By Bob Corbett
Today marks the end of one period, the beginning of something rather different. And of all things, I begin the new period with an injury!!!
Yesterday I was just exhausted and realized that I have been walking a great deal in rather hard circumstances. I thought I needed a break, so I resolved last evening to do nothing today, just take it easy, getting ready for my trip back to Quepos tomorrow.
I woke early and some of the fun folks whoíve been here at Pension Sania were leaving early, so I got up to say goodbye. And what to my wondering eyes should appear but SUN!!!!! SUN in Monteverde in the rainy season? And I remembered the only other such day, the day I walked Monteverde park and went to the continental divide.
I just couldnít resist, and was on the 6:30 AM bus for Reserva St. Elena (the cloud forest reserve of St. Elena). I knew that in one sense this was a very bad idea. Not only was I (am I) utterly exhausted, but yesterday I developed a bad stone bruise on my right heel and was walking with a distinct limp. But, will I EVER be back? Will I ever be in health (or near health) to do such a thing again? Heck, I donít know. I just had to go.
There were only 5 people on the bus, which was a good sign, and even better when we got there and the parking lot was utterly empty, no one had arrived by any other means of transport. Turned out one of the five on the bus was the guy who runs the place, so he just opened the counter. The young woman from Seattle was awaiting a guide for 7:30 AM and since it was just 6:55 she was no threat for space on the trail. The young couple announced they were walking one of the trails Iíd already walked. Thus no one was tackling the HUGE outer trail, the one that circles the park and they expect you to allow 5 hours for the walk.
I set off in seconds, but before I got into the forest I had to shoo a coati off the trail, largest one Iíve seen yet, and the ONLY animal I saw all day!!!!
My right heel really hurt, so I just had to accept that it was going to get one hell of a lot worse on a five / six hour hike on the hardest trail Iíd ever been on, and once I came to terms with myself and the pain, I was just fine. But the trail wasnít. Unlike every other trail Iíve been on in Manuel Antonio, and both Monteverde and St. Elena, this one was totally neglected. The first (and later on last) 200 yards or so of the trail were in concrete blocks and rounds of timber. The rest was in mud, much of it very deep, several times up to my mid calf, almost to the knee. And it was up and down and up and down and up and down, once, the most breath taking, reaching the highest point in the entire forest, the entire 400,000 acres, and I was above the trees and in the clouds, all by myself. It was so awe inspiring I had tears streaming down my face.
What saved me from the swampy mud were the tree roots. They had carved a trail. No trouble following it at all. Normally it was gully like, but only a couple inches deep. At times it was 18 inches to 2 ft deep and about 8 inches wide, very hard to walk, and anywhere it came to a level, there was deep water, mud and slime. At least 4-5 times I had to venture into the forest itself to go round some deep mud hole and that was not pleasant.
The other big disadvantage of this remote trail was that it was so hard to walk I couldnít walk and look up in the trees for monkeys, sloth and the magnificent birds. I had to watch the trail. So I stopped often to search the canopy for critters, and while I did see magnificent small birds, glorious and unimaginable butterflies, creepy insects, I didnít see a single ANIMAL. Three sorts of flowers predominated, all growing from the trees themselves. Small brilliant red ones that look like pansies. Tall red ones in the shape of a Christmas tree that looked like 6 to 8 inch long acorns, brilliant yellow ones that grew right out of the gigantic trees and were in bunches like a bouquet of flowers, each yellow string, like a leaf of broad grass, was about 6 inches long, at least 30 or more in a cluster.
The sun was shinning 50% of the time, and no rain at all. That doesnít mean no water. The forest is utterly drenched and sheds water all the time. I had my rain coat on but not my hood. Every time I grabbed a bush or tree to steady myself I got a cold shower, which felt just wonderful.
The neatest place of all was when I got to the highest point of the park, and was above all the trees. However, it was cloudy at that point and I couldnít see much off in the distance. But the trail, no more than a 6 inch wide rut in the ground, just hugged the cliff, some 5,000 or more feet up. It was, to tell the truth, TERRIFYING. I would peak over the edge and it was straight down. But, on the other hand, I realized even if I fell, the vegetation was so thick on the cliff face that I couldnít fall more that a few feet and could crawl back up. But, I had no intention of seeing and clung to trees and bushes on my left and I inched my way across that trail for more than 100 yards.
When I was high on the hill, despite the forest, the sun came through and once I thought, gee, I forgot my sun glasses, and roared with laugher when, less that 2 minutes later the thought crossed my mind -- dang, why didnít I bring my flashlight!!!!
