Wednesday, January 22, 2014

La Fortuna: Cerro Chato

Today was the day for the hike. And wow, was I not prepared for it.

2 miles, they said. 2 miles up and 2 miles back. 2 hours up and 1 hour back.
Bring water.
Bring snacks.
Prepare to get muddy.

I'm never ready for a hike, actually. I'm always apprehensive about up.
Up is not my forte. Up is my grief. Up is my kryptonite.

But push on, I do. Push on, I always do.

And so we began.

We started by signing the book. The book that you sign when you leave and when you return. The book that they check at the end of the day to make sure no one's still up there. The book with emergency contact information.

And then there was the safety talk. The route description. The reminders. The warnings about snakes. The constant repetition: "Go at your own pace."

The info guide faced us in the right direction and we headed out and up.

The first bit was dirt road. Slight incline. Shaded. We ambled upward. We took pictures of the view.  At the first Vista Point, we stopped for a drink and took panoramas.

We continued and met the first group we would ultimately pass and be passed by multiple times during the morning. Two girls from Quebec. Stopping for a drink break. A friendly hello and a wave as we started up the steep incline.

The grade began to increase. And the terrain deteriorated. The worn mud roads had eroded from the rainy season, deep ruts cutting through the dense mud. Carving like a canyon.

"Small steps" became my mantra. Small steps and little breaks.
Step step step. Stop. Breathe.
Step step step.

The sun was out in full force. We were passed by a red-haired freckle-faced girl from Germany. She hiked with determination. Large forceful steps. Sure-footed gait.

At a little past the halfway point there was a tree. (Oh, sweet respite!) We all ended up gathered there for a snack break. The Canadians chomped apples. The German, a protein bar. Josh and I noshed on dry dry cereal bars. We inhaled. We spoke of our separate journeys - what brought us here, where we'd been before. We shaded ourselves from the heat. We exhaled.

And then, we trudged on.
Step step step. Stop. Breathe.

Here began the jungle. Shielding us from the sun, the canopy enveloped us in its lush greenery. Trapping us in the humidity.

The path became stairs. Stairs carved in mud. Stairs formed from roots. Stairs unevenly spaced. Little stairs for munchkins. "Giant stairs for giant people!" I'd exclaim from time to time. And we took them one by one. Alternating dominant legs. Using arms as simple machines. Distributing weight. Spreading out the work on what would ultimately be sore muscles the next morning.

Slip sliding in the mud. Josh extending a hand from time to time. Giving me a boost on the occasional mammoth stairs for mammoth people. Near the top, we finally started seeing people on their way down.

"You're almost there," is one of the most patronizing things you can say to a hiker going up.
"Just twenty more minutes," is both devastating in how long that seems. Is cruel in the fact that, in truth, it's gonna be way more than that.

But we made it. And at the top, we were treated with a picturesque view of the volcano, peaking shyly out behind a screen of gentle clouds. We ate it in. We drank in our surroundings as we simultaneously gulped the air-temperature water our bodies craved.

But were we done? No, no. For there was the lagoon to reach. The lagoon nestled in the crater of Cerro Chato. And from the looks of the folks returning from that direction, it was gonna get muddy.

We began the climb down an almost vertical grade. It was slick with mud. The trees we used as handholds wet as if rain was pouring that very moment. We slipped. We slid. We clambered down and under branches, roots, and rocks.

But we made it again. This time to the tiny shores of the lagoon. Surrounded on all sides by deep green rainforest. Steep sides framed the aquamarine lake. Josh jumped in the crisp chilly water and I waded. Taking it in. Savoring in the serenity.

When we finally had our share -- rested up, filled our bellies, quenched our thirst -- we commenced the journey back. Up and up the lagoon's sheltering walls. Then down, down, down the same erratic stairs was had trudged up.

"You're almost there," we tried to encourage the few we met almost at the top. The irony didn't even phase me.

Our knees ached at the downward trek. But it was faster. And we were pulled by gravity toward the bottom. Back toward our temporary home.

When we finally reached the cool tile of the tiki bar, I shed my wet shoes and walked barefoot to the room. With a quick rinse, I re-donned my swimsuit and we both jumped joyfully into the pool. Where we waded. Floated. And rested.

We had made it.

Cerro Chato Hike

Steps for Giants

Vista Point

Arenal Volcano

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

La Fortuna: Dancing on Tables

We spent our weekdays at the Lodge. Josh working; conference calls, spreadsheets, meetings. I used the internet to connect with friends. I started (and finished) reading the graphic novel series, Runaways. We lazed in the sun. And, on rainy days, we hid in our room with Netflix.

