Being a Gringo Sherpa in the Jungles of Costa Rica
Sweat poured down my brow, forming a roaring rapids like, profuse stream that flowed as swiftly as the jungle stream swelled after 3 days of torrential downpours.
I was carrying our groceries for the week – as was the custom – on Saturday morning, because we lived in a remote area of Costa Rica jungle by Bribri, and the nearest 7-11 was not exactly a hop skip and jump around the block.
I was a pack mule, carrying:
- groceries for 7 days
- my laptop
- Kelli’s laptop
During one intense trip I wound up carrying my wife too; Kelli could not make it across the stream safely after 3 days of jungle downpours. Waters raged up to our thighs, all but sweeping us downstream. As I held the goods, the laptops and Kelli, I slowly pulled all the booty across the water, praying to God that we’d make it across without facing a crocodile or poisonous snake or God knows what else lived in this deep jungle region on the Caribbean side of Tico Land.
My forearms burned, sweat glistening in the sun as these muscles bulged like Popeye’s guns. As my neck sinew strained I felt my hands tiring; holding your grub for the week with a vice-like grip while traversing jungle terrain tends to give you a workout that a stress ball just cannot re-create.
Oh yeah; I forgot to mention we walked over 3 miles – or 3 hours, for some intense trips – from Bribri town center to the jungle hut. Toss in the fact that the last mile was a mountain with a 30% grade in some spots and you had a workout quite unlike any I had engaged in….and I used to bust my ass back in the day with my fitness regimens.
We walked from hut to Bribri on Friday morning.
Not too bad because virtually all of the journey was downhill. Still treacherous as shit. But in the same regard, we would roll if we fell. Gravity would be our friend.
Friday was a chill day in civilization. First we started busing to Puerto Viejo but tired of the scene, so the last few weeks we chilled in sleepy little Bribri.
Tasty food, some R and R, and maybe 2 hours on the internet each Friday – just to check email – and we’d hit the sack nice and early. We were conditioned to do so in the jungle; even though we had electricity in Bribri we passed out between 7-8 on most nights in la selva because the sun dropped before 6 deep in the jungle, and then, what else could you do save a little reading by candle light, then, falling asleep?
I awoke at 6 AM. We went to the grocery store. Stocked up.
- flour and yeast for pan baked bread
- textured soy protein
- a few fresh goods that only lasted 1 day; no refrigeration in a place without electricity
- various other food stuffs
The load felt heavy enough; toss in 2 laptops and the hike, and you had something intense.
After stocking up at the store I packed some groceries in one backpack, and the 2 laptops in the other backpack.
Pack-muled up, the Gringo Sherpa slowly began my trek toward the belly of the beast.
Bievenidos a La Selva!
Bribri proper trekking was cake. Dirt road. Although the heat and humidity could tax the body.
After 15 minutes of dirt rode hiking we entered the outskirts of the jungle. At this point, I lost my sneakers and replaced with boots. Rubber boots. Like real rubber boots, that could withstand some serious jungle terrain.
We then passed our first stream. No big deal, save the insane day preceded by 3 days of torrential downpours.
Slowly the journey unfolded, as the canopy swallowed us whole, and Kelli and I worked our way a bit higher, elevation-wise.
We passed the second stream. More of a challenge – wide-berth – but fairly shallow.
A relatively routine jaunt brought us to the deepest stream. Not too wide but on a good day the water reached well above las botas.
Then…..up we went. The neck and forearms and back and calves began burning at this point. Sometimes I stopped to regroup. Other times I plowed through.
Remember guys; I was not carrying a dainty tea set. We’re talking the week’s worth of groceries, plus 2 laptops.
The Final Stretch
This is where shit got real.
A steep mini-hill with a serious incline stood in our way. Up and away we went, heading toward the genuine, dyed in the wool, deep, remote jungle.
After the climb, another mini valley…..or, a breather before the Real Deal.
We would look ahead to see a 1 mile high mountain with hellishly steep grades in some spots. My quads began to catch fire about 20 meters up the hill. I trudged on. I needed to carry the food, or else we would not eat, and if we did not eat, we would die, or feast on each other. I am not nearly succulent enough for Kelli’s refined palate. So I carried the food.
Landslides regularly occurred on this mountain after Biblical rains, but thank goodness, before or after we cruised through. Entire trees were felled by floods, lightning or winds, or some form of pestilence? We barreled our way through.
Near the top of the hill, I always recall wishing I were somewhere inside, in air conditioning, with a fridge in the kitchen, ice cold water, and….I just dreamed of comfort. I trudged on.
I reached the top of the hill. Kelli followed.
Now we entered the really deep, heavy, lush jungle, being completely swallowed up by the canopy. No light here. Always shade. Puddles lasted forever.
I once fell knee deep in mud here; Kelli did as well. Downhill we went, being close to the hut, but these last 30 minutes were the most dangerous.
You could easily fall and break a leg; perpetually muddy, slippery jungle floor. I also spotted brilliantly colored snakes in the area I assumed could quite well be venomous.
Onward we went.
The last 10 minutes were a true descent into hell, me feeling like Dante drilling down into the Inferno. Bullet ants and poison dart frogs waited for you to fall, the ant’s gaping jaws terrifying me, and stinger housing the world’s most painful insect bite, and the frog’s brilliant colors advertising its poison, making you hyper alert on your toes.
Kelli and I almost had to climb backwards at this point, the path became so steep and filled with rocks.
Finally, we arrived. I dropped the food and lappies on the porch. Thunder the Rhodesian Ridgeback greeted us.
On my reduced calorie diet – one can only eat so much rice and textured soy protein, and Tico corn flakes – it took me 1-2 days to fully recover from these brutal pack mule sessions.
But nobody ever said it was gonna be easy, being a Gringo Sherpa.