Saturday, January 14, 2012

Corcovado National Park [day 1]

Another year, another adventure. We were fortunate to be able to spend the first week of 2012 with our friend Kevin at Corcovado National Park in the southern-most region of Costa Rica. We all met up in San Jose on New Year's Day and caught up over homemade veggie tamales (thanks to our host mom, Maria) and a couple of rounds of Amish Dice

On Monday morning we got up bright and early and caught a taxi to the Puerto Jimenez bus stop in the northern part of the city and ate some pinto (traditional rice and bean breakfast) while waiting for the bus terminal to open. Shortly after 8am the bus was headed south and we enjoyed some more conversation when we weren't enjoying the view, trying to keep the seat springs from puncturing our bodies, listening to podcasts or sleeping. Roughly eight hours later we arrived at our destination, La Palma, the former home of several previous Peace Corps Volunteers. We stayed at Cabina Baljay (owned by the host family of said volunteers), a cozy little place in town and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at a seafood place a couple of blocks away. The day of travel had tired us out and so we called it an early night, knowing that we would have an early morning.

We were on the road by 6am as we chose to walk to Los Patos, the ranger station located on the north east side of the park. We enjoyed several parrot and toucan sightings as we left town and then entered the more rural communities outside of La Palma. We passed a taxi driver on our way and he asked us if we were going to Los Patos. When we said yes his response was "es muy duro." We shrugged it off as we had heard that the station was about a 4 kilometer hike. Now I'm not so sure where that number came from as it ended up being 14 kilometers, most of which were spent crossing back and forth over the same river. But, that's how adventure happens, right? I think if we had known better we too would have opted for the taxi ride to the station, but we enjoyed the cool water on our feet and as an added bonus we met a guy who was walking to the park to pan for gold [note: this is illegal]. So, for those of you planning your own trip to Corcovado, you can walk to Los Patos from La Palma, but it is 14 kilometers of river crossings, but you just might meet some interesting characters along the way. Or, you can take the taxi and save your legs (and feet!) for the actual 20 kilometer trek into La Sirena, the ranger station that lodges visitors.

We parted ways with our gold-seeking friend and checked in at Los Patos. We ate some dried cherries and granola bars and then went on our way. With one more crossing of that same river we finally entered the jungle. The trail started with a steep climb up some stairs and surprisingly kept going up! For a peninsula this place has quite the elevation gain! We stopped occasionally when our ears caught the sound of some creature or another making its way through the surrounding tangle of greenery but did not have much luck spotting anything until we passed under a tree in which three pair of scarlet macaws were having a mid-morning snack, their nut shells hitting the ground around us as they fell from above. The rest of our morning consisted of random sightings of lizards, frogs and a variety of smaller birds.

We crossed yet another river and settled in for lunch along side a German family that was being led through the park with a guide (they had passed us earlier in the morning in the back of a taxi, so we were pretty happy to see them). We chatted a little bit about animals that we had seen (or not seen) and were told that they had spotted a peccary, which was most likely what we heard but didn't see as we are pretty sure that we smelled it (they smell like urine, or as the guide told us, they smell like urine that has been sitting for a couple of weeks). We received advice that if we came across a pack of them that looked like they were going to charge we should drop our bags, climb a tree and save our lives. Then they said good-bye and left us to fend for ourselves.

With our bellies full we left the banks of the river to what we were sure was a peccary-infested jungle and kept an eye out for trees that would be easy to climb. In observing these trees we spotted a monkey new to us, the spider monkey. We watched them swing overhead for a while, enjoying the differences in their motion from white-face and howler monkeys. While enjoying the animals above we almost missed the sighting of one below, an agouti that raced across our path, almost taking the guys out by the ankles! It was like a stray bullet crossing our path and a reminder that we should always be aware of our surroundings in the jungle!

We continued on our way and saw some wild turkey-type birds and a couple of grouse-type birds. At one point blue morpho butterflies magically appeared on the trail, shocking us with their bright blue wings as they took flight out of the decaying brown leaves that covered the trail. It was one of those moments when you almost laugh out of pure joy. After about four of them took their leave we were once again amazed by the appearance of Costa Rica's rarest monkey, the squirrel monkey. These little guys seemed to float among the branches overhead, barely making them sway with their weight. They appeared and almost as quickly disappeared leaving one to wonder if they were ever really there.

The rest of the day consisted of more stream and river crossings and more sightings of the same types of animals. We could hear the howler monkeys in the distance, but could not spot them. The wild turkeys cried out in fright, worried that we would cause them harm and the grouse were occasionally flushed out, startling all. We were glad to arrive at La Sirena Biological Station, remove our wet shoes and stake our claim for tent space on one of the platforms. With dusk quickly approaching we walked down to the beach with hopes of catching the sunset. We missed sunset, but we did have beautiful views and then headed back to set up our tent, eat some dinner and take (unexpected) showers.

We had an enjoyable time talking to a nice Canadian family that has traveled all over the world and a gentleman that was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Congo in the 90s. We were ready to settle in for the night when someone spotted a tapir hanging out near the tent platform. It was moseying along eating some leaves and tree bark. We tried to capture it on film, but you can only do so much in the dark when someone bumps your elbow as you're patiently holding the camera still (the handy tripod we carried with us on the trip was sitting patiently in the tent for us to come and grab it, but we forgot all about it in the excitement of the moment!). It moved along and so did the crowd. The area quickly became quiet as everyone climbed back into their tents and sleep overtook the days adventures.

Check back soon for Day 2 in the park!

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