Just like our first prehistoric ancestors, our body was designed to be on our feet for most of the day. Nowadays, most of us are sitting down in our offices for hours on end, with minimum movement; we barely walk just to get to our form of transportation where, once again, we sit-down. We have become sedentary and numbed to what is out there, in front of our eyes. We need to seek a physical distance from our everyday actions; something that breaks our routine and restore balance in our life. Let our brain relax, go out wondering, daydream and have fun! That is the best way to really restore the connection between our body and mind.
The desire to hike has always been part of human evolution. Even after the first settlers started to understand about farming and animal breeding, which allowed them to produce an abundance of food; hiking still was part of their everyday activities, as they still needed to hunt and gather. Now, with all the different means we have at our disposal, hiking is seen as a form of leisure. We hike for well-being, sport, or just for fun, which is very good, but we sometimes forget what being out in nature really is. Our ancestors were nomads, they knew the importance of nature, they had to walk great distances on a regular basis to find food and specific nutrients to support their needs; they talked to nature, they communicated with plants and animals, there was more of a spiritual exchange between living things. 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 scenic place, we should wonder: How will it be like to be on top of that mountain? What is up there? What feelings may I experience being surrounded by so much nature? How would it feel to walk in there? What sights, sounds and aromas will I discover?
Our body was designed to walk and we can go out and enjoy it; let’s take a hike!
I woke up at 4 am and drove a bit over 2 hours to San Carlos, one of the biggest cantons in Costa Rica and home of the Arenal Volcano. This time I wasn’t looking for the colossal Arenal; instead I wanted to explore some of the neighbor inactive volcanoes. Lucky for me I have a friend who lives in Ciudad Quesada, San Carlos most populated city, and he was going to guide me on a hike up the mountain and towards the skirts of the “Platanar” Volcano.
Without much planning or special gear, I put on my cheap rubber boots over my sand socks, a weird combination that has been proven to be the perfect fit for me during long hikes. It is important to wear the right shoes and socks, so do some research beforehand and find what suits you better. On some of my hikes I’ve dealt with terrible blisters on my feet, so pack some blister dressings just in case!
We packed 2 litters of water each, though we knew we had to cross a couple of rivers, so water was covered. We had some snacks and peanuts to boost our energy on quick pauses; it is a good idea during hikes to pace yourself and do regular quick breaks, instead of few long stops.
Shortly after a nice walk along dairy farms, we were deep inside a rainforest; the quick change of temperature was welcomed, as it dropped down some degrees and a nice breeze cooled the surroundings. The weather in Costa Rica can change in just a few minutes, so always be prepared for anything (sun block and a raincoat at least). This time we had a perfect climate, even though it seemed to be a bit cloudy in between the treetop gaps.
We expected to see some monkeys, maybe some small reptiles; but we only managed to see rests of a weak hallucinogenic plant craved by sloths. As we went deeper, the size of the trees became impressively tall and I couldn’t stop thinking of how small it made me feel vs. the vast perspective of where I was hiking. It got me wondering; what is the purpose of the small insects around me? Why do plants and flowers live here? What do animals eat around here…What is our purpose here on Earth? We might not have the answers to that last question, but neither do the other the living things that surround us. We just know we are organisms living together, and no one is more important than the other, everyone needs everyone else to survive. Maybe 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.
Nature’s message is loud and clear, but one must listen. That is why I enjoy hiking so much; it keeps our body fit and our mind free, but there is another level on which we can operate while hiking, besides the physical plane. As we all know, exercise helps to develop a fit body, lowers the risk of heart disease, builds strength in our bones and muscles, improves our balance, and also combats symptoms of stress and anxiety. But then there is also the spiritual realm, that can teach us how to be present in the moment; by paying attention to our breath, center in our bodily consciousness, be completely mindful and become aware of our inner 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 even though we didn’t get to see any animals, we took our time to enjoy the experience. At that point I was almost in a trance within that green landscape; it was as if I could feel Mother Nature’s knowledge. She was there before us, and she had the healing powers to clear our mind of stress and make us focus on what it is really important. By hiking we sharpen our senses making us one with the environment while our brain produces high levels of serotonin, creating a feeling of happiness and awareness of the beauty of the landscape we are submerged in.
So, where should you begin in hiking? Start small; you don’t need to be utterly athletic to hike, although it is good to start slow if you don’t feel fit enough. You just need to be open to the experience and be eager to be embraced by nature.
Costa Rica is a really good spot to begin; it has lots of destinations for different levels, with variety in nature, weather and animal sightings.
Some recommendations to start you off with your trip:
First of all, if you don’t know how to get to Costa Rica, here is my list of the most reliable tour agencies in the country: Ara Tours, TAM Travel, Bella Aventura, Cast Costa Rica, Costa Rica For All and Swiss Travel. I’m sure they will help you coordinate your trip so that you get the most of it!
Once in Costa Rica, the best way to save time and visit different places, is to rent a car with Europcar or Solid Car Rental, among some other excellent car rental companies, or if you want to visit farther destinations, you can always fly domestic 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 off to a hiking adventure in the Central/North Pacific (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 area of the South Pacific Coast (rain forests and beaches) where you will enjoy staying at Cristal Ballena or also try the Northern Region and stay at Hotel Los Héroes.
Coming back again to the Central Region (cooler weather nature, rain and cloud forests) you would enjoy staying at beautiful Casa Turire Hotel where you´ll experience a quiet and relaxing time.
And finally, if you want to start off with a hiking tour and experience adventure and nature all around, you can book a tour with Rainforest Adventures Costa Rica.
Hiking is not a race, what matters is to enjoy the experience, not hurry to the final destination. Take your time, appreciate the landscape, and try to have some perspective of where you are in the Globe. Free your creative mind by looking into the tiny details of nature. Stop. Breathe. What scents do you smell around you? Close your eyes. What do you hear and feel? Keep all your senses alert, and you will be surprised by what you find in the way.
“Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but photos. Kill nothing but time. Keep nothing but memories”.
By Juancho Otalvaro (theroversquest.com)