“This will be our most difficult climb yet,” my trip leader stated during our lunch break, comforting the group. I looked up at the overcast sky of the Costa Rican rainforest, unsurprised. At that moment, the weather did not seem too different than the past days of our hike, so I was not fazed by the looming, acid-washed clouds. The sky always appeared on the verge of a storm in the rainforest. While contently munching on my sandwich, besides the possibly unpleasant upcoming hike, I was definitely not anticipating the challenge ahead of me.
Dark navy clouds swiftly rolled in as we were packing up our lunches. Still not too out-of-the-ordinary for the rainforest, I simply assumed a light storm was passing through, so I put on my beaten, ratty windbreaker. This specific rain jacket was a hand-me-down that should have never been passed on; it provided no protection from even a light misting. We were just commencing our steep ascent when the first signs of this downpour began.
Suddenly, I felt a rather large rumbling that seemed to come from the horizon. Juan Carlos, our courageous guide, said that there was nothing to worry about, so our group continued upward. Not thirty seconds later, heavy water-droplets started pouring down on our group. Thanks to my jacket, almost instantly I was drenched in rainwater from head to toe, sopping wet as I hiked up the steep mountain. This was when I saw the first flash.
If one had blinked, they would have missed it, but the bright, electrostatic bolt made its presence very clear to me. This was the first time on this trip that we had actually seen lightning; before that storm, there had just been very intense downpours. I started counting the seconds as they passed after each flash before every boom of thunder under my breath…one…two…three…CRASH!! The distance was rapidly shortening with each round, much to my worries. Subconsciously, my gait continued quickening until I was at the very front of my group with Juan Carlos. My good friend Claudia soon caught up to us, and we made small talk in an attempt to take our minds off the torrential rains, soaking wet clothes, steep up-hill climb, booming thunder, and crashing lightning.
I am not one to worry too much about my safety while hiking in the rainforest, but in that instant, many fears crossed my mind. My most obvious concern was getting struck by lightning… but if something horrible were to occur, how far was the closest hospital? It had to have been very, very far. How would we even be able to contact civilization? Surely even the best service providers do not extend to here. I tried my best to push these thoughts away, but it was difficult when the thunder shook the ground beneath my feet and I was constantly blinded by flashing lightning.
Never in my life had I hiked up such a steep mountain at such a quick pace. At that moment, I was sure that my fight-or-flight response had kicked in, and my adrenaline was pushing me up this hill at a great speed that definitely would have been unattainable had I not been fearing for my life. Sure enough, after a roughly three-mile upward climb, our small group made it to our resting place for the night. As I stripped off my dripping clothing, I had never been happier to put on a change of smelly but dry pajamas and enjoy drinking Costa Rican hot chocolate in fuzzy, warm socks.
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