Take a Hike by Nixon Norman

Pick your definition:

Hike: To travel by any means (From the good people at Merriam-Webster).

Hike: To walk in and among nature, to disconnect from humanity for a moment and immerse oneself in the natural environment (From Yours Truly).

Yeah, No competition.

I win.

Hands down.

I’m in Costa Rica on a study abroad trip—and I’m coming into my own as a Hiker (yeah, with a capital “H”).

Hiking for some, can be scary or nerve-racking. For others, hiking can be very calming, almost therapeutic. Personally, I cannot think of a time in my life where I did not hike. Sure, maybe not on an everyday basis but I have always sought out the therapeutic effects of hiking. Even in Athens, Georgia, where I go to school, I find myself walking in the forest reserve on campus when it is time for me to recharge.

Hiking I have discovered in Costa Rica is not just about walking; it can (if you allow it) be about discovery, observation and research. Instead of venturing out into nature with personal wants and needs, I search for things—flora, fauna, insects, birds, animals, you name it.

I have even found a few of my new favorite things.

Let me tell you about four of them—the banana trees, the strangler fig, the coati and the resplendent quetzal.

For starters, the banana tree is not a tree! This is something I did not know before this trip and I LOVE bananas. The banana plant is actually an herb, in fact it is the largest herbaceous flowering plant in the world. While on a sustainability tour of the campus, the agriculture interns Elena and Sarah let us try some of the organic bananas grown on the land here. They mentioned the differing practices of large banana plantations and organic banana farming. Dole and Chiquita bananas may look more aesthetically pleasing but they are artificially created to look that way. The organic bananas are more prone to being covered with brown and black spots from bugs and other natural factors but they are 100% banana, and they still taste amazing.

The strangler fig starts out as an epiphyte, a plant that grows on another plant, receiving nutrients and other necessities from its host. The strangler fig begins as this growth on a tree and eventually “strangles” the original tree to death and takes over its place. What is amazing about this particular species is that when the original tree rots completely, the strangler is left creating an oddly designed yet extremely cool looking tree.

Yes, cool is the right choice of word.

The coati can be described as the Costa Rican version of the North American raccoon. There is a particular coati that keeps making its way into the heart of campus, the field area in front of the porch of the dining hall. I know it is the same coati because half of its tail is missing. Although it seems to have been in some kind of altercation, it is very sweet and allows you to get fairly close.

The coati is often times seen scouting for food or possibly shelter after the loss of half of his tail. Coati’s unlike raccoons have a snout that resembles an anteater.

Finally, there is the resplendent quetzal. It was a sight to see. While touring the Monteverde Cloud Forest, my hiking group was lucky enough to see one of these beautiful birds.

The call of the quetzal happens to resemble a whimpering pup. Our tour guide mentioned that out of all the tourist that visit Costa Rica every year only 10% get to see this rare bird. This made me feel special– and I didn’t even have to do anything!

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