Welcome To The Jungle

Scarlet Macaw Feathers @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

The bus that was meant to take an hour from Dominical (where we had somehow ended up by jumping on a random bus heading south) took over two and consequently we missed our boat to Drake Bay. We decided not to waste a night waiting in some random tiny town to get to Drake Bay the next day but instead decided to try to head all the way to Puerto Jiménez (PJ).

A quick bus change later we were headed to the next town, Palmer Norte (about as interesting as Palmerston North NZ, I gathered once we were there) to change buses again. When we arrived, we jumped off the bus, worked out that they did not have buses to PJ from there so ran through the town to the next terminal and found out there was not another bus for another four hours and that even that was uncertain. The woman working there was totally clueless and it took so long to get any answers out of her. Suddenly a guy popped his head round the corner of the ticket booth just as a bus flew past on the highway and shouted to us that that bus was going to PJ. He hailed us a cab and threw us inside to chase the bus. A very stupid move for us to even think this was possible. Sod it! We had no time to contemplate whether this was a good idea or not, CHASE THAT BUS!

What followed was the slowest, most expensive car chase ever. After about 10/15 minutes however we caught up with the bus and we just could not believe it! I ran to the front of the bus to confirm it was definitely going to PJ and was met with a very familiar face. My stomach sank, it was the same bus we had just gotten off and the PJ bus was way ahead! In hindsight, of course the bus would be miles away, we are such idiots!!

The Large Female Spider Sometimes Eats The Tiny Male Spider After Mating, If She Is Hungry @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Defeated and frankly a bit clueless as to what to do next, we hopped back on the very bus we had just gotten off a mere 20 minutes earlier and the nice driver rang the driver of the PJ bus (I don’t know why this information was not divulged sooner as I had asked this driver for help on getting to PJ in the first place and he apparently had no idea and now he was just casually ringing the other driver!). The PJ driver agreed to stop and wait for us! Winner! Our driver called back once more to confirm and we were set to switch in the next town. Well the next town was literally just a petrol station on a T junction with two small restaurants and guess what?! The bus had gone. Our bus had obviously taken too long. Fair enough though, they could not wait forever, there were other passengers to consider too who were also trying to get somewhere. Lucky there was one more bus that day that we could get, unfortunately however, it was not for another four hours and we had to wait on a petrol station forecourt.

We needed to organise accomodation while we were on the road as our plans had changed. Our sim had run out of credit while we were in Quepos and we had booked accomodation in Drake Bay but now we were on our way to PJ so we had to run and buy a sim during one of the many bus changeovers and work out how to activate it which is not always easy! We finally managed to book a hostel in PJ during our exciting four hour wait in the petrol station.

There was another local guy waiting for the same bus which was somewhat reassuring but once it goes dark and you’re in the middle of nowhere with no one around and nowhere to stay it’s a bit of an uncomfortable feeling.

Taramandua Mexicana Anteater Searching For Lunch @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Leaf Nosed Bats @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Finally at 7.15pm, the bus arrived and we were off!! The bus was dark but with quite a few spare seats. We sat down and bounced along the road drifting in and out of sleep quite happily, very relieved that we were getting to our final destination, well, “A” final destination. That was of course until we were tapped on the shoulder and woken up by an American girl called Anna wearing yoga leggings and a tiny yoga croptop (there is a time and a place for yoga attire and it was not at night time, on a public bus, in Central America). She was overly chatty and cheerful consindering she had just woken us both up and wanted to know where we were heading etc. Anna was very excited to hear we were going to the same hostel (us less so). We got off the bus to heavy rain. I called the host of Lunas hostel, Alex, and he had kindly offered to come pick us up! We waited under a little awning while Anna ran into the supermarket to grab some supplies for her trek the next day. She left us with her rucksack and a ukelele (thank fuck she was going straight into the jungle tomorrow or we may have to have sat through a performance). We had to wait for a while in Alex’s car while Anna got her shit together, but finally we had arrived in Puerto Jiménez. Lunas hostel was very basic and delapedated but on the upside the host was super friendly. It was the cheapest accommodation we could find and there was a nice balcony area near our room that unfortunately was a bunk bed with a hole in the floor but still, we had arrived!