On Thursday, we decided to grab a drink at the tiki bar. We sat by the barfly nestled on his corner stool. He was from Atlanta, he told us. But that was merely where he got his mail. He chuckled. He was on the road ten months of the year. This winter, Costa Rica. Next Spring, unknown. 

The bartender got us a couple cold beers.

"Plus two shots of rum," Josh smiled. So we shot them. And chased them with the ice cold bubbly Imperial. The carbonation tickled down my throat. 

"And we heard that you could get us pizza," he added. As if this was a feat. ...but, as we were an $8 taxi ride from town, it was sort of a big deal.

"Si," he confirmed and got out his cell. He asked us what toppings and we struggled for a bit trying to convey we wanted sausage. He thought we meant pepperoni. Nope. Hamburger? No, not that either. We settled on what we thought was cheese, pepperoni and hamburger. He called it in and we began the wait.

After the sun dipped below the horizon and the darkness crept in, the man at the end of the bar retreated. "Back to the Rancho," he waved as he left. 

On the next set of beers, a group joined the bar. Three women to our left, one replacing the still warm stool of the Georgian. Two men to our right. 

The two women on the right, a couple from Minnesota. One of the men on the left, their friend from (school? work?). The other woman on the left, his sister. And the last man on the right, a friend from Minnesota. 

After more beers and more shots, the bartender let us play DJ and we started queuing up funny YouTube sensations. Psy was there. What Does the Fox Say? You name it. And just when I had forgotten we were even having pizza for dinner, it arrived.  Still warm, thin crust, and delicious smelling. We opened the box for the surprise of the night. Ham and mushrooms! Ha! No hamburger, no pepperonis..but ham and mushrooms. Famished, we wolfed it down, sharing a slice or two with the bartender and his girlfriend.

Their shifts were over so they packed up and wished us good night, leaving us full reign of the stereo. We brought out the wine and liquor we had in our rooms and continued our own bar. 

Our Tica contingency added 80's Costa Rican pop to the mix. She showed us the steps and we line danced to some of the hits. Then came Journey. The Kareoke video version with the words highlighted as if we didn't know every last one of them.

The boy from Minnesota started taping us for a video he was compiling. Josh was up on the bar. Laughing. Dancing.

And when the last of our box wine had been drunk, we headed back to the room. Bid adios to our Midwestern friends and slept. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cool Breeze

The sun was high. Hot. The cloudless day teased us with its lack of shade.

We both were wet with sweat. Backs warm with the reminder of the packs we had just shouldered on the long uphill climb. Our skin covered in a thin layer of dust. Attempts to wipe it off resulted in small dark smears.

In the distance, we could hear a vehicle approaching. The crunch of the gravel road. The low sound of the motor. I squinted in anticipation at the spot where the car would soon appear.  We stuck our thumbs out in tandem.

The silver mud-covered SUV crested the hill and rolled into sight, rocking like a boat on choppy water, avoiding the many potholes marking the road. We donned our friendliest smiles. Slid our sunglasses over our eyes to shield us from the upcoming mini dust storm to be kicked up by the vehicle that ultimately, like the last one, would pass us by.

The driver peered at us through his windshield. His passenger gave a flick-of-the-wrist wave. And they drove on.

The heat enveloped us. The humidity like a blanket.

Two German Shepard pups -- brothers -- noisily hopped out of the nearby riverbed, splashing, biting each other in play. Both covered in water. Mud.

He glanced at his watch to check the time. The sun reflected brightly off its face.

I sighed. Defeated. Waiting.

Then.. We heard it before we felt it.
The trees in the distance hinted with their rustling leaves. Their swaying promised respite.

It was slow at first. A slight breeze that barely cooled the neck beneath my hair. And it stopped after barely a few seconds. I sighed, resigned to heat.

But, lo. It blessed us again with its glorious presence. More prolonged. Invigorating.

It brushed our skin with its coolness. It blew strands of hair from my sweltering forehead. Like that first refreshing sip of ice cold water after a long thirst. The kind you can feel as you drink it. The way you can follow its chill as it hits your mouth, slowly melts down your quenched throat and then settles, happy, in your contented belly.

It covered us head to toe. Like a new blanket. A blanket of relief. Soothing. Cool.

And suddenly, for just those few minutes I wasn't even aware of the road. The ride we needed. The sun. The dust. The sweat.

Suddenly, for that brief moment, I took the time to appreciate a cool summer breeze.