While wintering in this Central American country--- known mostly for its famous canal--we decided to overnight at an inland Eco Lodge, Los Quetzales (a far cry from the Panama Canal) located 1975 metres (6480 ft) high in the mountains near the Costa Rican border. We needed good weather for a planned early morning start on the guided hike at a higher elevation. Clouds, rain, and mist are the norm in this area. Sunshine is a coveted bonus so the night before our trek, as we sipped our manhattans---instead of healthy smoothies--- in front of a roaring lounge fire, we prayed for favour from the sun gods.
My first setback was lack of sleep. While my husband falls instantly asleep after an organic filet mignon meal with copious amounts of fine vino, I lie like a board in the darkness, unable to relax. Different sounds surround me: insects, nocturnal grunts and groans, creaking boards, strange unidentifiable noises. Worse, I ate too much at dinner and feel like a humongous porpoise lying in thin air, breathing with difficulty. Willing sleep so I can awaken refreshed is impossible. The more I demand my body to relax, the more it rebels.
We meet our guide, Abel---pronounced Ah-bell---who speaks only Spanish with a smattering of English (we speak English with a smattering of Spanish). He says he will drive us to the trail entrance since it is farther up the mountain. His mode of transportation is a farm tractor with attached trailer since the ‘road’ is impossible to navigate with any other vehicle. We sit bumping along in the trailer behind his diesel-spewing tractor. Finally, he stops at a halfway wooden shack where we must change to rubber boots. Many pairs of rubber boots are lined up for eager hikers. “You need,” he advises in Spanish.
This tractor trailer ride over the rock-and-mud lane is so jagged and ragged and diesel-smelling, I am nauseated. Mercifully, before my stomach empties, we arrive at Parque Amistad (Friendship Park), a joint park with Costa Rica that includes cloud forests in both countries. Annually there is 5,000 mm. of rain with an average temperature range from 8 – 14 degrees C (46 – 57 F). Lucky for us, it is a pleasant 18 C (65 F). Lucky we are wearing boots and lucky, too, the sun still shines.
The degree of hiking difficulty is equal to the challenging terrain. Up, up, up about 200-300m (650 - 985ft) to a peak at 2,269m (7444ft). Then down, down, down to a stream which we forded several times. The estimated time for the 1km (0.62mi) was 90 min. We took two hours due to many stops for photos and to see and hear birds.
What is not recorded in these stats are my legs. Many times during the ascent, my husband needs to reach down and hoist me up. Thigh muscles burn. Breathing is laboured. Arms pulled out of sockets. Sweat on my forehead in the cool air. When I dare glance up, I see only an everlasting trail. Finally, at the summit, with a glorious view and a fearful inner voice crying how the hell are we getting down? Abel calls a halt. He knows I need a break because he hears me huff and puff. While relaxing on an ant-infested log, he calmly confirms that yes, there are jaguars in the vicinity. He proceeds with the story of three hiking gringos without a guide he notes, who decided to trek across the peaks along a less travelled trail. When they failed to reach their destination, a search party was launched. The only traces found were a shoe and a ripped backpack. I gulp and look around at the dancing shadows in this remote cloud forest. Abel offers us a local berry he has picked nearby that tastes like lychee fruit. They do not sit well on my stomach. Then we are off again.
So why am I not relieved? Ever trek down a narrow trail with hidden traps like gnarled tree roots, muddy embankments, deep chasms, sudden branches, snapping wood, entwining vines, protruding rocks, possible unfriendly critters and insects? Especially when your thighs are already screaming? Once again my husband proves his chivalry and helps me navigate the lo-o-o-ng trip down to the bottom stream.
By the time we reach the rushing waters of the cold mountain stream (over which we forded many times) with its three waterfalls, I am physically exhausted.
Yet, like a masochist, I am pleased we trekked this trail. I am pleased my aching arms and legs held out.
I am especially pleased we returned safely. I am woman. I am strong. With only a little help.