The next day we had a lay in then went to speak to a couple of tour companies we had been emailing. Going into Corcovado National Park was going to be very expensive and would be the most costly thing we would do in Costa Rica but we knew that already and had consciously saved a lot of money elsewhere on our trip by not using shuttles, cooking for ourselves and negotiating accommodation and tour prices before we arrived in places. After a lot of back and forth and changing our minds, we finally decided to book a two day, one night trip with Osa Wild. We really wanted to do three days, two nights but it was just such a price jump and it was already a very expensive trip. We had hoped that other tourists would be around and want to do the same trek which would have made it cheaper but no such luck.

Baby Squirrel Monkey Watching Me @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

It was very hot and humid in PJ. Rainy season increases the humidity so you never want anything other than a cold shower. There is not much going on in PJ which for that day, was fine by us. We wandered the town, had some nice watermelon smoothies, did bit of grocery shopping for the next day and packed.

The next morning we awoke very early to meet our guide at 5.30am outside the towns bakery. We had sort of requested a female guide because we had read some good reviews online about one of Osa Wilds’ guides who was female. She was not available but they had two female guides and since we had expressed an interest they sought after the other one for us! Arlette was the first female guide we had had since we have been away. Wildlife has really been a “man’s game” around here (and everywhere else in the world) but it’s changing slowly and anything we could do to support that was very cool! Plus she was stoked to hear that we had requested a female guide. Arlette was a Biologist doing her masters in tropical biology and studying a very specific and rare tanager bird (who’s proper name escapes me, I know- I bet you’re gutted).

We hopped into a jeep with a few others doing different things in Corcovado, some doing day trips, others doing an overnight but getting the boat back out to Drake Bay and then returning to PJ by jeep, there were a lot of options. We headed along the very bumpy and very windy road to Carate where we started our monster trek. Along the way we saw a Yellow Breasted/Throated toucan, a juvenile King vulture (which is actually not that common to see, the adults are white and the juveniles are all black), White Faced Capuchin monkeys and Spider monkeys and that was just the beginning!

Yellow Throated Toucan @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Spider Monkey And Baby @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

We started hiking with our individual guides and soon were face to feathers with tens of beautiful Scarlet Macaws! It was then we thought back to how we travelled miles and miles off the beaten track and hitchhiked in Belize to catch a glimpse of these beautiful rare birds. We had spent a couple of days down in Red Bank where we hiked and waited for hours and hours in the pouring rain just to see two very soggy Scarlet Macaws and to be now faced with tens of the beautiful bloody things! Scarlet Macaws are extremely endangered but this is one of two places in Costa Rica where they are commonly seen, lucky us!

Trio of Scarlet Macaws @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Beautiful Scarlet Macaw @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

As we proceeded along the trail which was more or less flat, we were faced with a large estuary with many tributaries feeding into the sea. We took off our boots and waded through the shallowest streams, passing Jesus Christ lizards and a large Coati swimming across. We continued on through jungle and beach and saw all kinds of things in just the first few kms- Spider monkeys, a snake, butterflies, and a mushroom that “blooms” into a weird mesh every month for one day only so that it can attract insects to spread its spores. After the first four kms we had reached our first rest stop, La Leona Ranger Station and our only water refill stop. We were carrying all of our water for the two days and it was hot and unbelievably humid. At La Leona station we saw a young hawk and thousands upon thousands of leaf cutter ants!

Juvenile Hawk @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Sporing Mushroom @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

We continued on through jungle and beach seeing so much wildlife, it was incredible. We chatted all the way with Arlette who carried a slightly smaller telescope than her male colleagues. She was about my height with a tiny build. She talked to us about her studies, her family (who grow and internationally export coffee in the area right next to Parque Nacional Los Quetzales) and the challenges in becoming and working as a female guide. She told us her male colleagues take the piss out of her for being nearly 30 (she is 28), unmarried, with no children and doing a “man’s job”. She also cops a lot of stick for apparently not being strong enough for the job. From where we were standing (which was always behind her because she was so damn fit and fast!) she was doing an amazing job! I’m sure her colleagues are only joking but it’s a mentality here that needs to change and luckily with amazing intelligent women like Arlette, it is.

