Costa Rica - La Selva, Cahuita, P.V de Talamanca

Trip Start Jan 03, 2013
Trip End Jul 21, 2013

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Heredia,
Friday, March 1, 2013

We went for a quick breakfast at a local hotel in Puerto Viejo before heading to the river as the rain had finally stopped. A local boatman shouted at us to offer us a boat trip and we decided to go for it. Captain Jose welcomed us aboard and we set off on our private rainforest river cruise. It was immediately apparent that Jose was good at spotting the local wildlife as we saw a green iguana chilling in a tree over hanging the river. The river was very low and extremely shallow in some places. After being on the boat for only 5 minutes, Sean was called to help using a paddle to push the boat away from the bank. Jose jumped onto the bank and tried to pull the boat through this shallow channel that he wasn't able to use the motor. At one point he slipped, dropped the rope and we almost went sailing back the other way without the captain! Thankfully he managed to recover and grabbed the rope again. Sean then had to steer the boat and together they managed to get it into deeper water. We enjoyed the rest of the boat trip spotting animals including crocodiles, caymen, kingfisher, lots of iguanas, snapping turtles, and large fish whilst cruising through the rainforest. It really whetted our appetite for what we might see at La Selva over the next 24 hours.

We grabbed a taxi early afternoon to La Selva and checked in. La Selva is an active biological research station, one of the best in the world. 60%25 of all published research papers on tropical habitats have originated from La Selva. It sounded brilliant, with miles of trails deep into the unspoilt rainforest. We couldn't wait to explore. The importance of wearing closed shoes and long trousers was stressed to us and it didn't take long to realise why. We walked with our bags down through a jungle trail towards our cabin for the night and in the middle of the path was a green snake, it's head raised off the ground. We later found out it was a green tree snake (non-poisonous thank goodness!). We carefully stepped round it and made our way to the room. We changed into shoes and trousers (Sean wearing them for almost the first time on the trip and did not enjoy it in the humid weather) and headed out into the rainforest. During our 3 hours trekking through the rainforest we totally understood why this place was so highly recommended. We saw peccaries, a yellow and black snake, crested guans, snapping turtles, howler monkeys, white faced capuchins, a poison dart frog, toucans (our favourite!) and lots of ants and bugs! There was so much life all around us, the noises and constant movement took some getting used to but it was a brilliant experience.

We got back to our cabin just in time as it was getting dark and had a quick shower before walking to dinner in the canteen. It was full of students and scientists and we sat next to some American birders and enjoyed the meal. We headed back to the cabin and sat on the balcony at the back and listened to the sound of the rainforest for the evening.

The next morning, we were woken early by the howler monkeys, and sat on the balcony to enjoy the sound of the forest for a while. After a big breakfast at the cafeteria, we met Lenin, our tour guide for the morning. The tour unfortunately didn't venture deep into the forest, but instead focused on the history of La Selva Reserve and the forest immediately surrounding the main reception. We did however see some nice wildlife, and Lenin was very good at spotting things (also he knew where to find them!) and he also had a telescope which helped us get a really close look. We saw iguanas, a tropical chameleon, a few blue jeans poison dart frogs, some lovely birds including an owl, and also some rare white tent bats. We enjoyed the 3 hour tour but were glad to have walked into the forest the previous day, where we actually saw more.

After freshening up back at our room and packing up, we had a hearty lunch and made our way to catch the bus to Puerto Limon. We walked the 1.5km to the road from La Selva and caught a bus to a main intersection. We were lucky as a bus to Puerto Limon was there waiting to depart in the next 5 minutes so we quickly boarded. The bus connections were going our way, and after a quick change in Limon, which is a rough port town, we were on our way to Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. We arrived in the sleepy Caribbean town early evening and were met by a nice Italian guy at the bus station who worked at the nearest hostel Shangri La. It was reasonable and had all we needed for 2 nights, so we booked in. The town seemed friendly, laid back, and reminded us of Hopkins in Belize, but with a few more restaurants and tour operators. It was nice to be back on the Caribbean side, the first time since Utila in Honduras.

The following morning, we set out to explore Cahuita and north to Playa Negra. We walked through the town and headed north along the dirt road which hugged the coast and we past several little hotels and cabinas, before reaching the black sand beach. It was typical Costa Rica beach, with palm trees lining the long stretch of sand, very natural. We walked to the end of the beach and continued up the dirt road for a while. We then made our way back clambering over the rocks and sharp reef that lined that part of the coast. It was a little tricky but we'd had plenty of experience of this. Luckily we spotted a sloth in the trees so it was well worth it. They are tricky to spot in the wild so luck was shining on us again, either that or we're becoming good wildlife spotters! We went for a quick swim when we reached Playa Negra again. After lunch, we paid the donation charge and entered Cahuita National Park, a lovely stretch of tropical rainforest overlooking a white sandy beach and a protected reef system. We followed the easy trails and saw two sloths, lots of white faced capuchin monkeys, two snakes (one venemous), squirrels, and blue morpho butterflies. We enjoyed a late afternoon swim and headed back to the hostel for a quiet evening sheltering from the rain. 

