Maybe it was the mountain

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When’s the last time you nearly turned back?

Stop for a moment amidst the rush; close your eyes, if you like. Imagine that moment you started something hard and were immediately dissuaded. What were you staring down? The door of a plane, a car, a home, a hospital, a church? A pile of paperwork? Another person’s face? Your own reflection?

For her, it was the path to the summit of Chirripó, in the darkness of the wee hours. She had prepared so carefully—for days, weeks. At the end of all that, she had walked only 500 meters. She found that this was quite enough.

She decided to turn back. 

Then something drew her on.

Maybe it was the mountain, which left her devastated and sick after that first trip but, in the end, would strengthen her legs and lungs. Why? Because she returned once more. Twice more. More than one hundred times. Once she became a certified guide—the mountain’s first woman guide, to be exact—it would become her workplace. She would take countless others up the path that had once seemed insurmountable. She would feed them their snacks, counsel them through their pain.

Each time, she passes a sign at the park entrance that quotes Jorge Luis Borges: “From my weakness, I got a strength that never left me.” Isn’t that the way? From buckling knees, a quavering voice, the pit of the stomach that suddenly seems endless, something arises that makes no sense. Maybe it is the mountain, whatever your mountain is, that draws it out. Silent, in the dark, it asks a question we think we cannot answer, and  knocks the air right out of us. But from that free-fall void just before we give way—that place where we gasp for air as thin and rare as it is on a country’s tallest peak—something emerges, in spite of us. An answer that we’ll one day understand.

Text by Katherine Stanley Obando, inspired by the story of Katia Pereira of Chirripó B&K Tours as told by “7 Días” on Costa Rica’s Channel 7 in 2021. Read more about Chirripó National Park in this Friday’s longform piece by Mónica Quesada Cordero. Our weekly Media Naranja column tells short love stories with a Costa Rican twist. During our August edition, they will focus on love of many kinds—romance, friendship, neighbors’ bonds—that are related to Costa Rica’s national parks and other protected areas

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