Monday, July 27, 2015

Costa Rica part 3: Corcovado

The time had finally come for Chris... he has been wanting to get inside of Corcovado National Park for many years, and even attempted to make it happen on his last trip to Costa Rica with no avail. The park has strict rules about how many people can enter at a time, and also that an offcial guide is required, so a chance at hiking around the "most biointense region in the world," (supposedly 2.5% of all the species on Earth can be found in the park) is nowadays an expensive endeavor. Given the cost and also the nature of the trip, Mallary hesitantly opted to stay bug free in a cabana while Chris ventured into the park for a 3 day adventure. Here are our stories...

With my backpack stuffed with three days worth of food, supplies, and several liters of water, I woke up to the alarm going off at 4am and was off to meet my guide Luis at the town bakery. Luis is in his mid 20's, and although young for a guide, he is licensed through Costa Rica's official guide certification program, not to mention he has spent his whole life running around in the bush and is quite the wildlife, insect, and tree enthusiast. From Puerto Jimenez the drive to Corcovado is over an hour long down a fairly scenic dirt road that ends at a beach called Carate. The only signs of human habitation here is a couple rustic ecolodges tucked away in the forest, a small tienda, and an unmanned tiny airstrip. After being dropped off we wasted no time in hitting the trail, though it's early the heat and humidity are already starting to build up. From this point, it is an hour hike to the park border where we check-in at La Leona ranger station. The goal of the day is to hike 12 miles to Sirena ranger station. Sirena is the only place in the park where visitors are allowed to camp, and also acts as a research station for scientists from all over the world. (N 8°28.791 W 83°35.376).

The trail starts off with a creek crossing and then into the forest where we are instantly met by the strange sounds of the critters that inhabit this untamed region. After checking in at La Leona I march on with Luis, proving his skills for honing in on wildlife via sight, sound, and even smell. We constantly encounter monkeys, various beautiful birds, packs of coati's, snakes, and poison dart frogs. At one point Luis stops in his tracks, "I hear something large further in the brush" he says. Excited about what it could be, we quitely creep off the trail towards it. Soon the shape of a large Tapir appears wallowing in a watering hole. Awesome! Tapirs are a rare animal that resemble a mix of pig and elephant, but are closer related to the rhino. It's never a good idea to spook a 500lb animal so we keep our distance. Pumped about the sighting, we press onward. Timing is important on this hike because sections of the trail are on the beach with ocean on one side and steep rocky cliffs on the other. At high tide these stretches are impassable, and if caught out during it, one could be stranded on the rocks or even swept away in crocodile and bull shark infested waters.

A Tapir laying in the brush.
Poison dart frogs, racer, and an anole trying to intimidate us with it's colorful throat.
Coati's hunting for food.

As the day went on, the sightings continued as well as the unrelenting humidity. To give an idea of how intense it was, the inside of my waterproof watch fogged up! All was going well, then Luis stopped in his tracks, "Smell that!? Cat pee!" I took a big whiff of the air, and he was right, there was definitely a lingering scent of cat urine. Six types of wild cats live in the park, including the large Jaguar and Mountain Lion, and seeing any one of them is considered a lucky outing. We continued on, moving quietly, and then we came across cat prints. Things are looking good and Luis seemed to think we were in it's home range. Five minutes later we spot two Mountain Lion cubs up on a branch!! It was a stunning experience seeing them in the wild! We waited a good half hour hoping that the mother would come around, but we weren't fortunate enough to see her.

