The Cerro Chato (to the right of the tallest volcano Arenal on the picture) is one of the hikes you don’t want to miss if you travel to Costa Rica. In bonus, 4 little mantras for everyday life.
It’s my day-off today. As a Butterfly Ranger (aka: working as a volunteer at the Butterfly Conservatory), I have one and a half day off each week. I am going to discover the Cerro Chato Volcano, right next to the Arenal Volcano. My roommates who are also my colleagues went on this hike a few weeks before and couldn’t recommend it more.
I leave El Castillo around 10am, wearing my backpack and a big smile. I’m so happy to go on this hike alone. I have only walked for a few minutes when a heavy rain decides to falls on me. (Those who know me will tell you about my irrational-emotional relationship to rain …) I take a chance and stretch my thumb. A pick-up stops at me right after. It’s not on his way, but no prob. He will drop me off at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, the hotel from where the hike starts. It’s perfect. As always here. People are so nice, I still can’t believe it.
# 1 : Trust people
I follow the trail’s big painted « nails » hanging on the fences. It is still raining hard. I reach the point where the « forbidden » section starts. It has been officially closed to the public since accidents were reported. The maintenance of the trail is pending. But everyone keeps hiking here. I take shelter under a cabin roof hoping the rain is going to stop. A German couple are finishing their hike. They are all muddy and soaked. The girl looks haggard and unhappy. They couldn’t see anything at the summit because of the clouds. They didn’t not enjoy the trip.
I am going anyway. Nothing can undermine my enthusiasm today. I meet another couple going down. They are French and completely jaded. They try to convince me: it’s not worth it to go to the top. I tell them that I am going to keep going. And hope as hard as I can that the sun will come back at one point.
I discover joyfully the giant roots and jump between huge crevasses. Large piece of solidified mud turning into impressive geology. I love everything: the mud canyons, the creepers in the trees, the prehistoric ferns. Just a few minutes later, the sun appears and fills the jungle with its kind and warm light. I thank my karma. And the sun. I smile even harder. I can not stop smiling and thinking about how lucky I am to be here, immersed in beauty.
# 2- Follow your energy
When I reach the top, the sky clears out just enough to let me see the spectacle of the blue-green lake in the crater’s center, a cloudy mirror surrounded by green wet misty and lush jungle. There is no sign to follow. I take the first path I find to try to reach the lake below. The jungle is dense, it seems to have been uncrowded…
The path gets narrower as the vegetation gets more leafy. I have no fear. My guardian angel is with me. The path down to the crater plunges steep. The cracks of mud are becoming even deeper. I am in a delirious vertiginous natural scenery. You clearly need to use your 4 members to get around. I jump like a little mountain goat, and end up thinking that the way back is going to be really tough.
I finally reach the water level and skirt the lake for a moment, pushing away the huge tree palms and spanning over fallen trees. I am hearing people swimming in the lake. After a solid hour and a half, I arrive at a small beach where a few German people enjoy the scenery. I have a feeling that they did not take the same « longcut » * as me. Oh well, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?
(*longcut is a word I used a lot when I was a child and that I still consider as a very important concept)
# 3: Take longer roads, just to enjoy the scenery
I put on my swimsuit and slip into the lake’s white milky water merging with the horizon. Better than a James Turrel installation. A no-shy-at-all coati (half raccoon and half anteater) ventures near our belongings. He’s willing to steal food from our backpacks. After chasing a whole family of coatis attracted bu the potential feast, we decide to go back.
I learn, not surprisingly, that there is a much shorter way to go up. I just chose the « bad » of the two at the top. It is indeed much easier this way! Positive consequence of my mistake is: I will not take the same path twice. It’s perfect again. We walk together on part of the way back and I finish the trail alone, jumping between crevasses, palms, roots and moss. The rain starts again right as I leave the parking lot of the hotel. I walked for 5 hours in the jungle, climbed giant mudslides, discovered a new animal: the coatis, and a new tree: the rainbow eucalyptus (they’re so beautiful, they look like they have been painted by David Hockney.) What a day!
A car stops 5 minutes later. I am blessed by the gods of hitchhiking. It’s a local family on holidays. They are in no hurry, they are just cruising. They are going to drive me to El Castillo because there is no question of leaving me in the rain. Once again, I am speechless in front of so much kindness. I try to express my gratitude as best as I can in Spanish. When I finally come home, I am exhausted and super excited by this thousand colors ballad and the succession of happy coincidences. The stars and the cars were definitely aligned with me today!
# 4: Pura Vida
-My article: « Mon voisin le volcan Arenal »
-My article: « Des papillons pour régénérer la forêt tropicale »
–Thelastadventurer’s experience on this hike