We spent the next few hours hiking through amazing secondary rainforest. Corcovado National Park (all 424 square kilometres of it) is the largest national park in Costa Rica, and was referred to by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity”. It holds 2.5% of the worlds biodiversity including more than 800 species of trees, over 450 species of birds, 124 species of mammals and 117 species of reptiles and amphibians. It definitely lived up to it’s world class status and did not disappoint. Below is a list of the amazing wildlife we saw in just two short days, imagine what we would have seen if we were there longer!

Monkey Mates @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Birds– Yellow-breasted/ Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan, Scarlet Macaw, Common and Radside Hawks, Red-backed Tanagers, Crested Caracara, Great Curassow, Cattle Egrets, Pale-Billed and Golden-naped Woodpeckers, Bare-Throated Tiger Heron, Red-legged Honey Creeper, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Masked Tityra, Brown Pelicans, Riverside Wrens, Black, King and Turkey Vultures.

Mammals– Tapir, Monkeys (Spider, Howler, White-Faced Capuchin and Squirrel), Agouti, Coati, Anteaters (Taramandua Mexicana x 3), American Crocodile, Four-striped Whiptail, Woolly Possum, Four Eyed Possum, Bats (Leaf Nosed/Common Tent Making) and Red-tailed Squirrel

Reptiles and Amphibians– Jesus Christ Lizards, Yellow-Headed Gecko, lots of other lizards, Green Iguanas, a huge Boa Constrictor, Blunt-headed Snake, Wet Forest Toad, a huge Boa Constrictor, Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frog (endemic to Corcovado) and Green and Black Poison Dart Frog.

Arthropods – Owl butterfly, spiders, centipedes, huge grasshoppers and crickets, Hermit crabs and Halloween crabs

We stopped for lunch on the beach just before our mammoth beach walk ahead. We sat on a big log next to a whale skeleton that was found dead on the beach three years before. As we ate we watched as hundreds of hermit crabs scuttled about looking for food and occasionally fighting for shells or crab women or whatever they would be fighting for. It was the most crabs I have ever seen at once and intrigued as to what would happen, I chucked down some bread and they literally swarmed it, it was amazing! After the crab gang fight we tackled the beach walk. This would be the longest period we were hiking along the beach for, all in all I think it was only about 1.5/2 hours but it was so hot in the blazing sun and such hard work on sand!

Hermit Crab Fight! @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

During the hike we had to cross many streams and we did so very carefully so as not to get our boots wet as we had nothing else to wear for the hike back the next day. Later on in the day the tide was coming in really fast and as we were climbing over rocks along the beach the waves were crashing up the beach and licking the rocks. It was kind of like a computer game where you had to wait for a break and run/climb like crazy. We did this pretty well for a while until we chose an unfortunate time to run and a wave basically went over our heads! Well except me of course because “like a mountain goat” (Jess’ words) I ran up a shear rock face to avoid getting wet, I don’t really like getting wet. I did however manage to fall into a few streams along the way so my boots were totally full of water anyway. Totally drenched we plodded on.

We finally reached the river we had to cross which was about an hour away from the ranger station “Sirena” that we were going to stay at. There was a French guy and an American guy and their guide already waiting at the river bank when we arrived. They were waiting for the water level to drop so that they could cross. It was raining so we put our bags down and sat down to wait for the water to go out. While Jess was hanging her bag on a tree I heard a loud hissing at her feet and saw a rather angry Four-Eyed possum baring its teeth. I told Jess to slowly step backwards and as I did she heard the hissing and ran off faster than I had ever seen her move. She of course thought it was a snake and totally lost the plot! It was raining so I couldn’t get a photo of the possum but it was quite funny but very angry!

