By Reid Glenn
MONTEVERDE, Costa Rica — For a temperate soul, hiking through a tropical cloud forest is an eerie experience. Ferns grow on trees and mosses grow on the ferns. Vines trail from the canopy and dainty birds flit after insects from twig to twig.
As I walked through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, my shoes carried mud from the trail to the hems of my jeans. I didn’t notice though, because my eyes were fixed on the astonishing collage of greens above and around me. The air was sodden and heavy. Mist drifted across the trail and I came to realize that these were the clouds for which the life zone was named.
The path snaked and climbed two kilometers to the top of the range, which marks the divide of Costa Rica’s watershed, the Continental Divide.
I sensed I was nearing the final destination when there were fewer trees to block the wind. The ones that remained were significantly shorter than those down the mountain. The trail became less steep and the air felt crisper without the shade and trees to hold moisture in.
Eventually, my path Y’d into two choices. To my right was the Pacific side of Costa Rica, where I could look all the way down upon the Gulf of Nicoya. My trip began on the Pacific side, so I decided to turn left to overlook the Gulf of Mexico half of the country.
I was now looking at the top of the rainforest where I had been walking. The sight was absolutely gorgeous, but what I felt left a more lasting impression.
Air funneled toward the mountain saddle where I stood. It coursed up the mountain face before me and was funneled by the ridges to my left and right. It blasted me in the face and rattled the wind-stunted trees around me. I quickly dropped my cap and backpack to the ground at my side and met the powerful gusts with my arms outstretched. I felt the need to close my eyes and feel the air run through my hair. My clothes rippled around me and I felt an uncontrollable urge to smile and whoop with joy.
There on the Continental Divide, my soul soared higher than the mountaintop on which I was standing.
A phrase that Costa Ricans use daily comes to mind describing my emotions on the Divide. To natives, Pura Vida means more than just “pure life.” It refers to a way of life – one with smiles and a welcoming approach. Pura Vida means “you’re welcome” and “I love it” and “hello.” It is a different approach to living than what I was used to, but one that strives to express the joy of living, the same joy I felt on top of the Continental Divide.