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Hola and Pura Vida from Puerto Jimenez, Peninsula de la Osa, Southwest Costa Rica.
So after a few days of hanging out in the Panamanian cloud forests, I realized that cold rain and wind wasn’t my kind of tropical vacation, so I headed to the lowlands and crossed into Costa Rica. Well the people I talked to on the bus in Panama said it should take about 4 hours for me to get to Corcovado National Park, my destination in Costa Rica. But after waiting for buses that didn’t come, dealing with border crossings and some slow hitchhiking, I roll up to Carate, the end of the road, on the edge of the park...28 hours after heading out of Panama. Sometimes traveling can be a big pain in the ass and you wonder why the hell you do it. But as I walk the 3km down the beach to the park entrance, I come upon a baby Hawksbill turtle making its way from the nest down to the sea for its first swim, its last walk on land for 30 years. Then I see another…and then 30 more, a line of baby turtles.
A hawk flies down to snatch one of the babies. I scare it off and take the turtle down to the tide. Two spider monkeys swing through the trees just above the beach. The sun is coming down on an endless beach to the north. That makes 28 hours travel well worth it.
I walk the rest of the way to La Leona, at the park entrance. Only 3 places to stay here, and for $15 I get a dorm bed at the La Leona Lodge. The dorm is a raised platform, open air but covered from rain, perfect view of the ocean from my bed. The Lodge is pretty fancy, hammocks above the beach, nice gardens, great ocean view, no roads or electricity. Pretty luxurious backpacker living, I hang out here a few nights, watching the scarlet macaws and swimming in the ocean. I see some humpback whales swimming south. A pack of coatis raids a turtles nest.
The day comes to hike to La Sirena Biological Station/campground, it’s a 16km hike to the only campsite inside the park. The station is the only man made structure in the park, which is about 45km of pristine coastline, all completely undeveloped beaches, and 20km of rainforest going inland. Corcovado park is supposedly the 2nd most biodiverse place on earth. They say it has more plant and animal species than the rest of central and north America combined.
The hike is long and I have a big pack with 4 days of food. It’s probably 80 or so in the shaded forest, humid too. Occasionally the trail goes along the beach though. The beaches are all black sand. Sand walking with a pack in 100 degrees isnt too fun. I feel obligated to jump in the blue water occasionally. I swim in a water fall. I pass lots of streams the first 2/3 of the hike. I see an anteater raiding an ants nest. I’m getting sick of the hike. I’m tired and dehydrated, there havent been any streams in a while. Its getting late.
The few other hikers Ive seen are all ahead of me. I arrive at the mouth of the river, the Rio Claro, that means I’m almost at the station. I asked the park guard before starting the hike if I needed to worry about the tides, she said no, all the river crossings are easy, just don’t cross at the mouth. I walked upriver a couple hundred meters til I see the sign that says cross here. I look out, the river’s 100 meters wide and looks deep. I take off my pack and step in to check it out. Yea its already knee deep and im only a meter or two out, The sun is getting low, and its just downstream making the water all reflective so I cant see the bottom at all. I remember that some of the rivers in Corcovado have bull sharks and crocodiles. I get out. It’ll be dark in 45 minutes. I walk further upstream, off trail to see if the river narrows out, but it doesn’t and there’s a cliff on the other side anyway. I walk out to the mouth, its only 10m wide but the river is flowing fast through the opening and the ocean waves are smashing up against it making it pretty turbulent. It’s dusk. I see 2 guys on the other side of the river, I run upstream towards them, they’re barely in earshot, I give the whats the deal sign. They yell 3 hours, wait three hours. Three hours??? Yes, 3 hours. Can I cross at the mouth? No. How deep will it be in 3 hours? He gives me the waist deep sign. What would that guy on the discovery channel do? Well there’s no way in hell I’m crossing a bull shark and crocodile infested river by myself in the middle of the night. Water check: I have half a liter and I’m only partially dehydrated, no problem. I start looking for a place to put up my tent. The mosquitos are swarming, so I figure I should go out to the beach to camp, less snakes too. Oh yeah the ocean here has sea snakes. And there are jaguars in the park. 13 venomous snakes in Costa Rica, I’m guessing there are bushmasters and fer-de-lances around. I put up my tent on the beach, but the mosquitos are still swarming. Its hot and Im smothered in deet but they’re biting through my shirt so I have to put on my raincoast and rainpants, making it kind of toasty. The beach is littered with driftwood. Thousands of hermit crabs everywhere. A mangrove hawk stands watch on a log sticking out of the water as the sun goes down.