Getting our tracking on
I managed to snap this pic through a telescope
After hiking for ten hours, drenched in sweat, tired, thirsty, and hungry we arrived at Sirena. I set up camp on the tent platform, ate dinner, and passed out. Due to so many poisonous snakes and various animals the entire ranger station, walk ways, camping zone etc is a network of decks that keep people off the ground. The number of giant and unusual bugs here was astonishing. Sleeping in a tent wasn't only neccesary to keep mosquitos away, but also to keep the massive spiders, hissing roaches, scorpions, and a heap of other unidentifiable bugs from crawling on you.
Sirena Ranger Station
Massive grasshopper!
Day 2 was spent prowling the numerous trails in and around Sirena, often times going hours without seeing a another person. Other then seeing a lot of the usual suspects, we came across a pack of peccaries. These wild pigs have been known to chase hikers up trees, so we quickly hurried by them as they snorted and grunted at us. The next morning we got back on the trail before sunrise for our hike back to Carate. It was another long hot day, but as usual the wildlife impressed, including something new, two anteaters! Luis was on top of his game detailing every type of plant with enough interesting facts that could have filled a notebook. We eventually reached Carate and were quickly whisked away towards civilization, hankering for cold beers and A/C. In the end, the trip was totally worth it. If you find yourself in this corner of the world, don't mind getting hot and dirty, and enjoy intense levels of nature then this adventure is a MUST-DO!
Peccaries on their way to bully us away...definitely no time to try to catch a good photo!
Meantime, back in Puerto Jiminez for 3 days...
I'm all alone. I have an air conditioned cabana with a poolside porch in a cute little complex on the water called Cabinas Jiminez. It is such an odd feeling at first, I haven't been alone for more than a few minutes in the past 4 months. I ride a bike around the tiny town then spend the afternoon eating grilled veggie and blue cheese sandwiches while binge watching the new season of Orange is the New Black like its my job. I'm straight chillaxin, and just keep thinking of how I could not be having a more different experience than Chris is having right now! I think the weekend will continue like this, until about 7pm that first night when I meet my neighbors. Within 5 minutes of meeting these 2 very different cousins who are avid travelers, do they invite me along to go hear some live music with some folks who they also just met... And before they even got the words out I'm all "let's go!" Next thing I know I'm squished in the back of a 4x4 rumbling down a dirt road in search of music while exchanging life and travel stories with this hodgepodge of a group of travelers, each of the 5 of us probably representing a different decade. The night flies by with drinks, music, and laughter, and we head home, curiously sticking our lights out the windows in search of glowing croc eyes. I'm so appreciating the odd and totally cool interactions between these strangers turned friends, cause although we are all different as people could be, we are all lovers of the life of travel! The weekend continues like this for me... Hopping in a kayak for an afternoon paddle, many hours skyping with my favorites back in the US, taking the bike to town to read and slurp down a fresh papaya shake, back and forths from my room to the pool to my porch, and many more oh so random interactions with various travelers around the cabinas and various locals around town. Definitely a time of recharge for this girl!
view from my porch
Chris stumbled back into the cabina dirty, sweaty, tired, and fulfilled with his time back to nature... and we quickly decided that a "poor mans Corcovado" was going to need to happen so Mallary could get a taste of it! The next day we set out in search of an adventure together around the perimeter of the park. Looking for a secluded camping spot on a beach, we put Lola into 4 wheel drive and took the most rugged looking path to the beach. The reward was a deserted beautiful beach, however not suitable for camping, so we hung out for a bit, backtracked through the jungle and drove to the end of the road towards Corcovado.
Of course, the rain came in just as we arrived, so we found refuge at the only open place way out in the middle of nowhere, which turned out to be a pretty sweet ecolodge. We met some interesting characters and throughly enjoyed the varied company there, but booked it for the beach to set up camp as soon as the rain let up. The next day we hit the trails and Mallary got a small taste of what Chris has been up to for a few days. We hiked through the humid jungle a bit, with two perogatives... find a tapir and a beach with heaps of Scarlett Macaws! The macaws were on board with our plan, and were flying and squaking overhead, but the rare tapirs must have been hiding sneakily in the thick jungle! We had made it almost to Leona Ranger Station, where we would have to turn around since that's as far as "Poor Mans Corcovado" is allowed. We head to the beach for the walk back (Chris thoroughly wanting Mallary to see how hard it was to trek through this soft sand) and start seeing fresh tapir tracks! The hunt is on! We try following every lead we have, start checking the hidden areas, and venturing off the trail a bit hoping to see one!! Everytime we followed a set of tracks, they would lead us to a dead end, that didnt involve a tapir in the mud!
Tracking animals is not our strong suit apparently
More tracks!
The poor mans Tapir sighting never happened, but as soon as we arrived back to our campsite, Mallary's Scarlett Macaw beach dream came true. 6 or 8 or so pairs of Macaws gathered in the trees above us and began to squak and chit chat loudly with each other. They were busy cleaning each other, kissing, talking, chomping on fresh almonds, and doing flips in the branches, all the while seeming undisturbed, if not more and more encouraged by our presence! One lovely bird even looked directly at Mallary, then hung upside down and spread it's wings out just so we could enjoy the intense bright blue, red, and yellow colors of his back! :)
We leave Costa Rica on a high note, as usual anticipating what awaits us across the next border... Here we come Panama!!



























1 comment:

  1. Chris, you were really in your element in Corcovado NP. Great pictures. I think the scariest animals were the wild pigs. It sounds like Mallary had a fun weekend at the cabana. Hope that you are having fun in Columbia! Love, Lou & Carol