Reaching the summit of Volcán Barú, swamped by feelings of joy and achievement, it was easy to forget we still had to go back down. If we didn’t make it down in a single day, we’d miss our lift at the road which would add an extra day’s hiking. So we descended the rocky pathways into the boulder field, all that remains of the once lava-filled volcano. It was perilous and nerve-racking. We had to creep slowly so we wouldn’t topple with our huge packs on our backs. Half running, we plummeted through the shrubs and dusty grasses, adrenalin pumping through our veins for the thrill of the race. The vegetation seemed to grow up around; trees appeared, we entered the cloud forest once more.
The forest hummed with noise. The energy was invigorating; we were filled with happiness at the wonder of the place. Laughing and shouting, we stumbled down the steep sides of the valley, along the narrow winding path with its low hanging branches and roots. This marked our halfway point, but it also brought the daunting thought of another ascent, a memory of scrambling along a narrow pathway, dragging myself up over ledges with my hands slipping in the mud from the boots of the people in front of us, slimy and warm between our fingers, along with the single minded determination to just keep moving. We paused at a spectacular viewpoint to catch our breath, to eat our squashed sandwiches and to take one last look up before going down into the hot, humid rainforest.
It was calm before the rain came, sudden and intense, cooling the air. It spurred us to continue. The shear volume of water turned our narrow trail into a river that made us slide and fall. We laughed. We splashed in the puddles like children. The rain then stopped as quickly as it had started. The sun came out and made the wet world around us shimmer and glisten. The water on the pathway drained away to its normal level, our clothes dried and the hike returned to a more reasonable speed.
We finished the hike savouring the sights and sounds of the magnificent rainforest. We reached the road just as the sun began to cast a pink glow over the sky. We had left only the morning before, although it felt like a lifetime ago. The friendly local was waiting for us, waving through the windscreen. We got on the flat bed and watched the mountain grow smaller in the gradually darkening sky. We were exhausted and exhilarated. We made it. We climbed the highest peak in Panama and back down too!