Corcovado or bust

Trip Start Mar 29, 2013
Trip End Jun 20, 2013

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Where I stayed
Sirena Ranger Station

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Puntarenas,
Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We have been without the laptop and decent wifi bandwidth for a few days now as we were in the Corcovado National Park so this is a major update blurb-wise. Currently we are now luxing it up at La Luna Lodge in Carate before coming back down to earth for the final week in Costa Rica in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean coast.   

One of the big plans of our trip to Costa Rica was a 20km hike into the Sirena Ranger Station in the middle of the Corcovado National Park. This was something that Willem had looked at well over a year ago when he was planning where we should go. Jan took up the reins and I left them to it.  I liked the idea of it when we were in Australia but the increasing heat and humidity as we travelled further south and the minor issue with my toes was really putting me off.  My apprehension was made worse when I started to get sick at the end of our stay in Drake Bay (food or water, who knows).

We stayed overnight in Puerto Jimenez in a great backpackers, more cold water showers but we did have air-conditioning for the first time in over two weeks which was great for getting all the soggy clothes dry – it's so damp here all the time nothing dries properly and in the rainy season, books, sheets etc have been known to go mouldy.

Jan had organised a guide (Nito) for the 3 day trip into the park who came to talk to us the night before having just hiked back from the park that day with a French family. He must have been knackered! I woke up at 3am feeling sick and by 5 was wondering if I could manage – a quick read of the medical advice we’d been given and a toxic cocktail of 2 drugs later, we hopped into a 4WD for the 2 hour drive to Carate.  One thing that the Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor reviews talk about are how bad the roads are here even in the dry season. Based on that I was expecting something akin to the Paris-Dakar, what we got was a perfectly serviceable gravel road a bit windy but nothing special. Clearly the reviewers have never driven on a gravel road in Australia, no corrugation or anything.  It was tough going for me but only because I was feeling ill. After about 90 minutes the road just ended and apparently we’d arrived.  We got out and we told that our main luggage would be driven up to the Lodge we would be staying at on our return for a couple of nights.  I was a bit concerned given that it contained a laptop, my Kindle and other 'essentials of daily life’ but there wasn’t time for us to go up there we needed to get going - to beat the tide what was that about I wondered?

The walk to the ranger station is about 2/5ths on the beach and 3/5ths in the forest. The beach is by far and away the toughest part it’s in full sun and if the waves are high you are forced onto the soft sand. I have a new found respect for the French Foreign Legion.  The forested parts are much easier – it’s still hot and humid and we were all super sweaty but it’s shady.  There are 3 beaches to get across – the first is a dull walk from Carate to the Leona ranger station the next two are further along the coast and these are the ‘fun’ bits.  At 2 points you are forced out of the forest and onto the beach to get past a couple of cliffs.  At low tide these are easily accessible but at high tide they are difficult, if not downright dangerous to try and get past.  Generally the guide will make you wait until the tide drops back (you may have to wait and hour or two) but then it becomes a play off between getting past the cliffs and getting to Sirena before 5:30 when the light goes.  There are pumas, jaguars and peccaries in the forest and you really don’t want to be out in their territory in the dark.

We saw a lot in the way of wildlife on the walk in (see photos).  Nito was amazing, he’d just stop suddenly and say, "ah look it’s a ‘this’ or ‘that’" and we’d be there looking and still not seeing anything, well me at least, Jack and Willem were better at it, but that’s probably because they have better eyes and aren’t part of the multifocal brigade! I think the only thing I would have seen without him would have been the tapir at the side of the path and the collared peccaries (not the dangerous ones) we saw using the trail near the station.  Apart from knowing the way into the park (the trail is not all that clear in places and is not marked) this is the reason we had a guide, to help us see things.  We met at lot of people without one who didn’t see much at all so it was worth the additional expense.

In terms of pace, we took it reasonably easy which was just as well as I was still battling nausea and stomach cramps. The slightest of hills had me wheezing and my heart racing like a 30 year, 30-a-day smoker with emphysema!  Nevertheless the self-administered toxic cocktail seemed to do the trick. Lots of water and no food – lovely job!  At one stage Nito said we’d missed the tide so we could take it easy then, when we got onto the beach he changed his mind so what followed was a series of timed runs on and around rocks trying to avoid the waves and keep ourselves dry.  We all got past the first cliff ok but then it went wrong for Willem and I.  After waiting for the waves to settle Nito said “run” then said “no” but I was already committed.  Not being that light on my feet and with the coordination of a newborn calf, I stepped into the oncoming wave filling my walking shoes with sea water then, in trying to change direction in response to the ‘no’ tripped over my own foot and ended up on my knees with my backside facing the next wave…. After that I just walked through the sea, not much point making the effort really.  I’m not quite sure how Willem got wet I think he was between me and Jan and just got caught out.  Luckily for him it was only his shoes and not anything else but at the same time unfortunately for both us we were only halfway there so another 10kms walked in wet shoes, ho hum. It’s about this point where the ticks start to appear on the trail.  They are tiny little suckers that are little more than specks when they first arrive – leave them and they will grow quite happily.  You have 3 days to get them off otherwise you risk infection.  Unlike at home they aren’t disease carrying ticks though.  I’d Bushmanned myself up (that’s plastic-melting 80% DEET for those not in Australia) so fared quite well.  Willem was our ‘tick-magnet’ and was constantly picking them off his legs poor thing.

