Osa Peninsula, Oh So Pretty!
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
28Trip End Mar 16, 2010
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Where I stayed
Cabinas Corner, Puerto Jimenez
Costa Rica is expensive when you are travelling on a backpackers budget. Because of this Al and I decided to only spend a week in CR and do the Osa Peninsula, thus going "off the beaten track" (well according to the Lonely Planet that is!). The Osa Peninsula has been described by National Geographic as "the most bio diverse place on earth". The amount of wildlife and plant life here is apparently amazing and its well worth going
Golfito is a sleepy town, nestled in a bay and extends in a very long line along the coast. It is also known for its tax free shopping area, a factor that draws huge crowds of Central Americans on the weekends snapping up electronics etc. We ended up staying not far from the tax free area in a cool cabina that offered us a comfy bed, en suite bathroom and, best of all, cable tv with a 24 hour movie channel! We must have watched 8 movies in the two days we spent in Golfito, but our excuse was that it was pouring with rain and I had not yet seen Transformers. Anyway after our movies we decided to explore the town and strolled along the beachfront, eating a delicious lunch at a Soda (basically an open air restaurant in most cases serving a meal of the day for very cheap!) and heading to the Tax Free area to check out the shops. We were quite disappointed with the tax free area and think that maybe the best time to visit is a weekend and also a little earlier in the day. What we saw was basically a large flea market effort with stuff that looked like they had been taken off the back of trucks. Disappointed, we headed back to our room and our lovely tv.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny and we headed to the dock to catch a taxi boat out to Puerto Jimenez, the gateway to the Corcovado National Park
Cabina Corner was a lovely, if somewhat jailcell looking hostel with the added bonus of having a new annex with a lovely kitchen that had been finished just three weeks prior to us getting there. We therefore decided to stay in the annex so that we could prepare our own evening meals to save some cash.
Saving cash seemed to have slipped our minds though that afternoon as within an hour of arriving we had walked into a clothing shop looking for a hat for Alan (his North Face cap had definately seen better days and he was starting to resemble homeless chic) and had come out with a hat for Al, a new towel for us to share, and sunglasses and new flipflops for me
But our shopping expedition didnt end there, we walked towards the airstrip which is set in the middle of the town and I spotted a sign for Jagua gift shop with an arrow pointing left. Al and I both love artisan places so we headed there and found the best craft shop I have seen in a long time. Its owned by an American guy and his Costa Rican wife. They are both artists and deal a a lot with the local tribes in the area. The items are all really well made and all come with a little note explaining the tribe who makes the items and how they are made. After spending close on two hours in there we came out with a man bangle for Alan, a lovely woven slingbag for me and a hot pot stand for our house that we will one day own. We were also in two minds about whether or not to buy a mask made out of Bolsa wood (which is extremely light). These masks are traditional war masks worn by the Boruca tribe, but are now used for their annual Danza de los Diablitos ceremony, celebrated every winter since at least early colonial times. The Danza depicts the resistance of the Diablito, representing the Boruca people, against the Spanish. After about two days of deliberation we eventually did buy a mask and we hope that it is safely on its way to South Africa as we speak
We also spent some time sorting out our Corcovado National Park tickets and booking beds at the ranger station. The Park is accessed via two routes, the one that we chose started from Carate, about a two hour truck drive from Puerto Jimenez and the most accessible in the rainy season. The other route, entering from Drake Bay, was inaccessible to us at the time we wanted to go due to heavy rains flooding some of the path. This was probably a good thing in hindsight as on our return from the park we met an Irish guy who had done that trail with his girlfriend. After 18km walking in knee deep mud and fearing they would not do the river crossings in time they finally reached the Serena Station where his girlfriend promptly burst into tears. Doesnt sound like fun to me. Our trail was going to start at the La Leona Ranger station on the outskirts of Carate. We were going to walk 20 km to the Serena ranger station starting at 6am on the Sunday and spend the night in Serena, walking the 20km back on the Monday. We wanted to be in Nicaragua by the Wednesday hence the rushing of the hike. Our main concern was the river crossings we had to do, three major rivers in all with a lot of little streams along the way. The major rivers have crocs swimming in them, some up to about 5 meters in length and they swim down towards the river mouth when the high tide from the ocean comes in
We were hoping to see something that would have been amazing. When high tide reaches the River Serena (the river just after the Serena ranger station), bull sharks from the ocean swim up the mouth of the river looking for food. At the same time crocs swim down the river to the mouth in search of food. We wanted to be able to see both these animals at the same time. Apparently they can actually start fighting with each other and it has been known that the river becomes a blood bath with crocs fighting bulls. Sounds like your average Curry Cup rugby game to me...
