Esperanza, Costa Rica – February 4th, 2011
I am in the middle of a tropical rain forest halfway up an incredibly tall and steep mountain. My feet are slipping so I grab a nearby branch as sharp thorns dig into my palm. I pull my hand away sharply and place my other hand on the ground to break my fall but I quickly pull that back as I feel sharp stings. I look at one hand covered in blood and the other covered in biting red ants. The temperature is in the 90’s with high humidity but the jungle canopy keeps the strongest rays of the sun at bay. Every piece of my clothing is dripping in sweat. My calf muscles are burning from the climb and I feel a mixture of extreme fatigue and numbness come over my whole body. Ahead of me, three Costa Rican natives are cutting a path with machetes. It was a smart move not to give me one as I would definitely have cut off one of my appendages by now!
Not only are those guys climbing but they are constantly swinging and chopping through dense jungle. They pause and look down at the “Loco Gringo” as they call me. I smile and they shake their heads and laugh. They laugh because we are only about half way up with another hour of climbing ahead. They laugh because my brother who lives in Costa Rica stopped thirty minutes earlier unable to go further and they are just waiting for me to do the same.
I look at a log in front of me and see pieces of leaves moving across it as though they had legs. I realize these are ants carrying those objects that are over twenty times larger than themselves. I follow the trail with my eyes and see many, many different lines of ants of all sizes and colors industriously working away, climbing vertically as well as horizontally. Inspired by these remarkable insects, I picked myself up carrying my backpack which is about one twentieth of my size and weight and headed on.
I start to pay more attention to the incredible rain forest ecosystem around me. I see dead tree trunks further decomposed by termites, leaves underfoot turning to mulch, crawling and flying insects everywhere and new growth all around. I realize that this rain forest is totally self-sustainable.
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The “Loco Gringo” did make it all the way up (about 2.5 hours of climbing) unaided and much to the surprise of my colleagues. Now, coming down was something else. My spectacular falls really gave those Howler Monkeys something to howl about!