We eventually strolled out of the forest and onto the Sirena airstrip at about 3:30pm nearly 8 hours after we’d left. Our tee-shirts having changed colour and perfume along the way.  Home for the next 2 days was a tent with the outer cover removed on a platform above the ground.  Chosen by Jan on Nito’s recommendation as its cooler than staying in the dormitory.  Showers were freezing cold but very welcome and totally necessary. Lights go out at 8pm on the dot so pretty much that’s bed time.  The mattresses were a bit thin and I was lying on something I though was a dodgy bit of floor which I found out after the first night was in fact the bag containing the tent pegs.

There was a big mix of nationality, English, Spanish, Argentinian, Dutch, South African, Japanese and lots of French people. One French couple had hiked in with a guide from Carate the day before us but were having to charter a plane (single pro-engine 6 seater) to fly out as the man had come in jeans only (WT?) and had managed to chafe himself to the point that he couldn’t walk anymore, silly bugger.   

The day after we arrived was spent walking around the park or lounging around the verandah just watching the wildlife (including the ticks).  The tapirs were the commonest visitors but still some people left without seeing them. They are much bigger than I imagined about part way between a fully grown pig and a cow but totally unafraid of us.  The have a nose which looks a bit like an elephant’s trunk but are actually related to the horse.  Tapirs don’t seem to smell much which is more than you can say for the anteaters (sickly sweet), the monkeys (rotting fruit), the collared peccaries (sweaty sweet) and the white-lipped peccaries (sweaty astringent vomit – truly foul)

The walk back was less eventful wildlife-wise but as we smelt worse than the white lipped peccaries that was hardly surprising.  We did manage to tick off a new poison dart frog and get a close up of another anteater but the walk itself was much quicker partly as we were again marching to the beat of the tide and I was feeling better.  We made it back in 6.5 hours – all with dry shoes! A group hug with Nito at the end (Jack was very taken with him) and we were picked up in a brand spanking new Land Rover and driven up a ridiculously steep hill to the poshest bit of the entire trip - La Luna Lodge.  We’re still in tents but this time they have their own bathroom and, when the gas tank was replaced HOT WATER!!!!!!! Yeah!

Nog even kort in het Nederlands;

Deze trip was inderdaad een groot succes, we hebben enorm veel gezien, bijna alles wat op ons verlanglijstje stond (alleen de poema konden we niet vinden) en ook wel wat mazzel gehad hier en daar. Zo waren er waren mensen die altijd net weg waren als er een Tapir in de buurt was, terwijl wij bijna elke tocht die we maakten, of als we uit zaten te rusten in de lodge een tapir zagen (6 in total!).

Onze gids was geweldig en zijn gewicht in goud waard. Zonder hem zouden we nog niet eens de helft gezien hebben. Bovendien was het een aardige kerel waarmee je ook over andere dingen kon praten wat het erg interessant maakte.

De jongens hadden weinig problemen met de tocht en leken hun iPods geen moment te missen. Zoals verwacht hadden zij de minste moeite om in slaap te vallen, terwijl Sarah en ik nog minder sliepen dan normaal. Qua weer zat het ook mee, het regen seizoen staat op het punt om te beginnen en in Puerto Jimenes regende het al aardig. Gedurende de hele trip hebben we zo goed als geen drup regen gehad maar was het wel veel koeler dan vorige week omdat het bewolkt was en het lokaal wel regende.

Vandaag overigens geen zak uitgevoerd en de hele dag op m’n kont gezeten en een boekkie gelezen (ben ook geen 46 meer!). Morgen terug naar San Jose en dan naar Puerto Viejo, de Caribische kust. Mzl J.
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jan en eva on

Wat een geweldige ervaring,zo'n jungle tocht.Natuurlijk wel wat afzien en wat hebben jullie veel gezien,geweldig.Knap van de jongens dat ze dat kunnen.
Nog veel plezier en take care.mzl

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