Conquering Baru first by mind, then by foot
07/29/2011 - 07/30/2011
Couldn't find a coffee tour still so took another stroll around town to see what I could see and take some pics. There are so many cool little things to see in this small town of 5000 that I could walk around for days! Took a left when I felt like it and went down any road that looked inviting. Was a little hungry so grabbed some pizza and a fresh lemonade, first pizza I've had since I got here and it was great. Took half home to cover dinner and headed back to the hostel.
Grabbed a quick nap and woke to hear a soccer game on. Didn't know what was on but decided to head down to a local pool hall to get a game and try to catch the action. No pool was going on but there were a bunch of domino games on and money was on the line. Walked in farther to find the bar and found not only that, but also some slot machine action, funny as it only said 'Pool' out front. There were a bunch of locals watching the game, Panama v. Australia world cup qualifier, so I took seat like I belonged there. It worked as I didn't get any glances or stares. Had a couple Balboas (beer here) for. 75 each and watched the rest of the game.
Another BBQ was going to start so I chatted up a Swiss couple as I ate my pizza before the festivities began. I headed in to upload some pics (check em out) and back them up, which turned out to take a while. Headed out back around 11 to see how the party was going. Found a seat next to a funny looking kid with long hair, a wicked mustache, and an old, worn-out Miami Dolphins cap. We started chatting about something before being interrupted by his friend. Didn't catch what they were talking about but when they were done he asked me if I wanted to hike the Baru Volcano with them. "When?" "Now." I took about 10 seconds to think of a reason not to and couldn't find one. "I'm in!"
We had ten minutes to get ready and three of us were on our way to the base in the hostel-bus. It was when the guide stopped where the concrete road stopped when he told us to stay to the left, it should take 4.5-6 hours to summit and the last hour was easy that I realized we were on our own! As we reached our first mileage marker, '1km done, 12.5km (about 7miles) to go, I kind of started to figure out what we were in for. With headlamps on, I walked behind Mike from Austin (stach guy) and Kevin from Eugene as they had a conversation in Spanish. I was trying to catch my breathe and keep focused on the ground ahead of my feet as this 'road' wad littered with good sized rocks to provide traction to the ATVs that took this road. As we walked at a good pace I found myself looking ahead at the steep grades but kept myself focused on what was at my feet so I wouldn't fall and and so I wouldn't get overwhelmed by the terrain above. Kevin lives in Costa Rica and is a climber and Mike was an occasional one. We were keeping a good pace as we hit the various mileage markers as I found my groove in front of the pack as they chatted. A few miles in, I started feeling discomfort in the heel of my right foot as the shoes I was wearing weren't completely broken in. We took a few short breaks along the way to admire the city lights and I eventually took the chance to add the wool socks I brought as my feet were still annoying me. I felt at least one blister so doubled up on socks, added a layer or 2 and we were on our way. The weather was decent, as my friends were still wearing shorts a T's, and abnormally clear.
As we went on, the other foot started hurting a bit and my knee started to ache a bit. 6km down, 7.5 to go, it was about 2am at this point. Just kept my head down and stayed focused on taking my next step, instead of worrying about how I was going to hike another 5 miles like this. At times,it seemed that we were well ahead of schedule while the next marker made us feel as we were slowing to a crawl. Just one more step I kept telling myself as I still kept to myself.
In my old life, I always found myself working toward these long-term goals or looking forward to what is going next weekend, or after work and I don't take time to focus on what is in front of me. I can say that there is a list, or lists, of goals or things that I want(ed) to accomplish but are left undone as the mountain was to large to climb so I made no progress at all. Also, there were plenty of days that I didn`t accomplish anything as I was focused on what was going on another day. This is not a revelation to me as I was aware of these things at the time but now as I climbed this volcano, I did something about it.
We took breaks and slowed down as we felt we were getting closer as they told us not to summit too early as it was cold. As we trekked on, Kevin and I switched off in the lead and the distance between us got a little longer. I intentionally tried to get some space so I could stay focused while taking it all in. At one point they stopped and I pressed ahead. Kevin caught up and said Mike was feeling a little woozy so they ate. I had only eaten that pizza around 8 and only had a pocket full of Starburst jelly beans, that i had been snacking on, and a little bit of trail mix but I was feeling fine, one step at a time. We kept an eye on Mike in the back as we pushed forward.
