After three fantastic weeks in the jungle, we headed back to Field Base to find out where we were going next. This was an experience in its own.
We all (70 of us!) stood in a circle blindfolded. Our future project managers came and drew a picture on our hands which was relevant to whatever we were going to do next. Once de-blindfolded, we had to find those of our fellow volunteers with the same picture and we were then told what lay ahead.
I think I knew the moment my PM drew on my hand that I was going on trek. I could kind of make out a red dragon on my hand, but wasn’t sure. Lo and behold… Dragon Trek it was. 300km, 20 days. I thought I’d feel sick but I was strangely calm (I think I was in denial).
BUT, instead of being one of the most painful, most life-sucking experiences of my life, it was actually pretty fricking great.
What follows are excerpts from my diary during those 18 days.
Day 1 – 18km
Today was interesting! So. Many. F*****g. Hills.
We woke up at 3.30am, packed the tents up in the dark and ate some very good porridge under the stars. Eating breakfast under them is going to become a regular occurrence – something I’m very excited about.
The last kilometre was the trickiest bit of the day after all the hills. Exhausted, pooped and very sweaty, that 1km was tough, tough, tough.
Day 2 – 17km
Today we reached our lunch spot by 10.15am. Never eaten lunch so early!
Crazily, we arrived at 12.30pm. Yesterday, with only 1km more to walk, it took us 9 hours (not including our lunch stop). Today, we set off at 5.15am and took 7 hours. Those 2 hours made all the difference.
Day 3 -10km
Up at 3.30am, left a few minutes after 5. Walked the first 5km in 1.5 hours. Stopped off at a pulpería (little corner shops) to ask for directions. A little boy came up to me and gave me a flower and said ‘you are beautiful’ in heavily accented Spanish and helped by Enmanuel, one of my Costa Rican friends.
Day 4 – 21km
An even earlier start than usual to meet a guide at sunrise for today’s trek. We were instructed to met him ‘by the beautiful tree, after the second gate’ in the next village over.
The tree was indeed beautiful and we sat beneath it, alongside white cows with massive ears and a pony who actually ended up leading us there from our camping spot. We watched the sun rise over the surrounding mountains.
Later, we ate lunch by a river and then…
We faced the longest, the steepest and the cruellest trek up from the river to a village called Plomo. It was tough. It was relentless. It was painful – literally full of pain. I had blood, sweat and (not tears, but) snot on my t-shirt.
Day 5 – 17km
Onwards and upwards, right on top of the world. School buses, men on horses herding cows and the Raleigh pick up (with the logistics team who dropped food off with us yesterday) all passed us and at this point it was only 7am.
Started walking again after a pulpería stop but just felt absolutely knackered. My body and mind are exhausted. I think the only way out of this it to get into a good chat with others. So that’s what I did and it worked!
Day 6 – 12km
Passed by an old lady milking a cow in her driveway with a huge jug of fresh milk. Around half a kilometre after, by some lovely miracle (i.e. my lovely feet and legs and body) we arrived in Ceiba Este!!!
This whole experience is making me realise that I really don’t need much to be happy: a notebook, pen, paints are good as well as a bed, roof and food. That being said, at the end of the day what really makes things GOOD are the people.
What makes life when trekking not so great are the blisters… now, with every step I take, my feet burn. But, all I can do is keep going!
Day 7 – 13.5km
Today we wiggled away along the edges of several mountains and it felt like it took ages. The terrain around here was very Tuscan – dry, arid ground scattered with rows of plants upon plants. My favourite part of the day was arriving in Legua not only because we were near the end but because of the people we came into contact with. Women and men tending to coffee plants on the mountainside, then an old man – toothless and in a fedora hat – standing beneath an orange tree saying hello and cheering us on.
Day 8 – 7km
We arrived at Dragon Mountain base camp! We ate lunch on the precipice of the hill at the bottom of the mountain and then proceeded to fall asleep. I hadn’t quite suitably covered myself in sun cream, thus I now resemble a human Squashy.
Day 9 – 19km
My thoughts as we started climbing Dragon Mountain:
⁃ This is too hard. I want to get back into my sleeping bag.
⁃ I’m too tired
⁃ I hate this. Why did I sign up for this?!
⁃ Why am I putting myself through this pain?!
My thoughts slightly higher up:
⁃ Ok, I’m not the last person. I could be struggling more.
⁃ This is just like a more adventurous and authentic session on the stair climber at the gym.
