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Monday, February 18, 2013

The Hike From Hell!

Happy Birthday to me, I fell on my knee! 

Yes, today's my birthday and it'll be party time here tonight. The Santa Eulalia gang is bringing all the food for a celebration of my big day. And indeed, I am nursing a bit of a bunged up knee from a fall in the river on yesterday's "hike from hell," as Chris baptized it after my dunk in the drink. There'll probably be no dancing for me tonight.

Marcial reconnoiters far down the hill
Yesterday was actually one of our most beautiful and fun treks, but it was difficult, steep and challenging. To summarize, we had three bloodies, two fallers, one punctured and one quitter. Well, Eroca didn't really quit; she just decided on that first steep downhill that she had on the wrong shoes, so she turned back and walked most of the way into town to where Marc was doing his Sunday shift at Kay's Gringo Cafe. A very wise move, as it turned out; they were definitely the wrong shoes for this hike. 

The rest of us trudged on... and on ... and on, following steep cow trails down to the river that meanders through Santa Eulalia before eventually joining up with the Rio Grande in the canyon far below Atenas.
Seidy heads down the hill

Sue snaps Chris "caught" as Eroca looks on
Things were off-kilter from the start: I tore my favorite shorts before even leaving home, Chris and Sue missed their bus, Seidy forgot her camera and Sue's camera battery died after one shot. Then navigating the first barbed wire fence, Chris decided that given his height, he should just step over the fence instead of going through as the rest of us had. Oops. His pant leg caught on the wire, cut his leg a bit and yanked a hole in his favorite pants. First blood was drawn.

Marcial removes the spike
When we had almost reached the bottom of the hill, Sue took her first fall, sliding feet-first on the powdery dirt right into my boots, but I managed somehow to stay upright as we laughed at the treacherous terrain. Finally we reached the river only to find that Marcial had stepped on a huge thorn somewhere along the way. So we sat on some rocks while he dug the offending spike out from his boot.

Marcial helps Sue over the rocks
It being the dry season, the river was quite low leaving many exposed rocks for us to scramble over and allowing a lengthy exploration of the stream. As one bank became impassable, we would simply cross over to the other side, switching sides four or five times. It was on that last crossing that I foolishly decided to follow Seidy, who had stepped lightly across the water on rocks that seemed well spaced to me. But I'm much bigger than Seidy so as I reached with my left foot for the next rock, the stone under my right foot rolled and down I went, catching myself with my right hand and right knee. As I extracted myself from this ignominious position, submerged up to my thighs, Marcial quickly said: "Give me the camera!" It seems the featured players in my regular narratives here enjoy seeing their pictures so Marcial definitely had his priorities in order. Of course, everyone was asking if I was okay and other than a slight pain in that knee and my injured pride, I was fine. Luckily, so was my camera and cell phone. But with blood dripping from a small split in the shin, I became "second blood" on this hellacious excursion. Later Marcial himself became "third blood" as some brush tore his leg. Lesson learned: follow Marcial, our fearless leader Costa Rica Dundee, not little Seidy who moves like a cat.

The scenery along the river was splendid, however, especially one amazing sheer cliff that soared high above us with chunks of rock hanging precariously from the upper reaches. Each layer of rock seemed to extend further out over the river than the one below it, making it appear as if the rock face was leaning toward us. One good earthquake, we decided, and that that big mass of rock hanging by only a narrow strip would come tumbling down, as we could see many hundreds of other boulders had done in the past.
Boulders for a river crossing
At one spot where we wanted to cross, the river was uncooperative offering no suitable causeway so Marcial and Chris proceeded to build a "bridge" by moving large rocks into the shallows of the stream. As they did so, Marcial noticed a dark "rock" he had almost stepped on before realizing it was a turtle. The poor fellow became a star attraction for a few minutes as we stopped to admire him and take his picture before setting him back into the creek.
Chris building a "bridge"; Marcial holding our turtle
Señor Tortuga
Seidy urges me on!
But what goes down must come back up so it was soon time for the uphill portion of the hike, the part Sue and I dread. As well we should in this case as parts of the trail were almost vertical, or so it seemed. At each switchback we would take a short break, drink water and question Marcial as to how much further we had to go. "Oh, not too much farther," he would say. Sue and I would exchange skeptical looks, having heard the same thing at the last stop. At one point, I asked Marcial if he knew where we were or if perhaps we were lost. "No, not lost," he said, "but we do have to find our way from here." Isn't that about the same as lost?

Sue takes a break with the valley below
A bunch of cute piglets
Eventually we began to see familiar landmarks -- the chicken farm in the distance, an old abandoned cabin on a hillside. Crossing through still more barbed wire fences -- some of which left more bloody marks on our legs -- we arrived at a small pig farm located behind Marcial and Seidy's property. By now Sue and I were definitely dragging, trying to avoid catching our boots on vines or stumbling over the rough ground. Indeed, Sue's second fall was on grassy furrowed ground just beyond the pig farm. But no harm, no foul, as we say.

Just squeeze!
Walking through orchards behind Marcial's home, we stopped under an orange tree where Seidy deftly used her walking stick to knock down fruit, which Marcial then peeled and cut off the top for a fresh-squeezed cup of orange juice! "Vitaminas y minerales," Seidy said sagely, and indeed the juice was a definite pick-me-up. 

But it was the cervezas on Marcial's patio that really brought us all back to life. Joined now by Stephen, Eroca and Marc and fortified by fresh fruit and sausage sandwiches we enjoyed a long and wonderful afternoon, looking at family photos of the boys when they were kids and of Marcial and Seidy as a young married couple. It was a memorable time for us all as we continued to deepen our friendship sharing good food, intimate conversation and the joys of Pura Vida!

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