Saturday, February 13, 2010

The winter cometh

Our bus chugged mightily as it hauled us and our luggage and gear higher and higher through the winding roads of the Costa Rican mountains. By about 5:00 pm, we gone as far as the bus could take us and we pulled off at a dirt road leading into the depths of a mountainous valley. A small wooden cantina by the side of the road was our gateway to the winding road.

Most of the class began what was promised as a brief hike to the research station where we’d be staying for the next six nights and a few of us selflessly (we thought) volunteered to stay behind with our gear, which couldn’t all fit within the single available truck. Stoically, we began what we thought would be a wait of several minutes until the car returned for another load.

As we waited, we discussed the biodiversity of this unique area and our plans for the next week, gradually though, we began to notice our breath had become visible with each word that left our mouths. Looking around nervously, we saw a thick fog had begun to envelop the jungle canopy and was closing in around us. Although the instructors had told us what to expect of this region and urged us to pack jackets and wool caps for our stay here, it was still a shock to the system to be shivering while surrounded by a tropical forest. Those that had left before us were subjected to a litany of unflattering curses as we imagined them eating dinner and sharing rum around the fireplace.

We were to stay the next week in Cerro de la Muerte, a region of high elevation mountains in the southwestern portion of Costa Rica. During the day, residents experience comfortable weather typical of a warm spring day back home in the States, but as night falls, the fog rolls in and temperatures drop precipitously. Early travelers to the area were occasionally trapped by the cold and chilled enough to develop hypothermia and in some cases, death.

As the remaining light vanished, we dug through the remaining luggage for any of our winter clothing and I was pleased to see my hunter orange wool cap and light jacket hadn’t yet been transported to the station. Somewhat buffered by the rapidly dropping temperatures, we checked our watches and angrily exclaimed we had been waiting over an hour for the car to return. Over this time, we had unconsciously moved closer and closer to each other until we were practically huddled together in a tight circle, perhaps in the hope of conserving warmth.

Benoit begins to panic as the fog advances.

When a pair of headlights finally emerged from the now black road and revealed themselves to be from the course truck, we were prepared for martyrdom, permitting of course, if there was time after cursing out everyone else for being so inconsiderate in eating dinner while we heroically persevered in the cold to watch their luggage. But, what we heard from the driver Julio forced us to reexamine our condition.

The distance to our accommodations had been underestimated to the extent that those who had set off on the hike over an hour earlier had yet to reach it. Most of the other students were without their winter gear or flashlights and had been enduring on their long march to the station, still over a mile from the nearest person. Our condition seemed pretty mild in comparison, and we swallowed our angry tirades. Telling Julio to take some of the luggage and pick up the stragglers with any of the remaining room, we solemnly agreed together to wait once more for the truck to return. As it disappeared into the inky valley road, we soberly retreated to the nearby cantina and chipped away at our sobriety with toasts to group togetherness, feeling only slightly guilty about our newly appreciated good fortune.

Despite the signs, the burgers weren't really made of monkey.


Anonymous said...

I thought I was reading a story. Please let me know what happened in the end.

David Steen said...

Jessica, we did eventually make it to the site; I'll elaborate on what happened there in future blogs.

Anonymous said... the meanwhile, three girls were in the middle of the road, wondering if the group that headed first will known they were pretty much lost since they will assume these girls were with the group watching the luggage or viceversa. The sun hid and with just a head lamp and half bottle of water the girls continue their way to an unknown place, hoping to see (eventually) a group of people laughing and having dinner while the girls were freezing in the dark....