I even had to do a very very difficult climb for me, given my bad legs. One place on the trail was completely blocked because a large bamboo tree had fallen across the trail. There was no possibility for me at least of going ROUND it. The trail was on a steep hill. Down was terrifying. Up was just too difficult, so I had to go over. Bamboo trees are a huge mass of shoots, each one no fatter than a baseball bat, but about 30 yards long, and there must have been fifty of them in the cluster across the trail. I had to climb them like an uneven ladder, and they were bouncing up and down the whole time. Iím terrified of heights and had to climb up, this bouncing ladder of bamboo at least 20 - 30 feet and lower myself down the bouncing ladder on the other side. It was really cold up there and I had my long-sleeve shirt, my heavy sweater and rain coat on. When I got down from the blockage on the trail, I was dripping wet. I just laid back in the bamboo and rested a while.
Thankfully, just after I got across that long narrow path on the edge of the cliff, the sun went away and the clouds moved in and I was utterly lost in the cloud forest. I could only see about 10 feet in front of me, but it was one of the most exciting and thrilling things to happen to me in my life. I had that condition for about 1/2 hour until the clouds let up and I could see at least 30-40 foot in front on me, when things then just disappeared in the dark of the forest.
I was just exhausted and a bit worried. My heel really hurt and obviously NO ONE uses this trail, not even the park people, it was in too bad repair. I was just stumbling in exhausting. Then I really did get a scare. I had been on the path for 3 hours. I figured it would take me 5 hours they project and maybe more. I had a map. It had marked three creek crossings and I had made only two, and I would have thought I was fairly well on in the trail. Where was the third creek? And then I came to it, and it had a nice sign on it giving the name of the creek. I didnít pay much attention, but realized I still had a long way to go and was over three hours already. Soon however, I came to a second bridge with a creek name. I thought that odd. Soon after a third. I got out the map and there was the creek on the map, name and all, but I was less the 1/5th finished the trail. I was startled and a bit frightened. I was hurting, stumbling, dead tired, and had 5-6 hours to walk? I didnít see how I could do it. Then it dawned on me in a howling fit of laughter. The very first two creeks I crossed ages ago, were unmarked and didnít count. The three Iíd just crossed with the name on them were the three on the map. I was looking at the map BACKWARDS. I didnít have 4/5ths the trail to go, just ONE FIFTH. I was almost home. I went down to the water and drank a great deal and splashed my face and hair and neck. That, and the psychological lift of knowing where I was gave me energy and I started off.
It was a good thing I didnít know the last hour of the trail was from the creek bed STRAIGHT up, more than 2,000 feet. When I came out of the forest I was literally stumbling and limping badly.
I just collapsed into a chair at the refreshment place and drank a coke, one of the first sodas I have had in the entire of 2005, but I thought I needed some sugar. Then I purchased two cheese --- of good grief I donít know how to spell it. Juan says heíll type it for me -- quesadilla and they were a bit greasy and that helped too.
I sat for 1/2 hour until the bus came, and the driver passed right in front of my pension, so I limped in and collapsed on my bed and coat, sweater, muddy tennis shoes sticking off the end and all, I feel dead asleep. I only slept for about 1/2 hour, but it helped. I shifted to my sandals, got a shower and clean clothes and limped down the block, just over a full block and had a huge sea bass, a couple of beers, some black beans and rice and brought home two pastries to eat with tea later on this evening.
Folks, it is the SECOND most exhausted Iíd ever been in my life. Once in Haiti I got dehydrated on a twelve hour walk in the mountains, but that was years ago. None the less, it drove home the difference between being psychologically tired and physically so. I was tired out by the mountain and the forest and the trail, but I wasnít tired OF them. The first is physical, the second is psychological. I love the forest.
But now my heel hurts badly and I need to rest. I leave tomorrow for Quepos and Iím going to radically decrease my walking in the next 10 days. My son Brian arrives Nov. 7th. I want to be refreshed and up for whatever he and his friend, Adam, want to do. They want to surf. I wonít be doing that, but I can walk beaches as they do. But, from now until Nov. 6th I plan to just stay mainly in Quepos and read, read, read, read, and sip a bit of rum. Iíll do my 5 miles of walking a day, early on, but no more forests for a little while.
Pain or no pain, it was one of the most thrilling and exhilarating experiences of my life. Now, where did I put that rum?!
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org