It seems that each “start” of the trip for us comes with a test of our convictions, a “prove yourself” diversion that would make even the most confident travelers question whether they could hack it (remember our first series of unfortunate events). After four cushy months living in CT, our first few days back on the road did just this. It started with the gasoline leak we noticed when we picked up the Astro from storage. Then there were a series of frustrating mechanics who sent us on a scavenger hunt throughout the tangled, traffic-filled streets of greater San Jose. Then there were the usual missed deadlines that come with said frustrating mechanics.
When we were finally free and back onto the open road, we both felt an immense wave of relief despite it being 36 hours later than intended. Now, our biggest worry would be deciding between what promised to be two very amazing hikes. There was Chirripo, the highest point in Costa Rica which, on a clear day, provided views of both the Caribbean and the Pacific. We had tried to do this hike in May before discovering that the park was closed for the entire month. Then there was a hike to the Sirena Ranger Station on the very remote and very wild Osa Pennisula. The Chirripo hike was far more up our alley – we are mountain people after all. But Osa promised to be unique, unlike any hike we’ve ever done; a true adventure. It came highly recommended by several fellow travelers, one of which described it as a “literal zoo without cages.” Lured by the thought of seeing the highly endangered Scarlet Macaw or Baird Tapir in the wild, we pointed the Astro toward the coast.
The first sign that perhaps we made the wrong decision came when we missed the turnoff to the peninsula and drove 45 minutes in the wrong direction. In a country where gas is $5.50/gallon, this is a costly mistake. Now only 20 minutes from the Panama border, we briefly considered scrapping the plan but ultimately decided to persevere. We turned around and drove the 45 min back to the turnoff. That’s when we found ourselves in the middle of a typical Central American downpour. The rain did not let up and the nicely paved road we started on soon turned to one ravaged by an entire season of daily torrential downpours. The road was so riddled with massive potholes we could go no faster than 10 mph. Though it had taken us 6 hours to get to this point and though we were so close to our destination we could taste it, the potholes were so jarring that we considered turning around on several occasions. But the phrase “We made it this far” ruled the day and, completely disregarding the notion of sunk costs, we continued on. Imagine our disappointment when we finally made it to the coastal village of Puerto Jimenez only to find out the famed Sirena ranger station was closed for the entire month of October. When we tried to find our intended campsite, which also came highly recommended, we found out that was closed too.
Spirits low and daylight fading, we had no choice but to settle in a less-than-ideal spot on a beach south of town. It was hot and humid and the only wildlife we saw were the mutant size mosquitoes feeding on our bodies. We spent that night huddled in our mosquito net, trying to ward off the heat long enough to get some decent sleep. When Zach perched out of bed at 5:15 am, I was understandably less enthusiastic. We had another long day ahead of us which included traversing the same pothole-riddled road followed by our first border crossing of Phase Two. Always the “cheerer-upper”, Zach went down to the beach to scope out exactly that which he knew would rouse me from my slumber. Within minutes, he ran back to the van, grabbed the binoculars and said, “I found some. You better come out if you want to see them.” I fought my desire to roll over and ignore him and followed him out to the beach.
I saw them immediately, perched high up in the trees not 50 m away, and was struck by just how beautiful they are. Scarlet Macaws are gorgeous birds – absolutely huge, strikingly colorful and best of all, incredibly rare to see in the wild. I glanced at Zach and knew immediately what he was thinking, because I was thinking the same thing – the struggle to get here, the disappointment we felt when we learned we couldn’t do the hike, the heat and the bugs – it was all worth it for this moment.
We had a discussion with family members while we were back home about whether or not we should include the not-so-good days in our blog. After all, it was argued, no one really wants to hear us complain. The truth is, our life is filled with ups and downs just like everybody else’s. We have bad days too. But I do believe that when you live a life you love, any life, the bad days are never that bad because there’s always some silver lining. There’s always a reward that’s sure to remind you exactly why you’ve chosen that life in the first place. Obviously, the silver lining is different for everyone. For us, it only takes a moment like this, seeing a rare tropical bird in its natural place, to reaffirm the tough decisions we’ve had to make that brought us to this point.
This type of travel is hard, it’s true, but we love it. The things we’ve seen, the experiences we’ve had – they’re so above and beyond the hard days that it’s no longer a question for us whether it’s worth it.
Needless to say, we’re glad to be back.