my expectations, but I’ve become accustomed to city life. Two months ago, I would have said, “Wait, is this really Costa Rica? Where’s the third world poverty, the ravenous jungle swallowing unsuspecting conquistadors, the MacGyver sensibilities saving one from certain death?” Well, I´ve learned that it certainly isn’t in Heredia.
This past weekend, however, I was lucky enough to experience Costa Rica as how I had imagined it. Our program disembarked early Thursday morning on a small tourist van. The destination was El Parque de la Amistad, or Friendship Park, so named because half of it is technically part of Panamá. It is Costa Rica´s largest and oldest conservation area. For five hours Warner, our driver, guided our little posse through the panorama of mountains, the van belching oily fumes the entire way to la Amistad. Our collective sense of wonder and expectation mounted as we left behind helter-skelter disarray of cities and descended into country that only one who has seen Jurassic Park can imagine. The highlight of our ride was Crocodile Bridge where Warner stopped the van so we could take a look. Monstrous crocs, fat from tourist flung chicken breasts, lazed below us in the shade the bridge provided. After a short while of oohing and ahhing, Warner called us back to the van. The majority of the ride was spent climbing our way up to Asoprola, our hostel. There were several points along that ride where I was sure that our lives were going to end by our van toppling sideways down the mountain. Obviously that didn´t happen or I wouldn´t be recounting this story.
At Amistad we took a four hour hike up to a ranger hut. Three hours were spent tediously climbing brush and wending our way through creeks without getting muddy and wet. The trail was little more than squashed weeds in some parts. We must have been too loud for the animals because the disappointing lack of wildlife was… disappointing. We did, however, stumble across a tapir footprint.
Once at the ranger´s stations the weather took a turn for the worse. The slight drizzle that kept us fresh while we were scaling the trail became a torrential downpour. All of our precaution against getting filthy was for naught. We were much quicker in our descent. Any hopes of staying clean were immediately quashed as, like dominoes, we toppled down the trail.
We had more luck with seeing wildlife on the way down. At the station we captured a beetle of unknown variety the size of a small mouse. Further down, we sighted monkeys at a distance. They stared at us from between the branches, almost invisible until they moved. Finally, muddy, exhausted, and in pain, we made it to the van.
The next day we drove to hot water pools. By drive, I mean that 6 of us were piled, like goats, into the open bed of a Toyota pickup. Once settled, be bumped and jerked for two hours on our way to the pools. The roads were a mixture of orange clay and fist sized rocks slung in narrow winds around the mountains. Our truck slid its way up 50 degree inclines with surprising tenacity. The hot pools ended up being only tepid, but it really didn´t matter.
On the return trip, we truly discovered the Costa Rica we had imagined. Descending the mountain was immensely more dangerous. We took a rougher but supposedly faster route. It took much more time, however, because we had to get out of the van at every bridge. Each bridge was more rickety than the last. We almost lost our trucks on one. The right side of the bridge was little more than a fallen tree trunk and river rocks. Our team got out and began rebuilding, IFSA style. The guys found more wood and drug it across to beam the gaps. We assembly lined a rock transport system to move boulders from the creek below the bridge to the top. We thought our new bridge was pretty stable, but when the first truck was halfway across it had to slam into reverse to miss toppling to its watery doom. After another 20 minutes of rebuilding, both of our trucks made it across. We could have been certain that if it had been raining during our trip, we would have been stuck on those mountains.
On our return bus trip on Sunday morning, the IFSA crew were little more than zombies. Even Teresita and Tracy, our usually animated directors, seemed worse for the wear. I passed out when I finally made it to my house. Exhaustion, and muscle pain overcame hunger as I trudged directly from the shower into bed at 2 o´clock in the afternoon. I´ve never slept so soundly.