Costa Rica – Communities, Trails, and Scorpions

Building the Sendero Pacifico

In February/March 2017 I volunteered to help with a group of Bruce Trail (BT), building a new hiking trail in Costa Rica: The Sendero Pacifico (SP). This new hiking trail, which will be approximately 80km long when completed, is a Friendship Trail of the Bruce Trail Conservancy: a section of the BT is called the SP, and a section of the SP is called the BT.

The Sendero Pacífico envisions a network of freely accessible hiking trails in Costa Rica located between the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the Gulf of Nicoya in the Bellbird Biological Corridor. Trails pass through a variety of ecological life zones, land uses and communities. This is a grass roots project with trails being developed by the communities along the way.”

The Sendero Pacifico (SP)

Our group of 9 volunteers spent our first 6 nights at the University of George’s Costa Rica campus residences in the town of San Luis near the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Each day we hiked along the rough cut trail, to start our work. Nat Scrimshaw, who is the spearhead of the SP, put us to work with several several people from the communities along the trail route. Together we built 30 steps on the steep mountain slopes, and a new side trail to create a loop for day hikers.

The last two nights of our adventure, we stayed in a new bunk house on the trail near the hamlet of Veracruz. The people of Veracruz and nearby San Antonio have transformed an abandoned farm house into a place for hikers to stay. There’s a large room with 5 artisanal bunkbeds, a side bedroom, kitchen, toilet room, and shower room. While it’s still rugged, with only cold running water, an electric generator for the kitchen, and no internet, our hosts were hard at work on developing a covered verandah/sitting area, gardens, and a second support building. For now, we guests were happy to sit on craft benches outside, where we could watch the toucans, oropendola, and parrots, as well as capuchin monkeys in the jungle canopy above us.

It’s Only a Scorpion Sting

I was sitting on a bench eating my dinner of beans and rice, with chicken and fried plantain. The guys had started a campfire in the large pit behind me. As I turned on the bench to watch the fire proceedings, something stung me in the leg, near my buttocks. I jumped up in pain, looking for what I thought was a bee or wasp on the bench – there was nothing. With my leg throbbing, I worried that it might have been some sort of poisonous spider that bit me, right through my wind pants. Nat casually assured me that “oh, it was probably only a scorpion sting” and gave me some cortisone lotion to ease the pain. Costa Rican scorpions, apparently, are not deadly harmful to most people – nice to know. I sat quietly on my other buttocks, distracting myself with the wonderful Costa Rican campfire songs our hosts sang to the tunes of a guitar and conga drums.

By the next morning the pain in my leg was gone, I couldn’t even tell where exactly it had been. I was fortunate that it hadn’t been anything more serious, and thankful that I could hike the two hour trail to the village of Guacimal. I was, however, leery of the turkey vultures that circled above me. “Not yet boys”, I thought. In this jungle, everything preys on everything else.

Resourceful People, Sustainable Development

I found that while the jungle can be threatening, the people are welcoming. During the week we did have time to visit small local enterprises such as organic coffee farms, bee keepers, and a soap maker, sugar plantations, a tiny chocolate factory, and a family run paper recycling plant. I even tried my hand at milking a cow. And of course, we hiked in the wonderful Monteverde Cloud Forest overflowing with life. I learned so much on this trip, not only about the Costa Rican environment, but also about the resourcefulness of the people. They definitely are on the path to sustainable development, and I am honoured to have been able to support their cause.