New Publication: Jungle, desert, and elusive spider monkeys

The Gazette
Jungle, desert and elusive spider monkeys

This season’s issue of The Gazette features an article I wrote on my solo trek up the 12,529 foot Cerro Chirripo, the highest peak in Costa Rica and second highest in Central America.

The article, Jungle, desert, and elusive spider monkeys, provides a personal account of this exciting hike and the obstacles I faced along the way, including a misleading guidebook description, a painfully heavy pack, and a lack of hot food. Interestingly enough, I felt totally at home.

Get your hands on the current issue and come and see what I learned about Costa Rica upon arriving at Crestones Base Lodge at 11,063 feet. You might be surprised, too.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.

La Paz y la Amistad

Step aside Oprah, Dr. Phil, and all you neo-yogic philosophers…these Ticos have definitely learned the secret to the simple and peaceful life of constant contentment.  My experience so far leads me to believe that either they have more than just coffee beans in their morning brew, or that as a people they have chosen a life of happiness.

I was reading yesterday about the history of Costa Rica, and how it was really only in the last century that this small country adopted the progressive mindset that has made it the peace-loving oasis of Central America. In the 1940s, Jose Figueres Ferrer, head of a temporary junta government, enacted nearly 1000 decrees – from taxing the wealthy to voting rights to women – and also laid the foundation for the disarmament of the national military, which still remains today. At the local level, Ticos know how to take care of each other and live in harmony. Obviously very family oriented, at times they almost seem like actors in a commercial for Disney World, walking hand-in-hand, mother, father and daughter to the pier to watch the sunset. They no doubt deal with their own difficulties in life, but they are also warm and friendly with visitors, and are proud to show off their country to those willing to travel to see it.

At times the juxtapositions are humorous, though. Sitting high up in the mountains on the edge of Parque Nacional Chirripo, I took a taxi from San Isidro down 10 km of paved roads to Rivas, and then down 12km of cobblestone roads clinging precariously against the steep slopes of the peaks blanketed in thick greenery. Just when you thought the road could go no further, it turned again, eventually revealing Albergue Uran nestled beautifully close to the trailhead that I plan on taking tomorrow morning, just outside the town of San Gerardo de Rivas. At the hostel, however, I am greeted by a local woman wearing 3-inch platform sandals, who walks her way down the cobblestone as if she was on 5-foot stilts. She is wearing capris and a tight tanktop, and obviously put a lot of time into her make-up. No matter where you go, the women are dressed to the nines, even if they have to swing on vines to get to work. They are all beautiful people with so much to give.

In 1502, when Christopher Columbus landed on the eastern coast of the country to make repairs to his ship, he ventured inland and made exchanges with the local people. When he returned from the encounter, he claimed to have seen more gold in two days than in his four years in Espanola. Hence, the name Costa Rica, or the Rich Coast, came to adorn this land of dense, unforgiving jungle, though his predecessors found no gold in the area. Eventually they would discover soil that was rich enough to grow coffee and bananas, which put Costa Rica on the map. Gold or no gold, these Ticos are wealthy beyond measure for they have found a secret so dear that an adventurous Canadian had to travel thousands of kilometres to discover it.

Nothing is worth more than peace, if only inside yourself. And friendliness goes a long, long way.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009

Greetings from the Rich Coast

Hola from the capital of Costa Rica! I find myself  typing on a letterless keyboard, scarred by over-use of other backpackers. It  challenges even the most prolific of typers.

I landed yesterday in San Jose after a long and tedious day of travel. My hostel feels a bit like a fortress and safe-haven in this otherwise tedious, busy, loud, and crowded city. The staff here at the hostel are friendly and helpful, but downtown San Jose is a bit of a maze, and today I felt like a mouse in a lab trying to find my way to some building between Calle 3 and 5 when only about 2% of the streets are actually indicated. A nice bus trip through the countryside on my way down to Puerto Jimenez tomorrow will offer a nice antidote to this somewhat overwhelming day.

Today, my errands took me to the Banco Nacional where I stumbled my way through an important transaction – in an embarrasing display of Franish/Spench –  in order to secure my reservation at Crestones Base Lodge, which sits close to the summit of Cerro Chirripo, the highest mountain in Central America. I also went to the supermercado, where a very large mango appealed to my yearning for fresh, tropical produce. The day was mostly spent researching and reading, and sipping on some of the best coffee  in the world, which costs a meagre dollar when I have to pay for it (a deal compared to the $2.20 I pay in Banff).

Well my frustration has proven to have lost to this keyboard, so I will close this entry for now. Internet access  seems widespread, though, so I should have better luck at some point. I am off to the South tomorrow for beaches and hiking, an 8-hour busride that will take me up to 10,000 feet and back down to sea-level.

Stay posted for more adventures from the Rich Coast!

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.