The moon comes up over the water. I get in my tent, fast, so the mosquitoes don’t come in. mosquito check, only 5 and I kill them all. Lay down to sleep, 15km to civilization behind me, and a river ahead of me. All alone in one of the wildest places on the planet. Pretty awesome.
I wake up at sunrise, pack my tent and walk upstream. Low tide. The river’s only 30m across now, and its not even knee deep. I walk across no problem, maybe the guy meant waist deep at high tide. Walk into the station, surprised to see a grass airstrip and a bunch of people hanging out on the porch looking all clean. Day trippers who come in on the boat from the north. I put up my tent under the covered area. There are sinks and flush toilets and showers, pretty flash camping for being so far out there. I hang out a few nights, for as long as my food lasts. Corcovado is one of those places that’s indescribably awesome, every few hours you see something that completely blows your mind and you cant keep track of all the cool things you see.
There are a few trails around the station, I take one, hoping for a relaxing stroll after the long hike yesterday. Well I unwittingly chose the trail that goes up to the ridge. No problem though, really beautiful rainforest, much lusher now that I’m off the coast a bit. I see a red brocket deer, an agouti, coatis up in the tree tops, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, white throated capuchins. A chestnut mandible toucan at close range. I meet some other UVA grads and we take a canoe up the Rio Sirena, the other river nearby.
We see a tapir (Baird’s tapir) swimming, its big like a hippo. It gets out and runs away and you can hear the pounding of its hooves. Lots of herons. We get back to the mouth and see 2 bull sharks swim right by our canoe. Go out at night to look for frogs up a stream, look up and there’s another tapir, 200kg right in front of me.
See a couple snakes, lots of cool lizards.
The next day I hike back to the Rio Claro (Clear River), but further upstream. It’s crystal clear water, in a canyon, great swimming holes. Pretty amazing spot, you can see where I swam, it’s right here, give or take a few meters. Hit satellite view and notice the closest road.
I take the easy way out and jump on the boat to Bahia Drake, we stop at that waterfall from Jurassic Park, the one that comes off the cliff and lands right on the beach.
I get the 4am bus back here to Jiminez (when there’s no electricity, you wake with the sunrise). I’ve lost track of days of the weeks and dates. I have no schedule and no list of things to do. I walk back behind the airstrip on the edge of town to check out the crocodiles. I see a guy with a big camera. “Looking for crocodiles?” I ask. “There are crocs here?” “yea right down this trail.” We walk a few meters and see a big one swim by. A couple more on the bank.
He has a car and is headed north to Dominical for the day so I go with him. Dominical’s a kind of hippie beach town, funny place. We’re at the hostel run by the Deadhead from Memphis.
We have a 7 person drum jam at night. Then I head back to the Osa with him the next day and he drops me off at Cabo Matapalo. I walk an hour down the dirt road to where it ends, then walk a bit further.
Well the land here may be worth $100,000 an acre, but Costa rican law has it that a person can camp within 30m of any high tide line in the country. I put up my tent as far south on the Peninsula as you possibly can, just this side of the 700ft cliff that falls into the sea. You can see where I put up my tent.
Why do I stay in a tent? Well, not that I could afford the $300/night ecolodge on the hill, but even so I doubt that when they open their eyes in the morning the first thing they see is a glowing red sun rising out of the sea. Check out the picture, it’s the view from inside my tent, right around the time I take my afternoon siesta.
I go to sleep as the Southern Cross rises out of the sea. I hang out here 3 days. I shower in the waterfalls, a different one each day.
I fill my water bottles up from the spring that gushes out of the side of the cliff. It’s a long string of beaches here, most with a few people, but nobody passes my tent the three days I stay here. Last night I went to the weekly farmer’s market, at the only restaurant/bar in ‘town’. Just like Santa Cruz, the organic food crowd comes out of nowhere to sell natural soap and organic mangoes, then everyone eats fresh tuna and drinks Dominical the local beer as the disco ball spins. Kind of like the bar in the middle of nowhere in From Dusk til Dawn, minus the vampires. I hitched a ride towards my tent on the back of a 4wheeler. Hitched into Puerto Jimenez this morning in the back of a pickup truck, now I’ll get on the boat to cross the Gulfo Dulce for parts unknown.
This mouse freaked out then fell over backwards and died. Another snakebite victim.
What's crazy is sometimes you actually need one.
And on to Panama...
Suerte and cuidado,