Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wilderness



17 to 24 Feb, 2009 – Puerto Jiménez & Parque Nacional Corcovado, Costa Rica

Sorry about the delay in blog update, but we were in the wilderness. Lots of animals, but no internet.

Parque Nacional Corcovado is on the Osa Peninsula, which has few residents, a couple of “towns”, and thousands of hectares of protected rainforest in national parks and private reserves. The jewel is Corcovado. We reserved a few days in advance, and were lucky to get a reservation for the campsites, as the daily numbers are very limited and strictly enforced. We met many who only got to spend one or two nights as they reserved late. We spent five nights.

Day 1 - Arrive at the park (Los Patos). This is not as straightforward as it sounds. Take the 5:00 a.m. bus from Puerto Jiménez to La Palma, where you can get a coffee before heading off on your first 14 km of walking. Remember, your pack will be extra heavy today, as you will be carrying 5 days worth of food and fuel, including some fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as tinned fish, etc, etc. After a few hours, find a nice spot for breakfast, somewhere along the road. A highlight of the first day is soon after breakfast. Two km down the road, you will be delighted to remember that you have left a bag at your breakfast spot. Nothing valuable, but containing things you don't want to face replacing, and might need in the next week anyway. Luckily, you will have your spouse with you, who can sit with the big packs while you go back for said bag, hoping it will still be there, finding it, but effectively adding another 4 km to your walk. After 7 km (or is that 11 now?) the trail becomes a 4wd track up a very rocky river bed. Here, you may get your lucky break for the day, being picked up by a park ranger on his way in, meaning you only have to cross the river twice on foot, instead of the total 20 odd times. Arriving early at Los Patos, and setting up your tent, you can now compensate for the unwalked kilometres by visiting a fantastic swimming hole at the base of a waterfall – 2.5 km each way, steep up and down twice. Cook dinner, eat, and go to bed ridiculously early (7:00) because it is pitch dark already.

Day 2 – Walk from entrance to centre of park (Los Patos to La Sirena). Set alarm for 5:00, and promptly make your coffee, eat breakfast, pack your tent, and set out. Today you will cover 20 km, and your pack will in fact be heavier, despite having eaten some food, as you will probably need every drop of the 7 litres of water you are carrying (3.5 each). The first 6 or 7 km will be the hardest, rising up to the highest point of the day early, and then rising and falling. Don't forget to admire the magnificent primary rainforest with its 50 metre trees. Stop to photograph bugs and birds and flowers, but try not to let too much time pass with your pack on the ground and the camera in your hand. Once you finish the ridges, the remaining 14 km will be basically flat. For quite a while, you will still happily scan the woods and trail for wildlife. The large birds (including hawks), the very exciting deer sighting, and the family of coati will help you maintain that enthusiasm. However, be warned, towards the end of the walk, you will stare straight down at the trail, plodding on, waiting for that wondrous moment when you burst from the jungle into the camp. Thankfully, that moment will arrive, and not too long after lunch time. Amazingly, before dinner, you will find that you have enough energy to go for a pre-sunset walk to the river to try and spot more wildlife.

Day 3 – Explore the trails around La Sirena. On this third day, you should once again hit the trails early, as you may catch some early animals. Large groups of monkeys (all four species which live in Costa Rica) will entertain you at various times. When you get back to camp for your late breakfast, a delightful family of endangered squirrel monkeys will play, fight, and eat in the trees opposite your table. After lunch, a canoe trip awaits, allowing you to view rainforest life from the river perspective. You won't miss the crocodiles, but you could miss the sharks. That's right, the bull sharks actually come up the river and live happily in the fresh water. Minutes before sunset, you will see your first tapir. A fair way away, but clear in the fading light, as it gets a drink before disappearing into the vegetation for the night. Yet another early night awaits you.

Day 4 – Another day of local trail exploration around La Sirena. On your 4th day, there will be no need for you to set an alarm, as the Howler Monkeys will be in the trees right next to the camp, and they have been instructed to wake you at 4:00 with howling and screeching and general carry-on. The morning walks will be on the same trails as the previous day, but the wildlife will be very different. The first highlight animal will be the ocelot – unfortunately you will only see it for about 10 seconds and it will be gone before you can get the camera out, but don't worry, your photos would not have turned out, because at 6:30 in the rainforest, nothing but shapes can be captured. However, an hour or so later, when you find a tapir in the brush, be prepared to take many photos. Not only will the light be significantly better, but the tapir will be very compliant and will allow you to take as many photos as you feel you need. Make sure you leave some space on your memory card for photos of the peccaries in the afternoon. These wild pigs will also allow you to come quite close before moving along. Unfortunately, your camera will not capture the smell of onions that will accompany them. A super early night will set you up for a super early start tomorrow.