What Are You Looking At? @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Blowing Raspberries @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

The water level was going down but not very quickly and it was soon going to get dark. We were joined by an older Dutch couple and their guide who we had started the trek with. We were going to have to cross the river with our bags on our heads in what I knew was crocodile infested water, Jess did not know this and for the best- I had not told her. We were faced the decision to cross the river when the water was still high or do the last part of the hike in the dark. With Poisonous nocturnal animals a plenty we all opted to cross sooner rather than later. I could hear the guides talking and looking at me and soon found out it was because they had picked me out (along with Arlette) as the shortest in the group so I wouldn’t be tall enough to carry my bag across as I may have to swim! The two other guides went first and carried mine and Arlette’s bags across. The water went up to their chests! The French and American guy were really nervous and were starting to panic. They kept going on about staying close together and going as a group. We later found out that they had just seen a huge crocodile but had thankfully decided not to tell the group.

There was no way we could walk across barefoot so in the end we gave up and just fully submerged our boots. The water was brown and we couldn’t see anything. We all walked slowly across the river (which came up to my chin!!!) and managed to get to the other side without becoming crocodile chow!

Once across the river we continued on in the rain until suddenly we saw a Tapir! It was huge! It was sleeping as they are nocturnal but it did wake up a few times, look at us then snooze again.

Between Snoozes @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

We finally arrived at Sirena Ranger Station, took off our wet clothes and poured all of the water and sand from our boots. The hike was long, hot and sweaty and at some points very tough but the wildlife we saw was outstanding! We had the best shower ever then enjoyed a dinner with the four other guests at the station (which Can sleep 75 people) before heading to bed at 8.30pm totally exhausted. The dorms has a roof but were basically all open. We slept in large sturdy bunk beds with mosquito nets and fell asleep to the truly amazing and loud sounds of the jungle.

Golfo Dulce Poison Dart Frog @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Sirena Ranger Station no longer allows night hikes and you have to be inside the station by 6.30pm. This is because of the number of dangerous animals out at night, mainly the very poisonous and deadly Fer de Lance snake. In front of the ranger station is a grass runway that apparently at nightime is covered in snakes! The runway was, until relatively recently, used for flights in and out of Sirena station but now the pilot is too old and blind and was forced to retire. I wonder what his last few flights were like… Now they have no other pilot experienced enough in landing in such a small and complicated area.

After hiking 22kms the day before, we got up at 5am in the rain to do it all over again in reverse! We had to leave very early so that we made good time to meet the transport at Carate at 1pm, plus also this was the time when Crocodile River was low. This time we just took our clothes off and walked across but luckily it only came up to my waist. Once across we saw another pair of tourists flailing around and it looked like the girl was swimming in circles. She was, she had dropped her phone and was looking for it! She told us later that they waited and searched around for over an hour and unbelievably they found it! And possibly more amazingly- it was still working! Just in time as the guide had asked them to move on quickly because there was a crocodile coming closer and closer! No one has ever been attacked by a crocodile there but there is always a first!

Inquisitive Squirrel Monkey @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Upside down @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

The walk back somehow seemed more manageable and the beach stretch was luckily not in the midday hot sun. We saw heaps more animals but nothing we hadn’t seen the day before except some birds and a huge Boa Constrictor curled up in a tree!

“Do Not Disturb” @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

We made it in good time for the pick up and headed back to Lunas hostel for a proper shower and some clean, dry clothes. Nothing dries in PJ so the next day we ended up bagging up our soaking wet, smelly boots and clothes and taking them with us the next day to our next stop…PANAMA!

We got the early boat and were greeted by a topless young man at 6am shouting “COSTA RICA! COSTA RICA! PURA VIDA!” He sat at the dock on his motorbike with his hand held down on his horn singing and screaming for literally 15 minutes straight! They had just won the footy. And now to plan our travels around all World Cup matches. Panama here we come!

Ruffling Feathers @ Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

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