It was about 500 or so when Mike said he needed ten minutes to rest but we should move forward, and we did. I kept trying to figure out our pace and where we were as we were on a mission to find this last 'easy hour' we were told of. That was actually key as we found some straight aways but never anything that didn't lead to a steep incline, but Kevin and I pressed on seeking it. As the light post at the top of the mountain seemed to get closer, the inclines seemed to get steeper and we felt like we would never get there. We were treated to some amazing views of the stars that I couldn't even begin to capture on a camera, mainly because I was so awestruck! The feeling I had is unexplainable as we just gazed, seeing so many stars and even the Milky Way!
After hitting about 3 or 4 'home stretches' I got my first glimpse of the Caribbean and took a deep breath. Wow, I feel so ALIVE! The overwhelming feeling lasted a few seconds as I looked up and we had more to climb. Kevin was fading a bit but I kept my feet moving and made the final push to the top point. So Baru is the highest point of Panama and one of the only places where you can see the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean at the same point, oh and also the Volcano. We reached the top before sunrise, around 6am, and I was more relieved at this point to be able to sit for a minute. Kevin went to look for a better vantage point as I sad on the dirt, not sure what to feel. I was so drained from the hike and underwhelmed that I was numb.
After about 15 minutes when you could start to see the red and yellow of the sun coming up over the clouds on the Sea, I got the energy to look for Kevin. I walked up a bit and found him and 2 other guys who had reached the summit before us. We still hadn't seen Mike and wondered if he would make it up, as he was a good amount behind at this point. I made my way to the highpoint they were on and was still in a bit of a funk. The sun started making it's way up as they 2 other guys were getting giddy, laughing and talking. I was quite annoyed as I almost told them to give me a couple minutes but I decided not to take their thunder.
I found a seat and started to feel the warm rays of the sun as it peeked out over the clouds on the horizon. The warmth was so refreshing as I started to be overcome by a large range of emotions. The feeling of accomplishment, aches, exhaustion, feeling of being close to those I've lost took over and I felt like I needed to cry, but only a few tears came as I couldn't figure out how to feel what I was feeling. I sat there for a while, with my head in my hands as I tried to process what was going on, all while the sun continued to warm me up and stir these emotions. The only thing I could pin down was that I wish I could have shared that moment with some of you as words do not do it justice. Not much more to say as it was something I've never felt and still not sure what to think about it.
I finally felt like taking some pics as the sun was starting to come over the peak of Baru and show the Pacific. Being able to make a circle and see what seemed like the entire countryside of Panama, the sun over the Caribbean, then the sun hitting the Pacific was something you will have to experience for yourself.
We got our pics and started to the trail head, when a familiar face started walking up the hill. Mike mustered the courage to keep plugging on and made it! He told us to go on without him but I found another seat in the dirt as we let him have his moment. We started making our way down around 8 and I found myself a little awed by the terrain we just conquered as we could now actually see the roads we traversed. The way down was as hard as the way up as the foot was hard to get and we slipped all over. Both my knees and feet were killing me but the thought of getting to the bottom kept us going. It seemed like forever getting down but we all began to tell jokes and learn more about each other as we now had accomplished something together. I opened up to them a bit about myself and my journey as we listened to some Ray Charles on my phone. It took us a little over 3 hours to get down but it seemed like forever. We jumped a cab at the ranger station and got back to the hostel.
My legs felt horrible after letting them rest but I grabbed some food and some pain cream and took a decent nap. Woke up, not being able to move my legs from the knee pain. My dormmates came back and I took the opportunity to get some sympathy and Advil. After they left the room I decided to suck it up as I had accomplished something awesome and needed to revel in that, as opposed to the pain.
I was supposed to leave today to the Pacific Coast but i'll see how I feel in the morning and hopefully head out. Need some beach relaxation!
Until next time mis amigos...keep your feet moving and you will always get where you are trying to go!