May 6, 2019

Just like our early prehistoric ancestors, our bodies were designed to be upright for most of the day. Nowadays, most of us are sitting in our offices for endless hours, with minimal movement; barely walking to get to our mode of transportation, where, once again, we sit. We have become sedentary and numb to what is right there, in front of our eyes. It’s about seeking physical distance from our daily actions; something that breaks the routine and restores balance in our life. Let our brain relax, go out wondering, dreaming, and having fun! That is the best way to truly restore the connection between our body and mind.

The desire for ascent has always been part of human evolution. Even after early settlers began to understand agriculture and animal husbandry, allowing them to produce an abundance of food; hiking was still part of their daily activities, as they still had to hunt and gather. Now, with all the different means we have at our disposal, hiking is seen as a leisure activity. We hike for wellness, sport, or simply for fun, which is great, but sometimes we forget what being with nature really means. Our ancestors were nomads; they knew the importance of nature, they had to walk long distances on a regular basis to find specific foods and nutrients to support their needs; they spoke to nature, communicated with plants and animals, there was more of a spiritual exchange among living beings. In the modern world, everything is different, and we take nature for granted. Every time we go out and see a mountain, hills, a park, or just any picturesque place, we should ask ourselves: What will it be like to be on top of that mountain? What is there? What feelings can being surrounded by so much nature evoke? How does it feel to walk around there? What places, sounds, and scents will we discover?

Our body was designed to walk, and we can go out and enjoy it; let’s go for a hike!

I woke up at 4 am and drove for a little over 2 hours to San Carlos, one of the largest cantons in Costa Rica and home to the Arenal Volcano. This time I wasn’t looking for the colossal Arenal; instead, I wanted to explore some of the neighboring inactive volcanoes. Luckily for me, I have a friend who lives in Ciudad Quesada, San Carlos’ most populous city, and he was going to guide me on a mountain hike towards the slopes of the “Platanar” Volcano.

With not much planning or special equipment, I put on my cheap rubber boots over sand socks, a strange combination that has proven to be the perfect fit for me during long hikes. It’s important to wear the right shoes and socks, so do some research beforehand and find what suits you best. In some of my hikes, I’ve dealt with terrible blisters, so I packed some blister dressings just in case!

We packed 2 liters of water each, although we knew we had to cross a couple of rivers, so water was covered. We had some snacks and peanuts to boost our energy during quick breaks; it’s a good idea during hikes to maintain a steady pace and take regular quick breaks, rather than a few long stops.

Shortly after a pleasant stroll through dairy farms, we were inside a tropical rainforest; we welcomed the quick change in temperature as it dropped a few degrees and a pleasant breeze cooled the surroundings. Weather in Costa Rica can change in just a few minutes, so always be prepared for anything (sunscreen and a raincoat, at least). This time we had perfect weather, although it seemed a bit cloudy in the gaps between the treetops.

We hoped to see some monkeys, maybe some small reptiles; but we could only spot remnants of a weak hallucinogenic plant craved by sloths. As we went deeper, the size of the trees became impressively tall, and I couldn’t help but feel how small it made me feel versus the vast perspective of where I was walking. It made me wonder; what is the purpose of the small insects surrounding me? Why do plants and flowers thrive here? What do the animals around here eat… What is our purpose here on Earth? We may not have the answers to this last question, but neither do the other living beings around us. We only know that we are organisms living together, and no one is more important than the other, everyone needs each other to survive. Perhaps the key for us humans is to work as one with nature so that we can have a better understanding of why we are here.

The message of nature is strong and clear, but one must listen. That’s why I enjoy hiking so much; it keeps our body fit and our mind free, but there’s another level on which we can operate during a hike, beyond the physical plane. As we all know, exercise helps build a fit body, decreases the risk of heart diseases, increases strength in our bones and muscles, improves balance, and also combats symptoms of stress and anxiety. But then there’s also the spiritual realm, which can teach us how to be present in the moment; paying attention to our breathing, to our center of bodily awareness, being fully mindful and aware of our internal intentions to connect with something greater than ourselves.

We could hear we were almost at our destination; soft sounds of small river rapids warned of our arrival, and although we didn’t have a chance to see any animals, we took our time to enjoy the experience. At that moment, I was almost in a trance within that green landscape; it was as if I could feel the wisdom of Mother Nature. She was there before us, and she had the healing powers to clear our minds of stress and make us focus on what’s truly important. Hiking sharpens our senses and makes us one with the environment, while our brains produce high levels of serotonin, creating a sense of happiness and awareness of the beauty of the landscape we find ourselves immersed in.

So, where should you start with hiking? Start small; you don’t need to be super athletic to hike, although it’s good to start slow if you don’t feel fit enough. Just be open to the experience and eager to be embraced by nature.

Costa Rica is a very good place to start; it has plenty of destinations for different skill levels, with variety in nature, weather, and animal sightings.

Some recommendations to start with your journey:

First of all, if you’re unsure how to get to Costa Rica, here’s my list of the most reliable travel agencies in the country: Ara Tours, Viajes TAM, Bella Aventura, Reparto de Costa Rica, Costa Rica para Todos, and Swiss Travel. I’m sure they’ll help you coordinate your trip so you get the most out of it!

Once in Costa Rica, the best way to save time and visit different places is by renting a car with Europcar car rental or Solid, among some other excellent car rental companies, or if you want to visit more remote destinations, you can always fly domestically with Aerobell airlines.

For accommodation, you might want to start by booking somewhere in San José at Villas del Río Apartotel, Barceló San José, or Palma Real Hotel & Casino and then head out for a hiking adventure in the North Central Pacific region (beaches, national parks, volcanoes, and dry weather) where you can stay at Capitan Suizo, Planet Hollywood Beach Resort, Fiesta Resort, or Hacienda Guachipelín. You can also try the South Pacific Coast area (tropical rainforests and beaches) where you can enjoy your stay at Cristal Ballena or also try the Northern Region and stay at Hotel Los Héroes.

Coming back to the Central Region (cooler climate, tropical rainforests, and cloud forests) you’ll enjoy your stay at the beautiful Casa Turire where you’ll experience a peaceful and relaxing time.

And finally, if you want to start with a hiking tour and experience adventure and nature all around you, you can book a trip with Rainforest Adventures Costa Rica.

Hiking is not a race; what matters is enjoying the experience. Don’t rush to your final destination. Take your time, appreciate the scenery, and try to gain some perspective on where you are on the globe. Free your creative mind by looking at the small details of nature. Stop. Breathe. What smells do you notice around you? Close your eyes. What do you hear and feel? Keep all your senses alert, and you’ll be surprised at what you find along the way.

Always remember:

“Leave only footprints. Take nothing but photos. Kill nothing but time. Keep nothing but memories.”

By Juancho Otalvaro