Our list of supplies to see us through those days was quite large and included a gas stove to cook on as the Serena ranger station does not provide any cooking facilities, only water. We also had to bring enough food to last us the two days, mosquito nets, water, snacks, insect repellant, sun lotion, a torch, hat and sunglasses, good walking shoes, good socks, shoes to cross the river in and an open mind. Over the course of our two days in Puerto Jimenez we managed to buy all these things and visit Parrot Bay.
We were recommended by the owner of Jagua to go and visit Parrot Bay, located on the edge of town on the beachfront. It is a lodge but has lagoons with caiman living in them and loads of macaws and other wildlife. Apparently the locals often go there to feed the caiman dog bones and scraps or, if they dont want to feed the caiman but want them to come near the shallow edge they throw sand onto the water so it seems to the caiman that you are feeding them
We left for Carate on Saturday morning in a massive truck with two seats running down its sides for people to sit on. I felt like an illegal immigrant hiding from the law in this truck. It heaved its way down the unbelievably bad roads stopping off at a beach known for surfing, and eventually at Carate where we got off and headed to our accommodation for the night, a jungle camp lodge. For the extortianate price of $20 per person we had the privilage of sleeping in a tent with a homemad bed and a lumpy mattress surrounded by a jungle filled with macaws, howler monkeys, snakes and big insects. We spent the day at the beach, a lovely stretch of pacific untouched by tourists and watched hundreds of macaw pairs flying around. You wouldnt think that they are endangered judging by the amount that we saw! The waves were too rough to swim properly but the water was nice and refreshing in the humidity and I spent some time splashing around in the waves
6am and we were off down the road, backpacks on our backs, walking sticks in hand and camera at the ready. We reached the La Leona Station about 3 km later and had breakfast in their garden, already hot and sweaty.
Before I get to the actual trek let me tell you this story:-
When I was about five years old we used to live on a farm up in the mountains in the Western Cape
But back to the trek.
Our first major river crossing went off without a hitch except for the fact that I had forgotten to take my socks off when I put my gumboots on (bought in Puerto Jimenez in case of snakes... see story above) and thus got them absolutely soaked. This mistake led to my feet blistering like mad throughout the walk and created a lot of pain, note to self... NEVER wear your socks when doing a river crossing. I decided that the boots were not going to work and then decided to use my Rockies to do any water movements.
The path was fairly easy and the signage very good
We must have been hiking for about 3 hours before we saw anyone else, these were some Canadians that were making their way back from the Serena ranger station, and two Belgian guys that we had met the previous day, they had camped at La Leona Ranger Station the previous night as they had a tent. We ended up walking the rest of the way with them, stopping on the beach for lunch along the way. The hike is made up of beach walks and jungle walks. The beach walks, whilst a little cooler due to less humidity, are more strenuous on the legs as it involves you hiking along loose sand, your shoes fill up with sand rubbing against the blisters and you also suffer more with sunburn as you are more exposed. The jungle trails are more humid, have mosquitos and other biting insects but provide more shade. I preferred the beach trails but that was because of the snakes...