We weren't due at the Avarios sloth Santuary until the afternoon, so we spent the morning chilling in the nice communal area of the hostel. We caught the bus back towards Limon and were dropped outside the sloth Santuary early afternoon. We were greeted by Becky, a former Manchester University student who did her placement year at the Sanctuary, and is now working there full time collecting data that will contribute towards her PhD which she starts in September. We were shown to our room which was lovely, possible the most luxurious on our trip so far with the most enormous bed. We dumped our stuff and went upstairs to the cafe and to meet Buttercup. Buttercup is a bradypus or three fingered sloth and was the first sloth that Judy the owner of the Santuary rescued. She was brought to her as a tiny baby which she nursed back to health. That was 23 years ago and since then Judy has cared for and brought up over 120 sloths which now live at the Sanctuary as they cannot be released into the wild. 

We chatted to Becky for a bit, then went outside to enjoy the lovely gardens and scenery. Even though it was raining, we sat under a shelter in a hammock reading for a while and spotting birds, and then walked through a little trail in the forest. We just chilled in our nice room for the evening, playing cards and eating our packed dinner.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast upstairs overlooking the river and watching Buttercup sleep. We then had a trip on a dugout canoe with one of the local guides. It was a peaceful hour where we saw lots of birds, some fruit bats, and also howler monkeys. We then met Becky for our insiders tour of the sanctuary. We first watched a video about the history of the sanctuary, and also about sloths in general. After this we enjoyed seeing some of the sloths they were looking after, both two and three toed. These sloths had all be rescued from people keeping them as pets, electrocuted by cables or found abandoned as babies. This included Toyota who only had one arm - the first sloth amputee. We then visted the sloth nursery and were lucky enough to be able to hold some of the baby ones (only 3/4 months old) including Linus who had a deformed lip, but it made him even cuter! 

 It was a great experience, and we both learned a lot in the two hour tour, and also talking to Becky after about her research plans, methods and challenges. We left the sanctuary at lunchtime and caught the bus to our next stop, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. It is a busier place than Cahuita, but still with the slow Caribbean vibe. We had booked a hotel just east of the main town and after lunch, we checked in and took a walk down to Playa Cocles, the surf beach! Sean checked out the waves and decided it was worth hiring a board for the last hour of sunlight left. The waves were fairly good, a typical beach break and only a few locals in. We cooked and relaxed at the hostel for the evening as it was raining quite heavily at this point and looked set in for the night.

The following day, we hired bikes for a bargain of $5 each and set of along the coast towards Manzanillo. We stopped at Cocles for Sean to check out the surf (which was massive and very messy) then headed towards Punta Uva. We stopped and walked along the beach, constantly getting caught by the huge waves racing up the each. It was a beautiful beach, backed onto by palm trees but in the cloud and big waves it looked quite wild, not the picturesque beach you see on the postcards. We cycled all the way to Manzanillo (around 13km) on the nice flat smooth road, with jungle either side (although there were huge spiders on webs between all the power cables above our heads). We had thought to have lunch there but when we arrived it was a horrid place so we turned around and headed back. We arrived back at Cocles and watched the big surf and the struggling body boarders for a while until it started to drizzle so we headed back to the hostel. Just as we came out to take the bikes back, it started to rain properly and we got soaked. We popped into the supermarket to get a cheap dinner and went back to the hostel for the night. We were planning to head to Bocas del Toro in Panama in the morning and were fed up of the cloud and rain which we´d experienced for the past 10 days so hoped the weather would be better there.

Although we have loved some of the things we have done in Costa Rica, and the wildlife we have seen, it is certainly not one of our favourite countries we have visited so far. It is almost devoid of its own culture and identity with the whole country just set up for tourism and entertaining Americans. The majority of things were overpriced, particularly food, and it had a 'themepark' quality which we didn't particularly like. Saying that, some of our highlights of the trip so far have been in Costs Rica, spotting animals and birds in the alive rainforest at La Selva, hiking to a cloud covered crator lake and cuddling up with baby sloths are just a few. Costa Rica is perfect for a certain kind of tourist and for those others like us, you just have to work a bit harder to escape that trap and when you do it's worth it.
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Cat Lumb on

This is awesome! Was jealous right up until the picture of the Orb Spider! lol!
Keep up the great blogging...
Take Care,
Cat xx

Fred on

Great pictures! You awesome! UTB

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