Off to Nepal!

Hoping I'm not forgetting something...

My final preparations are being made for my 9 weeks in Nepal! With a Monday departure, I’ve finally wrapped up any remaining contracts and started putting items aside to pack. I’ll be trekking in Nepal with my husband and a few friends in a variety of areas, including Mustang, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Manaslu and Everest (no climbing, though!) I’ve just written a longer post for my blog, The Campsite, if you’re curious to know more.

In addition to trekking, I’ll be conducting some hands-on research into the garbage removal and accumulation at Mt. Everest, the tug-of-war between tourism and tradition for the Sherpa people, and the ongoing environmental issues in Nepal, such as deforestation and over-grazing. No doubt, more stories will emerge as we trek along!

I’m looking forward to having some time to write while I’m there and work on some of my other “projects” – ideas I’ll keep to myself for now, but will no doubt surface in the year to come!

Stay tuned here, to The Campsite, and particularly to my Facebook Page, where I hope to post more frequent updates.

Namaste,

Meghan

Cerro Chirripo: 12,530 Feet

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

I don’t know what ‘Chirripo’ means, but based on the climb to Crestones Base Lodge, it makes me think it means “The Annihilator.”

Sitting at 12,530 feet, Cerro Chirripo is the highest peak in all of Costa Rica. I decided it would be a good idea to set my sights on hiking up the thing – a kind of ‘right of passage’ on this solo trip I have taken to Central America. Starting in San Gerardo de Rivas, which lies at the same elevation as the town of Banff, I think, I embarked at 4:45 am on Day 1 with hopeful optimism. “I’ve done this dozens of time before,” I thought to myself, trying to boost my confidence as I entered the mess of vines and trees that line the 20 km trail to the top.

Around the 7th km, I found out that the base lodge where I would spend the night was actually at 14.5 km in and not 10 km in (thank you, Lonely Planet). It ruffled my feathers a bit, but I had no choice but to keep going. The sun was coming up higher and the heat and humidity starting to produce beads of sweat all over my face…the kind you see in a Gatorade Commercial. Around the 10th km, I stopped for a rest, feeling the weight of my pack starting to bear down on my shoulders. All of a sudden I felt like I had two anvils attached to my feet, and the Empire State Building sitting between my shoulder blades. It made for a fairly painful climb for the last few kilometers to the base lodge, which is situated in a valley that was the victim of a large forest fire back in the 1990s. Skeletons of trees reach out eerily from a fairly barren landscape, with only lizards to keep them company. A dense fog rolled in, welcoming me to 11,000 feet, where the rather large hut sits in the hillside.

My 2:30 am alarm the next morning was actually music to my ears after a cold, sleepless night. I hit the trail just before 3 am, and saw that a lightning storm was attacking the earth not too far away. I waited a few minutes to see which direction it was going, and just when I decided it wasn’t coming towards me, a guy from the UK came up the trail and we hiked to the summit together. The summit lay just over 5 km from the base lodge, and involved a rather exciting scramble at the finish. Clouds were low at the top, but had they been clear, apparently I could have seen both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean waters from the this viewpoint. It was still a beautiful moment, not just because of the scenery but because I had reached the top. It was the highest I’ve ever been, in fact.

I spent the rest of the day at the base lodge, wrapped in a blanket and wearing my toque and mitts…never thought I’d be that cold in Costa Rica. Another cold night awaited me but I was prepared with the blanket, which cost me about 1000 colones, and was well worth it. The hike back down the 14.5 km the following day only took me 4.5 hours, compared to the 7 hours it took to get to the summit.

After arriving back at Albergue Uran, where I enjoyed a wee feast of fajitas, “The Annihilator” simply became “Cerro Chirripo,” and a big check-mark on my itinerary. And so did the spider monkeys that I saw along the trail shortly before I exited the park. Swinging with not a care in the world, they definitely excited the little girl in me, and lifted the weight from my shoulders for the last leg of the trail.

Coming up is Volcan Arenal in La Fortuna, the Cloud Forest in Monteverde, and the beach at Santa Teresa.

© 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.