In December of 2012, Sandi and I went to Costa Rica. It has taken a few years, but I'm finally taking the time to edit my journal entries, post the blogs, and upload the pictures. Click the pictures to expand them. Click here to jump to the beginning with a link to every day.
For months, I’d imagined what today would be like. I’d read blogs, looked at pictures, and filled in the gaps with jaguars, snakes, and Indiana Jones. But I knew reality would be nothing close to my imagination—it never is. My mind gets out of control too fast. All I knew for sure, is we’d trek ten miles through jungle and over beaches. We’d probably see monkeys and birds. I might get tired. Sandi, Ryan, and Yeimy might curse me for signing us up on this adventure. Anything could happen.
We met Nito early and he said we shouldn’t drive the hour to Carate where the hiking began. Rain was coming, and the rivers might be full when we returned in three days—blocking our return. I hated spending the extra money, but it made sense.
We loaded packs onto the roof a 4×4 and piled in with our coffee and pastries. Then vehicle rumbled, and before I knew it we were bouncing down a dirt road. The terrain varied from open fields to jungle trees that arched over the road in a tunnel of green. We passed tiny villages with homes that appeared to lack most modern amenities. We crossed rivers where the water line came up to the floor, and I was glad I hadn’t tried to drive our rental.
Several times we spun tires, threw mud, and zigzagged down the road while cheering on our driver. Damn good thing I hadn’t brought the rental. We stopped several times—for pigs in the road, to photograph a rare vulture, and to see a farm. After a couple hours, we stopped for the last time in the village of Carate. It was time to hike.
Ry and I swung heavy packs onto our backs, buckled belts, and high fived. Sandi and Yeimy had moderate packs, and the other three (Nito and the Spanish couple) had light daypacks. Nito had gear stored at the station, and the couple had reservations in the dorms so they didn’t need much. I’d tried, but even a couple months in advance the meal tickets and bunks were not available—so we had full packs with camping gear. And camera gear. With everything, my pack was sixty-pounds.
The start of the trail was marked by a banana tree full of scarlet macaws. Five minutes with our packs on, and Ry and I removed them to take pictures the wild parrots. Moments later, we crossed our first stream and hiked north on a hard-packed beach. The morning sun was soft, the weather perfect, and we all had a spring in our steps. The ocean rolled to our left, and the most biodiverse place on earth was an hour or so down the beach. We could have hired a donkey to pull us to the Corcovado border, but we were anxious to hike. And I’m a cheapskate.
We were sweaty and tired when we reached the La Leona ranger station, but still smiling. We paid our fees to get into the park, rested, had lunch, and chugged water. It was tough to wrap my head around the fact that we’d only hiked a mile and a half (of ten). It seemed we should be a quarter of the way there by now. Instead, we were just starting the official hike. I swung my pack onto my shoulders and it felt more like a hundred pounds. Now, the sun high and hot. We hit the beach, and the sand felt thicker. This time as we trekked out, there was no spring to our steps. Smiles were still intact, but starting to droop.
The heat and humidity increased as the sun climbed. Heavy breathing joined the sounds of the ocean waves on the left, and birds in the jungle to the right. Sweat streamed our faces and soaked our shirts. Nito led us off the beach, and the trail cut through the jungle shade, which was a welcomed relief. Ocean sounds faded, and if I closed my eyes, I could have been at the zoo. Jungle sounds surrounded us—caws, howls, cries. Awesome.
Up a tree, a panda colored rodent poked his nose at the leaves. We unloaded packs, took pictures, and watched him walk the branches. Then, packs back on, we moved forward until Nito’s hand, again, signaled us to stop. Another whisper: “Spider monkey.”
We crossed many streams, each time removing our shoes to wade through. Wet shoes could trash your feet on a long hike, so we were careful to keep them dry. The cold water was always refreshing, especially on sore feet. But dropping packs, removing shoes, shouldering packs, crossing, dropping the pack, replacing shoes, and picking up that damn pack again was a lot of work. For the deeper crossings, I’d put on my water sandals to keep my feet safe from sharp rocks.
This was how we hiked. Walk, stop, watch. Walk, stop, wade, rest walk. For hours. Sometimes on the beach, other times in the jungle. Monkeys, wild pigs, and all kinds of birds. But each time we stopped, unloading and reloading my pack to dig out my 400mm lens felt more taxing. I knew that wasn’t a good sign.
At times we could see miles up and down the empty beach and not a soul anywhere. The only other people we saw along the route was a biologist team collecting mushrooms, spores, and fungus. Why hadn’t I become a mushroom scientist? I wanted that job.
Nito pushed us. We had to clear the first beach before high tide, or we’d never make the ranger station by nightfall. And if we didn’t clear the second beach, we’d have to bushwhack up and over a steep jungle hill.
“Tide is already high. We gotta move,” Nito said as we stepped out from the trees onto the first tide beach.
Instead of sand, we stumbled over boulders. To our right, a cliff rose, and, on the left, surf crashed. The sun was almost straight up, reflecting off the cliff and the water, baking us. I hiked like a zombie—head down, mindless, breathing deep and raspy. With each step, I prayed I wouldn’t collapse. Hours seemed to pass; the beach seemed to stretch forever. Sweat drenched us, and we looked like we’d taken a swim in the ocean. I sipped water, and did my best to keep up with Nito’s quick pace. The group spread: the couple and Nito ahead in the distance, Sandi and I in in the middle, and Ryan and Yeimy in the back.
I paused. Had somebody called my name? Was I dreaming? I was too tired to turn around.
I turned around. Down the beach, I saw Yeimy waving. Ryan was nowhere to be seen.
“Ryan needs help!”
Sandi and I dropped our packs and ran down the beach. I don’t know where the energy came from—pure adrenalin. I reached them just as Ryan finished throwing up, sitting between a couple large boulders. His face was beet red. His head was dry. I remember wondering why he wasn’t covered in sweat. Ry was in bad shape.
“I’m good, just need to rest a bit,” he said. Smiling. Trying to pretend he was fine. He didn’t want us to worry, we’d both been Boy Scouts. We knew this was bad. “I just need to rest for a second.”
The waves were now crashing about eight feet from the cliff wall, and we still had a stretch of beach to cover before we were safe. Behind us, parts were already cut off. We could only move forward. The sun was pounding. I knew every minute we sat there, Ry was getting worse, not better.
I played the game with Ryan. Treated it like he was taking five from an intense basketball game. “Yeah, sip some water, pour some down your neck. We’ll get you cooled off. You’ll be fine.”
Nito had noticed something was going on, and was making his way back to us. I ran to him so I could tell him what I honestly thought without Yeimy and Sandi hearing. I needed his ranger expertise and first aid suggestions. Could we get a rescue boat in here if needed?
“There is no way to call anyone. Cell phones don’t work. It’s just us out here,” he said.
My eyes panned the horizon. Nothing but ocean. Nothing bug jungle behind me.
“Nito, Ryan can barely breath. He’s seriously overheated and I’m afraid if we don’t do something for him in the next few minutes, it’s going to get bad.”
Nito looked at me, eyes wide. I assumed he’d be an EMT or something, as a trail guide. Not the case.
The waves pounded, and I tried not to panic. Sweat dripped. I had to bury my fear. For me, for them. But the beach was so long, so hot.
“We have to get him out of this sun and cool him off,” I said.
The Spanish couple reached us and she started speaking to Nito. His face fell, and he looked back at Ry. He said something back to her.
“Si,” she said.
Now he looked worried.
What I didn’t know, was that she was a nurse and as worried as I was about Ryan. Maybe more.
Nito started jogging to Ry. “I’ll take his pack,” he said over his shoulder. “There is a river not far ahead in the shade. We need to get him there.”
Nito shouldered Ry’s pack—with a serious grunt, I might add. Then helped Ry stand.
“Go,” he said to me. He helped Ryan forward. Sandi and I ran to our packs and loaded up. My adrenalin was spent. Damn. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get myself across the beach, let alone Ryan. I was scared. Afraid for Ryan’s life.
We made it across the beach, safe from the tide but not from the sun. The brush was thin—like when a fire burns through and leaves behind a skeleton of foliage. We were still caught in the heat.
“We’ll leave Yeimy and Ryan here,” Nito said. “I’ll take his pack to the river, then come back and help him get there.”
Nito’s red face glistened with sweat as he huffed for air. Ryan’s pack was heavy. He couldn’t help Ry and carry the pack. I couldn’t help Ry with mine on. But leave Ryan? I worried I wouldn’t see him alive again. It didn’t make sense. Yet, I couldn’t help him as I was. Take the gear up, and come back and get him. Okay. It made sense. If I wasted any time thinking about it, it might be too late to do anything.
Leaving Ryan was one of the toughest things I’ve done. I was so hot and exhausted, I couldn’t think straight. In hindsight, I should have left the packs there and moved forward with Ry and come back for the gear. But I was overheated and not in my right mind.
Sandi, Nito, and I made good time to the river, maybe three-fourths a mile. The Spanish couple was already there, resting in the cool shade. Nito and I dropped our packs, ripped off shoes, and collapsed into the fresh water. It was cold. So wonderfully cold. I’m sure the water sizzled and steamed like I was a hot iron as I submerged myself.
Nito started running down the trail back to Ry, and I delayed as my body temperature dropped. It was heaven. The cold water changed everything, and I could think again. I stood and started running, as best I could in thigh deep water, for the shoreline.
I slipped and fell.
“You okay?” Sandi asked, sitting waste deep. Her face was slowly losing its bright red color.
“Yeah,” I grumbled.
I stood up back up and moved slower. As I neared the shoreline, I felt a biting pain in my heel. I turned around and noticed a trail of red, streaming in the water behind me.
I lifted my foot out of the water and cocked my head back for a quick glance at my heel. Hamburger. It looked like raw hamburger. Covered in blood and dripping into the river.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.”
I stumbled to shore and fell next to my backpack—dug out my First Aid kit. Now it hurt like a banchee, pulsing. I cleaned it in the river, gooped on antibiotic cream, and taped a large piece of gauze in place. I was about to try putting my shoe back on when Ry, Nito, and Yeimy rounded the corner. They walked Ry right into the river, and he collapsed.
We spent about an hour cooling in the water. For the first while, nobody said a word. Slowly, conversation resumed.
“How you doing Ry?” I asked.
“Should we try and get help?” I asked.
“No, I feel like a different person now. I’m feeling normal again.”
Using my water filter, I refilled our jugs—Ry had gone through his three liters. Color returned to our faces, and Ry really looked normal again. He dug out his camera and started taking pictures. More energy than I had. Thank God, we were going to make it.
“We about halfway?” I asked Nito, although it was more of a statement than a question.
“No,” Nito said. “We’ve gone about five miles. Nine to go.”
“No. The route is twenty-two kilometers. About fourteen miles.”
My brain did not process his statement. I sat dumbfounded, shaking my head. No. No. This was a ten-mile hike.
“Seriously?” I made one last attempt to clarify a misunderstanding.
He gave me a solemn nod.
I avoided looking at Sandi, Ry, or Yeimy. I’d told them it was ten. Maybe I’d even downplayed it to nine. Maybe even eight! Fourteen? I was spent. Dead. Now my foot was cut open. And we’d only covered five miles and had nine to go? Holy mother of sweet baby Zeus.
Sandi, Yeimy, and Ry were probably about to ambush me with coconuts for dragging them through this. Details had been vague as I researched the trip, and we’d started further south than I’d planned. But fourteen miles? How’d I get that wrong? How could I make another nine miles when I felt like I was at the end of my rope already? The heat, humidity … my sixty-pound pack. I didn’t want to do it … wasn’t even sure if I could.
They didn’t coconut me to death. They didn’t even complain. We just looked at each other with the knowledge that forward was our only option. No use debating or second guessing. We had to hike nine more miles. We couldn’t go back, so, yes. We’d hike nine more miles.
“Once we clear the second beach…” Nito said as he picked up Ry’s pack with a grunt. “…We can slow it down. Hang in there, it’s not far.”
Ry took Nito’s lighter pack, and our group started down the trail. I was glad to see Ry talking, smiling, and taking pictures again. At that point, I knew he’d be fine. We hiked as before: walk, stop, watch. Walk, stop, wade, rest walk. More wildlife, more pictures, but my enthusiasm dropped each time we stopped. My foot forced me to limp. Taking off my shoes to cross streams was difficult and painful. Eventually, I stopped caring about pictures. I knew I was in trouble when I was too tired to do anything except take a quick glance at creatures I’d been so amped to see. Instead, I’d lean against a tree and close my eyes while the others ooo’ed and awed. I didn’t even take off my pack for the breaks because I wasn’t sure I could get it back on.
The second tide cutoff wasn’t as bad as the first. Instead of a cliff, jungle rose to our right. And the waves weren’t quite as daunting. But the beach was long and the sand grabbed my shoes like I had suction cups on my feet. Pulling and tugging with each step, I kept my legs moving. That was all I could do. I was too tired to talk. Even too tired to reach down for my water hose to take a drink—stupid move on my part. Just one step, then another. Watching my feet and trying not to think about the long beach. The rest of the group seemed to be doing well. Tired, but well. So I just kept it goin.
We stopped at a small waterfall, fresh water out of the jungle, and I dropped my back and sat down. Sitting was heaven. I wanted to sleep. In fact, I might have except for a sudden sharp jolt that electrified my body. I twitched, tensed, and sat up gasping. I couldn’t breath except in quick, shallow gasps.
“Yes!” I nodded. “Hit me again.”
She dumped another gallon on me. Icy cold water crashed on to my head. Hardly able to breath, I took shallow breaths. I felt alive. Electric. I started laughing—crying—I couldn’t help it. It was amazing. So cold, it hurt. But I was so hot, it hurt real good.
Everyone got a turn. That cold water was the most amazing feeling ever. She dumped some on Nito, and he had the same reaction. He was still carrying Ryan’s pack and appeared to be nearly as tired as I was. I wasn’t glad he was exhausted, but it also meant Ry and I weren’t total wimps. He hiked this trail several times a week, but when loaded down like us, even the great Nito struggled. I was glad I wasn’t a total wimp. A stupid idiot for overpacking, yes. But at least not a wimp.
“We don’t have to rush anymore,” Nito said.
“We’ve cleared the second beach?” I said.
“No, but we have no chance of making it now. We’ll have to go over the mountain instead of taking the shortcut across the beach. But at least we don’t have to rush.”
We hiked up through the jungle—Nito led the way hacking with his machete. Sandi loved that. She later said seeing him hack through the jungle with his big knife made it all worth it, and I realized I’d missed on out a golden opportunity to impress my wife. Next time, I will borrow the machete and do some of my own hacking. Parts of the trail were steep. At times, we clung to vines and branches to keep from slipping down the hill. We went up, over, and back down.
Back on the jungle floor, I asked, “How much further?” I probably sounded like a whiny four-year-old on a family trip.
“Not far,” Nito said, like the child’s father.
And like a four-year-old, I believed him. He must have remembered the damage his honesty had caused earlier. Better to leave us in the dark.
Our slower pace helped, but I was still exhausted. My pack was so damn heavy. But I took a few pictures, stopped to look at wildlife, and wasn’t in danger of collapsing. Still, I wasn’t completely myself. I looked up and down one stretch of beach—silky soft sand, waves lapping in clear water, coconut trees hanging over the sand like umbrellas—and thought, “Wow, incredible. I wish I wasn’t so damn exhausted so I could enjoy it.” Then I put my head down and hiked on.
My foot injury altered the way I walked. This changed the dynamics of my hiking shoes, and I felt blisters forming in places that weren’t used to being rubbed. And I made a disastrous mistake. While hiking mindlessly, I wandered too close to the water and the surf caught me. Not only did the salt burn like acid on my heel, it drenched my shoes. I’d been careful to remove them with every water crossing despite the pain and hassle. Now, in one stupid second, all of that didn’t matter. My soaked shoes sloshed, my heel burned, and I could feel the blisters growing.
Everyone was tired, and we tried to make sure nobody crashed again. “You feeling okay? Getting enough water? Do you need to sit down?”
“Yup, thanks. I’ll get there. It’s not so bad.”
“I’m not feeling good. Something is wrong.” Her breathing was deep and cumbered.
“What can I do? What do you need.” I dropped my own back and went to her side. The panic was back.
She shook her head. “Let’s keep going.”
But I was worried.
Further down the trail, she did it again. Then she started to gag, and a stream of water launched from her mouth in a giant arc. Clear water in a ten-foot fountain. Like at the Bellagio in Vegas. Then she did it again. Thick fire-hose projectile vomit. And I didn’t know what that meant, or what the hell we were going to do about it. I’d almost killed Ry, now my wife was spewing out her innerds.
“Wait a minute! You can’t just do that and not explain!” I said.
We figured after seeing Ryan and me go downhill, she’d worried about not drinking enough water and grossly overdone it. After her firehose incident, she was fine. And what I wouldn’t give for some GoPro footage of that.
Our march continued until we stepped into a horrible massacre. Hundreds of hermit crabs were crawling towards or away from a five-gallon-bucket-sized hole in the ground. Egg shells and tiny, turtle body parts littered the area. We stopped and gaped in horror
“Pigs did this,” Nito said. “They found the nest and dug it up.”
He started brushing away the hermit crabs. Clearing the area around the hole.
He picked up a tiny, dead turtle. “And only days from hatching.”
It was a depressing scene. Broken eggs and tiny dead bodies all over the sand. A few of the turtles still twitched, barely alive, but beyond hope. He sifted through the sand and found twelve eggs that had not been destroyed, and reburied them. I remembered the exact count because it was on 12/12/12.
We took a break while Nito worked on saving the twelve eggs. I took a picture than ended up being one of my favorite of all time. It was heaven, but I was too tired to absorb the beauty. I should have spent hours at that spot. Days even. I rested, and when Nito finished covering the turtle nest, hoisted my pack to my back for more trekking.
“We almost there?” I asked him, again.
“Yup, not far,” he answered, again.
By now, I knew what he meant. We still had a ways to go, better not to think about it. We trekked on. Hour after hour.
Rain drizzled, and the sky looked like it was going to get a lot worse. At least the heat was gone, and my shoes were already wet so what did it matter? Out of the jungle, we stopped at the edge of the largest river of the day.
“I’m guessing right now, maybe waste deep. Not swift.” He looked up river, focused. Slowly nodded. “Okay, looks clear, lets go.”
I didn’t take off my shoes, They were already soaked, what did it matter? I started across, pulling up my pack a bit to keep it from getting wet in the deep parts. I stumbled once, nearly fell, and regained my balance. Falling would have been a very bad thing. All my equipment, soaked. “Slow War, take it slow and easy.”
Yeimy and Ry stepped out of the river and I pointed at the snout and eyes floating upstream. “Look at that crocodile.”
We trudged on. One foot in front of the other. My feet sloshing, hurting, growing blisters. By now, I’d decided the hike would never end. This was my life. I’d be doing this forever.
Not long after the croc, Nito said, “That meadow is the landing strip. The ranger station is at the end of it.”
“We made it?” I said.
“Yup, we made it.”
We cheered and picked up the pace. Hiked up the beach, climbed onto the grassy plain. And our excitement drained. The longest jungle runway in the world lay ahead of us. It looked to go forever. I couldn’t see a ranger station anywhere.
We trekked through the grass, and it started to pour. I’d done well with my sore foot, but knowing we were close must have had a psychological effect on me. I hobbled and cringed like three toes had been chopped off. Exhausted and soaked, we walked into camp just before dark.
The ranger station was a series of modest buildings, most connected by raised, covered walkways. Two large decks protected the tents and bedding of campers. We stepped onto the raised, wooden platform, removed our shoes (which caused me to grunt and wince), dumped our packs, and sat. Rain pelted the tin roof above us—it was dumping hard now. I peeled off my sock to inspect the damage. My foot was a mess. My wet shoes and abnormal walking had caused huge blisters on my toes and sides of my feet. My toes were pruned. I took off the bandage and could see my wound was full of yellow puss. Infected already? I cleaned it and dabbed it with alcohol wipes—OUCH! I hadn’t told anyone else about my injury, figured we had bigger problems, so they hadn’t seen it. When they did, I got lots and lots of sympathy. It made it all worth it.
No it didn’t.
“Now, that was a memorable day,” I said. And I meant it. “A real adventure.”
Sandi gave me a stink eye. “Your idea of adventure makes me wonder about your sanity.”
“I agree, War. Today, I accomplished something I thought was impossible,” Ry said.
Ryan and I were both glad we had done it, despite it all. Yeimy and Sandi said never, ever again. Ry and I saw it the same: we’d pushed ourselves beyond what we thought was possible. At that five-mile mark when nine more miles felt impossible, we both knew there was no other option. We had to push forward when it felt impossible. I had hiked fourteen miles through jungle heat and humidity with a sixty-pound pack and an injured foot. And crossed croc infested waters, for god’s sakes! I would never have thought I could pull something like that off. But I did. And it made me stronger.
Nito showed us our campsites. Sandi and I were on one deck, Ry and Yeimy on another. I’d brought bug nets, but Nito pointed at one already set up and said we could use it. Then he brought foam pads so we didn’t have to sleep on the hard wood floor. We laid out our sheets (all you need when camping here), and our camp was set.
I took a shower and, hobbled back to our mosquito netting, and dropped onto our bed. I didn’t get back up. I wrote in my journal with my headlamp on while it poured. Sandi joined the rest of our group for dinner, brought me a plate full, then I tried to sleep. My night was spent jostling, trying to keep my foot elevated, and listening to the rain.
Thanks for reading about my travels. To read more of my adventures, click here to visit my travel page.