My thoughts halfway up:
⁃ Omg! The views are amazing!
⁃ Omg! The way the sunlight is striking and flittering trough the treetops is BEAUTIFUL.
⁃ Omg! I feel like I’m in Narnia
⁃ Omg! So many plants! The world is so f*****g amazing!
⁃ Omg! I can do this! And this is magical!
My thoughts at the top:
⁃ I did it!!! :)))))
Day 10 – 14km
As we ate breakfast in the bar of the restaurant we were staying near (no English fry ups for us – our own porridge, of course!) a bashed up car screeched up outside and out jumped this short, skinny Costa Rican man. He made a beeline for the bar, went behind it, grabbed a bottle of whisky, poured himself a glass, drank it whole, washed the glass out, chatted to the restaurant manager briefly then hopped back into his car and screeched away. A comforting thought as we were to walk a couple of kilometres on that very same road in mere minutes…
Day 11 – 12km
A bit of a lie in today – 4.30am! Yippee!
Day 12 – 7km
After breakfast came the challenge not of walking but of setting up the yoga themed photo for the Raleigh photo competition. Eduardo and I somehow found ourselves in charge of this. We left and began trekking 1 hour later than planned, at 9am. Our latest start EVER! Practically lunch time…!
Day 13 – 22km
After several hours of walking, we reached the highest point of the whole trek – at 2,800m, we were even higher than Dragon Mountain itself!
We plodded our way downhill from there. I do actually find downhill the hardest and most boring – my feet and knees kill plus there is very little satisfaction factor.
Day 14 – 21km
What a tiring day. The thing is that tomorrow is going to be even more tiring…
Today was jungle day, the day we ventured high up into the cloud forest – for which Costa Rica is famous. We saw many beautiful plants – my favourite was a moss like covering of little white and pink flowers. They were very squishy and soft, ‘like a fairy bed’ (Ellie).
Day 15 – 26km
A big day today which I survived!! And I survived it WELL!! 26km of walking up and down some really fricking huge hills.
Some farmers stopped by us during one of our breaks and gave us each a lemon (which actually look like oranges or satsumas here). But, alas, the entire lemon experience was not one of the sweet lemon kind – the most popular type of lemon in Costa Rica… I took a huge bite and all I can say is that it was worse than a shot of tequila in its brutality. Claire found my reaction very funny to say the least.
Day 16 – 13km
Thankfully the route today – our penultimate day – was relatively short and flat, following the river down The Valley.
An hour into the trek we had our first break. I felt truly sick, sick, sick. People asked me how I was feeling and, in all honesty, I nearly cried. I had the lump and tears formed in my eyes. But, nothing! This seems to be the way things go at the moment: I just don’t cry!
At one point I was walking on my own and became slightly delirious around 2km from our destination, El Brujo (but in a normal way. As normal as you can get in a semi delirious state). This is how it went…
‘Amazing legs. Thank you, legs.’
‘Amazing head. Thank you, head.’
‘Amazing feet. Thank you, feet.’
and so on…
But it rings a lot of truth. I’ve realised that my legs and head and feet and body are all so amazingly strong and wonderful and brave. This is something I definitely didn’t appreciate in the same way before.
Day 17 – 15km
Our final day walking! And I am day leader for the 2nd time. Today was the first time we got lost, too… Oops! We walked 3 metres down a wrong road and stopped once the road disappeared into a river. Pretty good after nearly 18 days of trekking though.
As we came to the edges of Silencio, an old lady gave us a large coke bottle of ice. Heaven under the scorching sun. Finally we walked into Silencio and FINISHED THE WHOLE TREK.
Looking back, this experience gave me so much. I have a new found appreciation for all that my body can do – this is certainly something we forget in everyday life.
Secondly, it taught me true perseverance in a way that A levels and school couldn’t. We had no other option but to keep on walking – whilst a very civilised experience (bar the copious amount of sweat), it was almost a case of survival.
I also learnt a lot more about what it means to be a leader. I found that keeping morale high, motivating a group and leading from behind are some of the most important things to bear in mind.
Finally, it cemented in me the belief that we, as humans, actually need very little in order to live our lives in a successful and happy way. Carrying my whole life on my back for nearly three weeks was incredibly liberating – I am now, without a shadow of a doubt, less inclined to the materialistic way of life drilled into us. I now can’t wait to do yet another spring clean of my bedroom once home…