Monkey business.

Posted on November 30, 2011

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My first mistake was being excited about this hike to begin with. The second was actually following Anna into the jungle.

It goes without saying that I am a horrible, horrible hiker. I’m not a huge fan of the woods, of sweating or of not knowing exactly where I am at all times. Anna, of course, doesn’t care about any of these things, which is exactly why I probably shouldn’t have agreed to this hike in the first place. We are spending the week in Montezuma, a small beach town on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. Besides being known for its weed-smoking hippie population, Montezuma is famous for three enormous waterfalls located a mile or so outside of town.

The first waterfall can be reached easily by taking a flat path that stretches into the woods from the main road. I should have stopped there, taken a few photos and gone home. Looking back, even scaling those initial boulders was a bit overzealous on my part, being as uncoordinated as I am. This is where the trouble started. The trek to the second waterfall was difficult, but I managed to do it. It involved a lot of maneuvering along a ridiculously fast-flowing river that would be better suited to a tour group of middle-aged white-water rafters than two impulsive Gringas. After the six-hundred twenty-first time I almost slipped to my death hopping from boulder to boulder upstream, Anna suggested we take a path instead. Fair enough.

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The first waterfall.

This was my third mistake, or fourth, depending on how you count them. The trail, which happened to be on the opposite side of the river than the destination waterfall, scaled the entire height of the ravine to the likes of several hundred feet. Anna ran ahead, of course, leaving me to huff and puff my way to the top on my own. As if this wasn’t sufficiently awful on its own, the trail ended abruptly, directly across from the pool of water at the base of the falls…and about a hundred and fifty feet above it. Anna wandered cheerily around the basin below, chatting with locals and fellow travelers, as I crawled on my hands and knees over mud and rocks down the steep slope.

I eventually made it to the bottom, where we snapped a few photos, took a quick swim in the freshwater pool, which was fucking freezing, and befriended a kind French Canadian young woman who was traveling alone. It was here, in one short, foreshadowing sentence that Anna casually spoke those tragic words:

“Al Pal, I think I’m going to walk up to the third waterfall.”

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Anna and myself in front of the second waterfall.

The fact that she likened the death-defying events to come to a mere stroll in the park is comical in itself. Perhaps I was light-headed from changing altitude so much, or maybe my ears were clogged with ice water. Regardless, I must have temporarily lost my mind, because I agreed to go along. The fact that the French Canadian wanted to come with us probably somewhat affected my judgement.

Fucking peer pressure.

The kicker was that the path to the third waterfall involved retracing our steps up the vertical cliff face that I had barely managed to survive descending. The French Canadian suggested taking an easier path that began back downstream, an idea that Anna quickly rejected before beginning to climb the rocks without us, taking the bag with my clothes in it with her. She was the only one who knew where she was going.  We were screwed.

Our attempts to catch her were futile. Soon she was out of earshot and we were left to find our own way. Needless to say, we chose the wrong way. Oh my holy god, it was so wrong. Like I mentioned before, the cliff face may as well have been vertical, and about fifty feet up rocks became more and more sparse. There we were, two strangers attempting to scale the Costa Rican Mount freaking Everest by digging in the loose soil for roots to grab and pull ourselves along.

I should probably mention that I haven’t been able to properly scale a climbing wall in its entirety since I was twelve, and here my life depended on my ability to make it to the top of this cliff without slipping. About a hundred feet up, the French Canadian began to grow visibly nervous.

“If we fall, we’ll die!” she screamed, hanging by both hands from the shallow roots of a small tree.  If I hadn’t been hanging onto a vine for dear life myself, I probably would have hit her with a rotting log. People who state the obvious are annoying enough in everyday life, much less when they are reminding you of a deadly situation at hand. Thank you, Smart-Start, for pointing out my possible, and probable, forthcoming demise.

It was at this point that a fat, afro-sporting local man weaseled his way past us up the mountain. I still have no idea how this happened, considering he was at least twice my size and had a joint pressed between his duck lips when he did it. I felt like the token bitch contestant on the Biggest Loser. This person is fat, but the skinniest of all the fat people on the show. Although they look the most “in shape,” they are continually outdone by the other fatter contestants because they habitually half-ass their workouts. He turned back and smiled in our direction before knocking loose a small boulder, about the size of my fist, that tumbled down and nailed me in the face. I can’t say for sure, but I think this was the point that I started to cry.

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The fat fucker who nearly took my face off with a large rock.

Two shin splints, three bloody limbs and one hangnail later, I was twenty feet from the top of the cliff and totally elated that I’d almost made it. This sentiment died faster than Kim Kardashian’s marriage. The French Canadian, who was waiting for me at the top, looked down at me with a look of horror not unlike my mothers’ the night George W. Bush got re-elected president. I had stumbled unknowingly upon a clan of black-furred, tan-faced, teeth-baring monkeys who were all-too displeased with my presence. They were kneeling upon a series of branches between myself and the only small clearing at the top of the hill, crouched and ready to pounce like lions at lunchtime. And I was a defenseless gazelle.

Mind you, I was still crying at this point, and this startling new component to my life-or-death situation wasn’t exactly helping me regain my composure. Within moments I was completely surrounded. “I’m sorry!” I wailed, praying they would forgive me for so carelessly barging into their lair. “I’m so, so sorry!” When English didn’t seem to work, I tried reasoning with them in Spanish. No dice.

By now, King Kong himself had weaseled his way onto the vine I was grasping for dear life, shaking it violently and shrieking simultaneously. I shrieked back, hoping to assert myself as the Alpha Monkey and threaten him into submission. Down the mountain, I heard someone exclaim “Oh my god! That girl is being attacked by those monkeys!” Balling hysterically and guarding my face with my free arm, I lunged past my attackers and scrambled the remaining distance to the top of the slope.  Think: that scene from Parent Trap when Lindsay Lohan sabotages her evil stepmother with a gecko while camping.  I was the evil stepmother, and the gecko had become a man-eating ape.

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My assailant.

The duck-lipped, marijuana-smoking, boulder-dislodging local who had passed us on our climb was waiting with the French Canadian just past the clearing. He motioned for us to follow him past an enormous field of ten-feet-tall grass onto another path that he claimed would lead to the third waterfall. Twenty more minutes of hiking and two barbed-wire fences later, there was still no waterfall in sight. Exhausted, defeated and totally fed up, my companion and I abandoned the quest and turned back to the clearing.

We spent the next hour acting as human machetes through the giant field of tall grass until we reached a road, God only knows where. A young lady was hanging laundry outside the small cottage where we stopped to ask for directions. The way she looked at us, you’d think she’d just watched us kill a cat. It occurred to me that I was standing in front of this woman wearing nothing but a bikini, tennis shoes and a thick layer of dirt and plant material. I got to wear that same marvelous outfit all the way back to town, where I informed our suspicious Italian hostel manager that I looked that way on purpose, that mud baths were all the rage in America, and that he should try it himself sometime. “Good for the skin!” I told him, “And totally refreshing!

Anna joined me for lunch an hour later uptown. She giggled under her breath as I pulled splinters out of my hands at the table.

“I don’t understand why you’re mad at me,” she declared.

“You left us alone! You knew I was bad at climbing and had absolutely no idea where I was going. I could have died!” I countered. She threw back here head and cackled.

“So rich!” She exclaimed. I stabbed my sandwich with a toothpick, imagining it was her eye.

“Not funny,” I said.

“Listen, Al Pal, I’m sorry you had such horrible luck,” She snorted. Maybe you shouldn’t suck so much at hiking. Say, why don’t we try again tomorrow?”

Yeah, when pigs fucking fly.

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