Escape to Alma
When they got their first view of the Talamanca Valley, it was bigger than they had expected. John estimated that it was about eight miles long by five miles wide. It was surrounded on all sides by forest and mountains. Four major rivers flowed into it from the surrounding mountains. Some areas of the valley were heavily wooded, while others were covered with banana plantations and small family farms. There were little clusters of houses scattered here and there and a few winding dirt roads and trails connecting the different settlements. Andres told them that many of the inhabitants would be BriBri or Cabecar Indians who had lived on this land since early colonial times. In fact, they claimed to be the original Indians who had inhabited this area prior to the conquest.
As they arrived in the valley itself, they noticed that the few Indians they encountered looked at them suspiciously, probably wondering about these three strangers who had emerged from the forested foothills. They stopped at one of the small houses and asked an older man, who was sitting by his doorway, how they could get to the other side of the valley, and if there were any bridges over the rivers. The old man explained that they would have to go east toward the entrance to the valley where they would find bridges and cables to cross on. He said they would have to cross two or three rivers. The main paved road was on the other side of the largest river.
It took them almost two hours to cross the valley to the northeast side. There did not appear to be any paved roads on the south side of the river. They crossed two rivers before arriving at the big river that they learned was called the Telire. The first river they crossed on a small metal seat attached to a pulley on an overhead cable. The second was a hanging bridge, which swayed as they crossed. The crossing on the big river was a long suspension bridge with hand cables on each side to balance oneself.
Once they were on the other side they stopped a man with a crude hoe on his shoulder. He was walking toward them on the paved road. John addressed him.
“Senor, are there any trails across these mountains to the Estrella Valley?”
“Yes, I think so. But why would you want to go over the mountains when you can take the road down to Sixaola and go up the coast?”
“We just want to stay off the roads,” replied John.
The man told them that there were a few trails but he wasn’t sure if they went all the way to the Estrella Valley. They were mostly just hunting trails. They could find one about a mile back up the river. They thanked the man and left, but noticed that he watched them until they were out of sight.
Andres was hesitant to go on.
“This is as far as I go. Can you pay me and I will start back.”
“That's what I had planned to do,” acknowledged John. “But now I see that we probably can't get over the mountains to Estrella without you and your machete. Can you come with us for another day?”
“I suppose so, but we are running low on supplies. And how will I get back home? It’s getting to be farther every day.”
“I had planned to pay your bus fare back to Volcan, so that should save you several days,” John assured him. “Or if you want, you could come to San Jose with us and I will fly you back to David. You decide.”
Andres said that the bus would be fine and would get him home sooner, so it was agreed. They continued on up the river until they came to a fairly large trail to the north that climbed a steep slope up to what looked like a flat ridge above. It took them some time to climb the hill, but then they observed that there were interconnecting ridges that would probably take them all the way to the Estrella Valley.
They hadn't started on the trail until 2 pm so they only made a few miles before dark and made camp. They were grateful that the sky had cleared and they had a full moon that night. After their brief meal John read to them the story of Alma's escape from the Lamanites from his travel worn Book of Mormon. He reminded them that the people of Alma had been enslaved and were being persecuted by the Lamanites.
Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.
And He [the Lord] said unto Alma: Thou shalt go before this people, and I will go with thee and deliver this people out of bondage.
Now it came to pass that Alma and his people in the nighttime gathered their flocks together, and also of their grain; yea, even all the nighttime were they gathering the flocks together.
And in the morning the Lord caused a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites, yea, and all their taskmasters were in a profound sleep.
And Alma and his people departed into the wilderness; and when they had traveled all day they pitched their tents in a valley, and they called the valley Alma, because he led their way in the wilderness.
Yea, and in the valley of Alma they poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, and eased their burdens, and had delivered them out of bondage; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it were the Lord their God.
And they gave thanks to God, yea, all their men and all their women and all their children that could speak lifted their voices in the praises of their God.
And now the Lord said unto Alma: Haste thee and get thou and this people out of this land, for the Lamanites have awakened and do pursue thee; therefore get thee out of this land, and I will stop the Lamanites in this valley that they come no further in pursuit of this people.
And it came to pass that they departed out of the valley, and took their journey into the wilderness (Mos. 24:13-24).
John concluded by summarizing what they had observed from this trip.
“We were able to travel from the entrance of Amistad Park to the Talamanca Valley in four days. Five days if you count the day it would have taken us to walk from Volcan to the park entrance. This should be comparable to Alma’s people traveling it in eight days with women, children and their flocks. Now if we can get to the Estrella Valley by tomorrow morning, that should equal their days travel to the Valley of Alma. It’s all fitting together quite nicely.”
That night as Chris drifted off to sleep, he comforted himself that they weren't being chased by a band of savages. It would be hard cutting trail while being pursued by your enemies.
As they started out the next morning Andres noticed three men about a half-mile back who appeared to be following them. It didn’t look good. They were wearing the uniforms of the National Police.
“I’ll bet that man on the road reported us”, suggested Chris. “He seemed very suspicious, especially when John told him we didn’t want to stay on the road.”
“That could be”, responded Andres. “There are more and more drug runners now-a-days, or maybe they think we’re illegal. There has been a lot of trouble with undocumented workers lately. Besides, we’re in Costa Rica and they don’t always take kindly to Panamanians like me.”
“Well we can just explain our purpose to them and be on our way”, suggested John.
“No, that won’t do”, countered Andres. “Whatever our explanation, they’ll probably detain us and we’ll be held up for the rest of the day. Let’s get going and beat them to Estrella.”
So the race was on. But they had the advantage as the officers still had a half-mile of uphill trail to go, while they had a downhill trail before them, and beside, the officers were no match for Andres, and Chris and John were only too anxious to keep up with him. With Andres in the lead, they did double time down a fairly good trail. Chris remembered his thoughts of the night before. Now he really could relate to Alma and his people.
Within two hours they had reached the outskirts of the Estrella Valley. It was only half the size of the Talamanca Valley but was definitely more picturesque. It was also more developed with large banana plantations checkered over the valley floor.
They didn’t feel that they had time to explore, so haled a poor excuse for a cab, and had the driver take them to the seaside resort town of Cahuita fifteen miles away, on the shores of the Caribbean. There they felt safe among all the tourists. They relaxed and had a late lunch. Then they paid off Andres, said their goodbyes, and put him on a bus for Panama.They still had several hours of daylight left so John suggested they catch a bus to the Land of Moroni.