The morning sun greeted us with a breathtaking view overlooking a valley with numerous mountain peaks beyond it. At the bottom of the valley, there was a quaint town with few signs of movement. Shadows exaggerated every protrusion on the mountainside, while the light brought life to the fields of crops visible from where we stood.
A short walk through the dirt-road town brought us past fresh coffee beans that we ate directly from the plant, and to two pickup trucks whose beds had been specially fitted to hold groups of people – they even had roll cages. The trucks began driving further and further up the dirt mountain road. As we passed a variety of crops, our guides explained what each was. We appreciated the knowledge they shared, as we would have otherwise been clueless. The understanding we gained about the way of life in the area and the crops they grew helped us to connect with the region we were visiting.
Suddenly the trucks came to a stop and we were instructed to get out and grab our packs. The road continued on, but it was nearly impassable for a vehicle from this point forward. We would hike the rest (a challenging uphill climb of about 7 miles) before establishing camp at the end of the road.
As we were hiking, the group found a centipede that was several inches long in the middle of the path. Each member took turns holding it for a picture. As we traveled on, our guides frequently allowed us to stop for short lessons about plants growing wild in the forest. Our group was thoroughly intrigued, especially since we were allowed to try fruits and spices, the guides identified as edible. One such plant we were instructed to chew but not swallow…
Everyone found the instruction curious but tried the flower without question. This trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most who attended so none wanted to be hesitant about anything. We quickly found out the purpose of the flower we were chewing. At first it had a pleasantly sour taste, but then we found that it was a local anesthetic and numbed everyone’s mouths for several minutes. Our guides chuckled at a few of the students’ responses. I found the taste of this particular plant very desirable so I found myself picking the flower from the side of the path quite often.
Being at high elevation in the rain forest meant two things: First, it was not hot outside; the temperature was around 60 degrees. Second, we were in a cloud. The cloud engulfed everything in a beautiful fog that made overlooks seem as if the mountain simply melted into the cloud. However, the cloud also meant that there was a lot of precipitation.
The rain managed to hold off while we hiked (and desired the rain) and then proceed to soak us when we hoped to stay dry (it rained during lunch and while in camp). Once our gear was soaked, it would not dry until we got to a lower elevation. We were told that in Costa Rica’s history, many had died trying to migrate from the Caribbean side of the country to the Pacific side because they had underestimated the wet-and-cold factor of the mountains.
When we finally reached camp, we unrolled two large tarps and tied them up for shelter for the night. We unrolled two more tarps to make the floor before everyone scrunched together their Therm-A-Rests to claim spots for the night. Everyone was overjoyed to get out of the wet clothes from the hike and crawl into warm sleeping bags for the night.