Costa Rica

Pura Vida

Throughout our travels we had heard about how expensive and overrun by tourists Costa Rica is, but nevertheless we found it to be a beautiful country. True, there are a lot of tourists, nearly everyone speaks English, and things are about three times more expensive than in the other countries we have visited, but Costa Rica is still gorgeous. Immediately as we crossed the border from Nicaragua, the landscape changed from brown and dry to a lush, tropical green. Costa Rica is in general wetter, greener, and in turn, buggier than all the other countries we visited.

Our first stop in the country was Playa Grande, a beautiful, protected stretch of flat, sandy beach with the most seashells we have ever seen. It was there that we happily discovered that free camping is allowed on nearly every beach in Costa Rica. Two friendly policemen on motorcycles dropped by and confirmed that we could camp wherever we pleased as long as we didn’t walk on the beach at night because of nesting turtles.

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After one night of relaxation at Playa Grande we set out to find some waves. We made our way south along the coast to Playa Avellanas, a beautiful beach lined with mangroves and a number of surf spots. Aron and I had been to Costa Rica together four years ago and spent a week in Playa Avellanas at Cabinas las Olas, a surf lodge that Aron and his family have been visiting for many years. We decided to stop by although we had a feeling the rates would be out of our current budget. We figured we could at least ask about places to camp and maybe see if we could afford to stay a night or two. When we arrived and mentioned Aron’s mom and stepdad, Linda and Jim, the owner generously insisted that we enjoy a free night in their guest cabana. We were absolutely thrilled! Jim owns an awesome stand up paddle company called Uli Boards (www.uliboards.com) and has been visiting Cabinas las Olas regularly with Linda for years.

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To top it off, we woke up the next morning to find out that Linda and Jim had emailed the owner and were treating us to three days and nights at the cabinas. After living in the van for all these months and barely shelling out $20 here and there for a room in a hostel, we were overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude. It was so nice that it actually brought tears to my eyes. And here we were, with three days and nights of luxury to sit back and enjoy. Our time in the cabinas also coincided with the start of the rainy season which hit Costa Rica like an open floodgate. It rained every evening and night for our entire stay and we were happy to be cozy in a nice cabina instead of stuck in the van. We spent the days surfing, lounging, and enjoying delicious, rich food. Thanks again Linda and Jim!

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We thought it would be tough to go back to the van after living in such luxury, but we got back in the groove pretty quickly. We set out to take our chances on exploring the rest of the Nicoya peninsula, famous for its beautiful beaches but also its terrible roads that become impassable during the rainy season. Unfortunately, during this time it rained every day and night making the weather less than ideal for enjoying the beaches. We made it as far south as Samara and Playa Guiones where we enjoyed some free beach camping before we got tired of the rain and driving on rattling, muddy, pothole filled roads. Deciding to skip out on Montezuma and Santa Theresa, two little beach towns that we had wanted to visit but required a few more hours of bad roads, we found our way back onto the pavement and made our way south.

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We stopped at Playa Hermosa, a dark sand beach with beautiful palm trees, scarlet macaws, and barreling waves. We spent two days enjoying the sun that had finally broken through the rain and Aron surfed some fun waves.

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Further down the coast we set up camp at Playa Dominical, a mellow beach town along a pretty strand of beach. The waves were small but we enjoyed the location for a few days before continuing on.

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Since a swell was coming in, we blew through the rest of Costa Rica and drove straight to Pavones at the southern end of Costa Rica, a beach famous for having one of the longest left waves in the world. A few people we spoke with in Dominical warned us that the road to Pavones was bad and that we might not make it in the van, but we decided to go for it anyway. The road turned out to be a little rough and very potholed, but nothing compared to the roads we tackled in Guatemala. Our standards of what constitutes a good road have definitely changed on this trip. Anyhow, we arrived in Pavones after five hours of driving. Aron headed straight for the water while I explored the coastline. After confirming with some residents that we could camp along the beach, we found the perfect secluded spot on the top of the point overlooking the waves rolling in.

