Rafa steps out of the car, wind and rain lash against him, “I’m not happy.”
In all honesty, I feel the same way but I am way too excited. We trudge across a soccer field/parking lot to a little building with dozens of people milling about. It’s pouring and the wind is blowing the rain sideways. We huddle inside. Everyone is dressed the same, geared out in boots and jackets and awaiting the start of the Irazu Challenge, a 10k hike around the volcano.
The Irazu Challenge, organized by Decatlon, actually has a number of races: 10k, 20k, marathon, ultra marathon and bike races too. I have been pleasantly surprised at how athletic Costa Rica is. Rafa has been running a number of 1/2 marathons and I have been trying to get out and run with him as much as I can. Rafa has a gazelle like stride and grace, where I am more like the Shetland pony, plodding along steady and sturdy. So when Rafa suggested the Irazu Challenge, I was eager…just not for the run. Trail running is great but it puts a toll on your body, especially with those brutal hills. The hike was more my speed.
So here we were, waiting for the hike to begin. Like most things here, it was on Tico time and the funny thing being that the race was run by a French guy. Go figure. As luck would have it, as soon as the bell sounded, the rain lightened and within a matter of minutes stopped all together for the rest of the hike.
The first kilometer or so was on paved road until we came to a rocky farm road that parted fields of potatoes and cow pastures. Rafa and I like to go on mini day road trips checking out the surrounding towns. We will find a spot to stretch out a blanket and have a small picnic and some wine. Great times. But this crazy rabbit warren of roads cutting through the countryside are breathtaking. All you hear is the wind rustling the trees and a few random moos. The air is fresh and crisp and clouds converge and part offering unimaginable views. It truly is magical and I promise you, the pictures do not do it justice.
For the first 4 or 5k, it was all uphill and when we finally turn downward, we bounded down the trail careening around the uneven ground. I was amazed I was able to stay on my feet. Farmers looked up from their labor to see us bouncing down the hill laughing like mad. Periodically, there would be a rest area offering water and some goodies. Should you find yourself in a race or craving something sweet, I highly recommend these little jelly packs. They are about the size of a Halloween candy bar and come in a variety of flavors called Tricopilia. My favorites are fig and guaybaba. You can buy them in the stores too but beware: they are very addicting. It was a good thing I had some on hand when we hit the last hill, cause it was a bitch! The last kilometer was a painful climb nearly straight up and into the wind. Gusts of wind would nearly knock me backwards. What was truly amazing were the little homes hunkered along the road on this incredibly steep hill, miles from the nearest paved road. These people would have to haul themselves up this road regularly to catch a bus into town. Oy Vey!
In two short hours we conquered the Irazu challenge, tired, happy and no worse for wear. While we rested a bit before heading back down the volcano, my legs tingled with exertion and my face flushed with color. Rafa sat across from me munching down a banana and sandwich with a smug, satisfied look.
“What a great day.” he said between bites.
Next year, we’re doing the 20k. Can’t wait!