Day 5 - Walk from centre of park to exit (La Sirena to La Leona) – This morning, be ready to hit the trail at 4:30. This has two advantages. The first is it allows you to cross the first river at low tide (knee deep, as opposed to waist deep at high tide). The second is that you will complete the longest beach stretch before the sun gets too high and makes you feel sick by beating directly down on you. Today, you will be provided with two French walking companions, helping you to not notice how much walking you are actually doing. (By the way, it is 16 km, and although your packs will be their lightest, a fabulous offset will be the walking on the beach – Great work out on the soft sand!) Still, keep your eyes open when the trail ducks back in to the trees, as the animal spotting is not over. Arriving at La Leona before lunch, have a coffee, a swim in the sea, before doing some little walks along the trails local to this final station. Tonight, a final tick check will reveal that you have 8 or 10 ticks burying in to your skin while your wife in untouched (by ticks, anyway – mosquitoes have ensured she will not leave the park unscathed.)

Day 6 – Leave the park (La Leona to Carate) – The truck you will take from Carate back to Puerto Jiménez will leave at about 8:00, so wake in time to walk the 3.5 km along the beach. If you have been prudent, you will have allowed more time than you thought necessary, allowing you to be relaxed when you overshoot Carate by 1.5 km and you have to double back. This is almost guaranteed, as nobody who has not been there before would believe that Carate is simply a car park with a single shop which is not open. Congratulations, after two bumpy hours in the truck, you will be back at Puerto Jiménez.

We had a magnificent time, and saw heaps.

 enchanting tapirs;
 a brief sighting, but an ocelot none-the-less;
 Collared Peccaries;
 Red Brocket Deer;
 noisy Howler Monkeys;
 cheeky White-faced Capuchins;
 rare and comical Central American Spider Monkeys;
 rarer and cuter Central American Squirrel Monkeys;
 cuddly White-Faced Coatis;
 shy Agoutis;
 squirrels;
 frogs and toads;
 innumerable lizards and skinks, including the remarkable basilisk;
 crocodiles;
 sharks, rays, and fish;
 hawks;
 opreys;
 toucans (well, one);
 noisy and colourful Scarlet Macaws;
 slightly quieter parrots;
 absolutely silent hummingbirds;
 knocking woodpeckers;
 herons and other wading birds;
 large ground birds (sort of sized like a turkey);
 little shore and beach birds;
 many more birds of varying sizes and habitats;
 spiders;
 hundreds of butterflies;
 millions of insects, especially ants;
 insects and beetles as big as your hand.

Wow, what an experience. An absolute highlight!



Scarlet Macaw
Scarlet Macaw
Beautiful and unmistakable.


Beetle
Beetle
A beetle with attractive spots to look like eyes.


Gorgeous squirrel monkey
Gorgeous squirrel monkey

Tapir
Tapir
A tapir in the undergrowth, not far from the river, close to the La Sirena campsite.


Tapir
Tapir
What is there to say? Isn't she (he?) beautiful?


Tree...
Tree...
Well, some of the magnificent root structures of one of the trees.


Big spider, and little spider
Big spider, and little spider
A large spider awaits dinner. This is the female, and you can see the tiny male (not quite in focus) hanging around, too.


Big bug
Big bug
Maybe a type of locust? It looks more like a grass hopper, but flies, and it is bright red and blue when it is in the air. Stationary, it is like a leaf. Oh, by the way, this was about 10 or 12 centimetres long.


Oink!
Oink!
A peccary stops in his tracks to check us out.


Peccary dashes across the trail
Peccary dashes across the trail
A large group of peccaries were trampling through the undergrowth, and wanted to be on the other side of the trail. One by one they broke out of the vegetation and dashed across the path to the other side.


Toucan in the sun
Toucan in the sun
Late sun catches this beautiful bird in a bare tree.


Smile
Smile
A coati looks up from work, foraging for crabs.


Mum eats, baby just hangs on
Mum eats, baby just hangs on
Looking over the shoulder of mum, a baby monkey peers at us.


Just hanging
Just hanging
A white faced capuchin strikes an adorable pose.


Monkey mums and bubs
Monkey mums and bubs
Two spider monkeys with babies on their backs swing casually through the trees. Baby monkeys learn very young how to hang on!


Sunset
Sunset
View from La Leona campground, on our last night.



No comments: