It was 7:30 a.m. on that clear blue sky morning in the north of Costa Rica. It had been about 2 hours since dawn and the reservoir of cool damp air was just starting to burn off. It was a luxury that had to be appreciated when available, because the heat over takes the day early here. We set out going south and did about 5 miles of highway hiking until reaching a little town that would take us in a new direction towards the foot of the volcano. We also left the comfort and convenience of the paved road, and were now on a mostly dirt and sparsely laid pebble road.
I have to elaborate a little on our heading since the route we are taking, according to the best map we could find, just ended. Like many areas of northern Costa Rica, where we were going was not on the map. Roads and routes are local common knowledge and outside the realm of Gmaps and GPS. So, after speaking with the locals in the town where our trip began, we asked if it was possible to pass over the volcano on foot. Everyone said, "sure, it's possible", which assured us that the idea wasn't entirely crazy. However, there was no consensus on an exact route. To us, that just meant we were too far from the source, and accordingly planned to ask along the way.
As we began on the more humble dirt and stone road we confirmed our direction with someone and hiked on. This tactic of navigation backfired a few times before it took on its final form. I say this because our question of, "This is the way to Bijagua, right?" got a response from people that was just not helpful. Although it is "possible" to walk over the volcano, it's not common and even less so for recreation. Some people pointed us towards the nearest tourist attraction thinking that, as foreigners, we were obviously mistaken asking such a thing and must be lost. Others, pointed us clearly in the wrong direction to return to more conventional routes. So, our question finally took the form of, "is this the way to the next town over?" and with that we began to follow the cookie crumbs over the uncharted crag.
The meandering country road eventually led us to an inclined path that was hard to distinguish since a relatively recent storm had eroded away much of where it began. Not without hesitation, we started somewhat of a climb up the path on the advise of a town's person, who assured us that this path would lead to an oxen trail, that would take us by some farms, then eventually to a place where some squatters have settled, and beyond that we would get to our next point, Rio Celeste. At the time, we didn't put much emphasis on the fact that everything was riding on the premise that what these people were telling us was true. However, since we had established before hand that the local source for directions was superior to any other, even our own, it removed any cause for concern. It also made it easy for us to focus on the task of following the directions given to us rather then deciding which direction was best.
It's worth noting that when traversing off the beaten trail, and even more so while passing by or through remote farm land, it is customary to introduce yourself to anyone who takes notice of you. This is an easy way to dispel any concern they might have of you being up to no good. One such encounter had us exchanging words with a man working on his horse from a distance of about 100 yards, and our small talk consisted of us reconfirming our heading. When this cowboy realized that both the distance and language were inhibiting our understanding of what he was telling us, he hopped on his horse and slowly trotted over to us. Although we had exchanged the required quota of pleasantries, at this new distance the site of us made it necessary for him to reassess us. So, as if we had never spoken we reiterated our motives, and after conceding to our explanation of what we were doing he told us how this path we were on would change to an oxen trail, that would lead us to the squatter's land, and just beyond that, Rio Celeste. Only now, he warned of the difficulty in trying to distinguish which way to go when the path ambiguously turned into oxen trails.
|Taking his advice this time and following closely|
Although he wasn't 100% certain about our well being, the horseman brought us far enough to be confident that the oxen trails shouldn't cause us any more problems. He did, on the other hand, warn us to be careful of the squatters. "You know, they don't like people passing through their land", he told us. "If you can, just walk right through as quickly as possible", he recommended, and with our gratitude evident we carried on up the volcano.
Due to the incline, Mick and I had picked up walking sticks along the way that would later double as a means of self defense in not one, but two dog encounters. The first one occurred not long after we acquired our new multipurpose tools. While walking by one of the remotely located houses peppered along our route it's k-9 occupants took notice of us, and quickly made their unwelcoming sentiment clear. In standard pack formation about 6 teeth wielding dogs came charging at us in order of size, from small to large. If not for our staffs we would have been no match for the semicircle attack the out numbering guard dogs were deploying. Mick and I, with no option to run, quickly maneuvered into what could only be described as a makeshift Spartan Phalanx. We sunk our heals in and the first contact that small dog had with the tip of our spears sent him waling in retreat. The others heeded this cry and also backed off and only continued to bark until we were out of sight.
|Distracted by a puma for our self timer snapshot|
After confirming our benign intentions the friendly squatters not only pointed us in the right direction, but they invited us in for some coffee. Although it was tempting, we politely declined. In our short interaction they divulged insight as to why everyone had told us to be weary of them. They mentioned how they don't take kindly to people nosing around their area, because they are usually officials and other people trying to see what they are up to so they can figure out a way to kick them off the land. They assured us that they are just hard working farmers. Ourselves reassured as well now, we thanked them for their help, wished them luck, and we were off to Rio Celeste.
|Our fist sight of Rio Celest crossing a "bridge" to the other side.|
|Mick performed the structural integrity test|
|This is where we crossed the river by actually going through it|
After correcting for our mistakes, and following our intuition we continued on without anymore instances of getting lost. We did have a second encounter with another group of dogs, but by this point it was like shooting fish in a barrel (no dogs were actually harmed). With a little bit of alpha projection and the tap of a big stick those K-9's took for the high ground. Now that our internal compass was fully calibrated the fact that night fall set in while knowing there was still a good 3 hours of hiking left didn't phase us. We just flicked on our head lamps and trekked on. We made it in to Bijagua just before midnight and that moment couldn't have arrived soon enough for our friend that was waiting for us with the young Bavaria.
The faith in our plan and the advice of others eventually got us lost on more than one occasion, but we quickly realized that we could rely on instinct and the heads on our shoulders to self-correct. In the end our route would not be determined by other people or our mistakes, but rather by us sticking to our birds eye view of the big picture of where we wanted to end up.