Quetzal/Camino de Costa Rica/My Penance

Today, my heart nearly exploded, at least according to the Apple Watch I’m now wearing, it tracks my daily heart rate, continuously. Today is also day? I now forget; I’m reliving a thru hike of the Camino de Costa Rica. It’s June 2019, and I am now here – in Costa Rica. Just a month earlier, I walked the Camino de Santiago; all the way from France to the Atlantic Ocean. So to be fair, I was in good walking shape.

One of the above is not a guide.

How I went from there to here is a story worthy of reflecting on but, for reasons known to me, I won’t be reflecting, at least not in print, anytime soon.

This place/road/weather/experience today is perfect for say, an “Act of Penance”. In the olden days if you needed to demonstrate being sorry for something, you could wear a sackcloth with ashes sprinkled throughout (hence the phrase sackcloth and ashes) whose goal was to make the wearer very itchy and uncomfortable.

Our walk started on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. We walked through a moving wall of mosquito jungle. If I could trade sackcloth and ashes for those countless little bastards that feasted on us – I believe the five of us would prefer, the sackcloth littered with ashes.

Today, the Camino de Costa Rica is called a Camino. By calling it a Camino you may think Middle Ages. I now think, survival of the fittest to make it all the way to the Pacific. The experience I wanted was focused more on the scenery, the solitude, the wilderness, and the mountains. It’s not what I got entirely but, in the end it was an awesome experience; the people and guides made it so.

Costa Rica is certainly a backpackers paradise that you won’t easily forget; especially, if you arrive during any part of the rainy season. Rainy season is generally beginning of May to the end of November.

Today, our culprit is not rain or mosquitoes but, a Spanish meseta like shadeless road, with a twenty something degree, near vertical climb, add in the high humidity, and body draining heat; more suitable into growing coffee fields and droopy banana fields that are now also all around. Am I now on an endless dirt mountain road – I begin to wonder?

And just like the camino de Costa Rica itself; – it’s all just a work in progress. Thankfully, we have outstanding guides now with us every step of the way.

Our guides are priest or Angel like, ready at a moment’s notice to capture you should you fall; or worse. A hornets nest full of marauding bees once lay right on our very path, they would not let us pass, no matter what we tried. And for the longest times the guides were more concerned with encountering anyone of the six deadliest snakes that also frequent the area.

And if the above is not enough deterrent for you; you can still arrive on your Camino in an out of shape or un climatized form. Heat exhaustion or dehydration can still kill you.

My daytime walking dream earlier went something like this. A middle age priest promised a penance to top all penances for my sins after hearing my confession.

A prayer to do penance, just doesn’t look or feel right – it’s more symbolic than anything else.

My sin was so bad he ordered my penance be performed in two parts. The first part was to catch a Costa Rican Quetzal and to now carry it with me on the camino all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

What’s the second part I asked? To pluck a feather of the Quetzal for every mile of my journey. In a total exhaustive state, I replied back that I couldn’t do that to such a beautiful creature.

Good he said; now continue on your way and don’t ever do what you sinned again.” All was now forgiven but, not yet forgotten and healed.

Today, we continue walking stage seven, aka Estapa 7; of el camino de Costa Rica. Conchita and her trusty caballo blanco Mitsubishi 4×4 followed behind; at times she proceeds ahead and waits for us.

Today she rescues yet another injured pilgrim. Conchita credits her driving to the 4x4s vehicles ability to climb but, I know better. Not just anyone can drive on roads we just walked on and exit unscathed.

And today also, we are handed off to a second guide that will lead us into an impassable section of a jungle road. The road appears destroyed by a flash flood or other catastrophe making driving it impossible.

Yet, this area now becomes a cloud forest, and quickly we find that it’s also home to a breeding pair of one the most important (and gorgeous birds) of the region – the Quetzal.

My friend Rick came to Costa Rica once just to photograph this bird. He waited on a suspension bridge for around six hours to capture a gorgeous picture of a Quetzal.

Our laid-back group after sloshing through the jungle, by chance now encounters our very own Quetzal, in a very picturesque and tropical setting.

In 1982, Don Valiña Sampedro Elias’ marked the camino de Santiago (Spain) with yellow arrows. Elias’ camino project made it easy for other pilgrims to find their “way” by simply following the yellow arrows.

To show you that it worked; the numbers two years later went from 1,000 pilgrims in 1984 to over 300,000 pilgrims in 2004.

Conchita and her nonprofit group Mar a Mar (caminocostarica.org) are working hard to make this camino another tourism beacon for Costa Rica bound pelegrinos looking for the adventure of a lifetime, by walking from the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean. There are no markings when we walked through. Without guides you could easily become lost or worse. If you also plan on a thru hike of the Camino de Costa Rica you should plan for at least a week or two depending on your experience level.

Of course you still need a guide through indigenous lands. Via Lig Tours Fincavialig.com should be your start point.

So, if my heart truly would’ve exploded, not to worry, at home my Compostela awaits. A Compostela issued in Santiago allows one to bypass the purgatory period before being allowed to enter heaven. A compostela here? Maybe you’ll see your own Quetzal.

The camino de Costa Rica will never become a walk in the park or ever fail to challenge you.

One of our pilgrims during my camino injured her knee while walking; two hundred floors of up and down jungle trail walking has a way of taking its toil and weeding out the unprepared or camino uninitiated.

So, are you up to the challenge? IMHO anyone fresh off the camino in Spain that walked their way from France to Finisterre should be able to bag this camino.

Today, my Apple watch says we tackled 215 floors climbed, 16.3 miles of walking and over 30,000 steps were taken.

The high humidity and the full sun took it’s toll on all of us, plus the rocky road did a fine job of tenderizing my feet.The trail now offers up more sugar cane fields, than coffee or banana fields; the river down below is truly amazing scenery that should be experienced at least once. Past Cipal there is another long climb.

We finished our delicious lunch atop a mountain top – cooked fresh by Armando. Homegrown skewered mushrooms, onions, peppers, potatoes, and pineapple.

On a separate aluminum wrapped offering was a larger than normal mushroom stuffed with locally grown cheese.

Another side dish-offering included a ripe plantain banana about a foot long also stuffed with more cheese.

Lunch dessert was a pineapple slice soaked in a homemade juice, charcoal fire smoked to perfection.

If that doesn’t sound appetizing to you then you can easily pack your own lunch.

“Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past.

It is the turning aside, like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness that seems as

transitory as your youth once,

but, is the eternity that awaits you.”

– R S Thomas

Trawlercat 1/26/2021