Al was walking behind me when he said that there was a large lizard in the bush on my right
About five minutes later Alan was walking in front of me (I make Al walk in front so as to warn off the snakes - vibrations in the ground make them alert to danger so they can get away) when he suddenly stopped and said, "Bok just stay where you are". There, lying with its head resting on a root of a tree was another snake, probably about a meter long, light brownish in colour. Now, after five hours of hiking, being sweaty, hot, uncomfortable, sore from carrying a pack and now having my ultimate fear lying there, I did what any person does. I burst into tears. My focus was on the snake, my heart started beating so fast and I stopped breathing. I could heard Alan talking to me but the words could not come out of my mouth as my throat was too dry. A lady that we had bumped into previously came up behind me, I turned to her and mumbled the word "snake" tears running down my face. She calmly went over to where Alan was taking pictures of the thing and poked and prodded with a stick, sending it slithering on its way into another bush. She explained that it was a snake that was not harmful and ate only rats and mice. She was a researcher and therefore gave its Genus and Species but never actually told us what its normally called. I skidaddled out of there quicksmarts and was quite relieved when we got to another section of beach walking.
We saw a variety of species on the walk, more howler monkeys in the trees, a stingray in water, more macaws, lots of birds I cant identify and Peccaries
Peccaries are like bush pigs, they are squat little animals that grunt and have tusks and can be quite protective over their young. They can stampeed if they feel threatened, especially if you are standing between them and their young. They also have musk glands on their backs that, when rubbed, release the most pungent odour when threatened (something akin to a skunk). This smell hit us like a brick wall and the peccaries were at least 10 meters away, god it was awful! They eventually ran squeeling into the deeper part of the jungle after realising that we were there. The researcher said that Peccaries cant rise up on their hind legs so if they had stampeded us all we needed to do was climb to about knee height off the ground and we would be safe. Good to know.
We were making good time on the hike and eventually reached our major river crossing with enough time for low tide. The water only came half way up our calves and I am pleased to note that there were no crocs lurking anywhere near. We decided to rest for a while on the other side of the river with the Belgians, eating biscuits and chatting and just getting enough energy together to do the last half hour of the hike to the ranger station
We had hardly put our bags down at the ranger station when we were out the door again rushing down to the beach to see if we could spot any bull sharks or crocodiles as it was the time of day when the river was going to reach high tide. Unfortunately we never saw any bull sharks, but we did see some crocs only about 10 meters from where we were standing. The unsettling thing about crocs are that they are deceptively quick. One minute they are right there in front of you, the next minute when you look they are gone. I nervously edged a bit closer to the beach area and when I looked up again, there on the opposite side of the river bank was a croc sunning himself, with his mouth wide open waiting for prey to sit in it. He remained there until we left a while later, slightly deflated we hadnt seen a bull shark.
After passing out at 7pm the night before with a belly full of pasta, Al and I set off again, not to thrilled that we had to hike back the same way especially as you dont really see anything different. Still it had to be done and I comforted myself with the thought of an ice cold soda waiting for me at a lodge next to the La Leona ranger station. A quick river crossing and we were back in the jungle then on to the beach
The hike back took less time, but we saw less species. We reached La Leona ranger station at about 1pm and guzzled down a soda each and filled up our bottle with a refreshing grapefruit cordial curtosy of the Lodge next door. We still had one final river crossing to make but had enough time not to panic too much and reached it about half an hour later
After these hectic two days Al and I decided to treat ourselves to pizza in Puerto Jimenez, the pizza was delicious after two days of pasta cooked on a camping stove and our fruit juices ice cold. We had just settled in when a massive clap of thunder hit the town, shaking everything around us and resulting in all the restaurant patrons jumping inches out of their seats. The thunder and lightning had hit at the same time with no warning and the lightning had struck one of the hotels further down the road. A miracle that no one was hurt there, but it looked like it was just the ariel that as damaged. I swear it was the biggest thunder clap I have ever heard. It sounded like a bomb was being dropped right outside and my ear rang for about 20 minutes afterwards. For a small country Costa Rica has BIG weather!
The next day we headed to San Jose on the early morning bus, nine hours away and from there we would get another bus to the Border and cross into Nicaragua... home of colonial towns and volcanoes.