Friday, March 27, 2009

Five Hours of Hiking and Goodbye to New Friends - Tuesday 3-24-2009

I woke up at 7:15AM to get picked up at 8:30AM today for a day hike with Ricardo and Fernando. I sleep much better here than at Costa Rica Guesthouse. CRB was near train tracks and the trains would start firing their air horns at 6:00AM sharp. Also, my windows overlooked a street where cars would honking their horns during morning rush hour. At Manakin Lodge, the wind howls at night. Some gusts are so strong the windows and door shake as though someone is trying to enter my room. It was disconcerting at first, but I don’t mind anymore. It adds to the rustic feel.

Breakfast is free here and it’s good. Yolanda’s menu has about eight items. Today, I eat her organic granola with yogurt and a small plate of fresh fruit. A couple from New York is eating breakfast too, and I eat with them.

The shuttle bus to Preserva Santa Elena is late and I spend the fifteen minutes between when I’m supposed to get picked up and when I do get picked up terrified that I got left behind. I really need to work on that. The shuttle bus is empty when I get on and I ask if there will be other passengers. The driver says no. Did the Portuguese guys oversleep? On the way to Preserva Santa Elena, the driver stops and I think he says we have to wait for someone. Ten minutes later, another shuttle bus arrives with the Portuguese guys and ten other people. I transfer to that bus and we’re off.

Unlike last night’s hike, today’s hike through Preserva Santa Elena is unguided. ($20 admission including transportation, open daily 7AM to 4PM. Transportation leaves in front of the bus stop 6:30AM, 8:30AM, 10:30AM, 12:30PM and 3:30PM. Return buses leave the preserve at 9AM, 11AM, 1PM and 4PM. We got picked up at about 3:30PM. Reserve at your hotel or at Camino Verde, in front of the bus stop).

At 9:30AM, Ricardo, Fernando and I start our hike ambitiously. We choose the longest trail, the 4.5 kilometer Cano Negro trail. Very little of the trail is flat or easy. Instead, we walk up and down steep hills, jumping from stone to stone or step to step. Where tall trees do not block the sun, the jungle explodes into light green, emerald, kelley green, and countless other shades of green. Other parts of the rainforest are so thick with huge trees reaching hundreds of feet into the blue sky that their many leaves diffuse the sunlight, leaving the trail shadowed. I pass strangler vines growing large around massive tree trunks. Fallen logs, damp and moss-covered, lie strewn about the forest. In some places, smaller trees grow between the giants making the forest seem impassable. In others, we can look through the forest and see nearby hills also covered with dark green. At all times, the jungle feels vast, endless.

We pass few other hikers. We stay quiet as we walk, listening instead to the calls and chirps around us, and always on the lookout for the rustle of leaves which might signal a monkey, coati, or other exotic animal. Several times, the Cano Negro trail leads us to the bottom of a valley, where we and find a brook quietly flowing from somewhere high in the forest. I reach my hand into one brook and find the water cold. We stop often for pictures. Fernando has an expensive-looking black camera with a large zoom lens. He takes pictures of the wild flowers and berries we pass on the trail. His camera captures their bright reds and yellows perfectly.

Halfway through our walk we come to a vista point that offers a clear shot of Volcan Arenal. Arenal’s top is smoking white and grey. Arenal’s cone is a mix of green and grey. We put our gear down on a wooden bench and take pictures with the volcano. Afterward, we eat and rest. Ricardo and Fernando brought biscuits which they happily share with me. I did not think we would be gone so long so I left my food at Manakin Lodge. The breezes are cool and gentle. The sky above us is a bright blue, the only clouds are near Arenal. Ricardo eventually suggests we move on.

We reach the end of the Cano Negro trail, about three and a half hours after we started, and choose another trail to follow. The Encantado Trail is 3.4 kilometers long. It is similar to the Cano Negro trail, passing through thick jungles, up hills, and down into valleys. However, the Encantado Trail offers several animals to photograph. We see a coati, a kinkajou, several white-faced monkeys followed by a baby monkey and a large black bird with a long beak and round body that none of us can name. We finish this trail about two hours after we start. Afterward, we make the long, steep climb up to the information center and wait an hour for the bus to pick us up. Near the benches where we wait are four hummingbird feeders. Brightly colored hummingbirds zoom in for quick drinks and then fly off again. Fernando and I take pictures of several birds, including one with a black head and sapphire chest, and another that is nearly entirely emerald in color.

The bus arrives at 3:30PM and drops me off at Manakin Lodge fifteen minutes later. I shower and rest, and then head out again at 5:30PM to meet Ricardo, Fernando, Taylor, and Taylor’s friend for dinner. We eat at Café la Mar, a second story restaurant with large windows. Taylor and her friend went hiking and zip-lining. Ricardo, Fernando and I are tired from our five hour, eight kilometer hike. Still, the conversation is lively. The restaurant has a large menu which satisfies everyone’s tastes and budgets (entrees from 2500 colones and up). After the meal, we all exchange emails and promise to stay in touch. Ricardo and Fernando invite me out to Portugal again (they had already done so several times the last couple days). Finally, I shake hands with and then hug both Portguese gentlemen and then Taylor and her friend. Fernando wishes me good luck in my travels as we walk outside and say goodbye one last time.

The walk back to Manakin Lodge seemed longer than usual. I was going to miss my travel companions. Truly, this 32 day adventure is going to be like the last few days – I meet some people, spend some time with them, have a whole lot of fun, and then they leave or I leave, and only happy memories remain. Bittersweet, but totally worth it since I wouldn’t have any nice memories of the people I’ve met if I hadn’t first met them.

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