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The waves were consistently a good size for the first two or three days in Pavones and then peaked at maybe around ten feet on our last day in town. The waves peel all the way down the point and go for so long that three different people can catch sections of them. There were barrels all over the place! It was a little scary to watch because there were so many people in the water, getting in eachothers way and cutting people off. Despite the crowd, Aron caught some of the best waves of his life.

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After a fun couple of days in Pavones, we backtracked four hours to Puerto Jimenez, the gateway town to Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. The park is 105,000 acres of wild jungle lined by 20km of uninterrupted beach and has been called one of the most biologically intense places on earth by National Geographic. We planned to hike a 12 mile trail through the park, which would traverse both the beach and the jungle and involved river crossings and climbing over rocky beach points all while carrying all of our own supplies. We would then camp at a ranger station in the center of the park for two nights before heading back.

At the park headquarters in Puerto Jimenez, we made reservations to hike and camp in the park and then settled into a hotel room to prepare for the adventure. We sorted out food for three days and organized our packs in preparation for our early morning departure. We woke up at 5am and drove nearly two hours on a rough dirt road to the tiny town of Carate, the closest point to the entrance of the park reachable by car. And that is where the wildest adventure of the trip began.

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We have done a lot of backpacking in California but hiking through a hot, humid jungle and through soft sand on a slanted beach slope was pretty difficult. Not to mention that we miscalculated the conversion from kilometers to miles so we initially thought the hike was only 8 miles instead of 12 miles. Oops. 12 miles is definitely the longest we have ever hiked in one day with a full pack. Anyhow, it was one of the most amazing things we have ever done in our lives. It was thrilling, challenging, and even a little scary. The full adventure is recounted in our Corcovado blog post Welcome to the Jungle.

Categories: Costa Rica | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Welcome to the Jungle

Wild pigs. There are loads of them in Corcovado and as we entered the jungle they were my worst fear. I had read that herds of up to one hundred pigs roam the park and can be aggressive. You know you’re in trouble when they start cracking their sharp bone crunching teeth together, a warning sign meaning they are angry and about to attack. I even had a nightmare about these pigs after reading about visiting the park a week before getting to Corcovado. That’s how scared I am of these things.

Corcovado National Park is a very remote stretch of jungle on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica. The entrance to the park can only be reached by a two mile hike following an hour and a half drive down a rough dirt road. For that reason, among others, Corcovado is perhaps one of the most bio diverse areas on the planet with populations of tapirs, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, crocodiles, various species of monkeys, snakes, frogs, birds- the list goes on and on. The park is also known for its population of wild pigs, more formally known as peccaries. There are two types of peccaries: the larger, more aggressive, and dangerous white lipped peccary and the smaller, harmless collared peccary.

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Pretty scary right

As we drove down the muddy road to the tiny town of Carate, the closest point to the park entrance, it felt as if the jungle were swallowing us whole. We were both nervous and excited for what lay ahead. We planned to hike the park’s 12 mile trail along the beach and through the jungle until we reached the main ranger station in the middle of the jungle where we would camp for two nights before heading back. Many people choose to hire a guide for their hike to ensure they don’t get lost and also that they spot the wildlife they come to see- in particular, the elusive tapir, a shy hippopotamus like animal that is infamously difficult to see. Us on the other hand, being the do-it-our-self types and the $100 a day for a guide is too expensive types, decided to try our luck and do the hike on our own. We would rely on Aron’s eagle eyes and pure luck to encounter wildlife.

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We excitedly began the hike, although both a little nervous about bugs and poisonous snakes (and those infamous wild pigs of course). Walking through the dense jungle was a sensory overload. You want to scan the ground for snakes and peer through the tangle of trees and vines for larger animals, while at the same time your eyes are drawn to the canopy above by  the rustling of birds and monkeys.

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There were scarlet macaws and monkeys in nearly every tree and blue morpho butterflies fluttering around all over the place. We saw a huge family of coatamundies happily eating fruit off of trees until a troop of monkeys came swinging down and started pulling their tails and scared them off.

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Further down the trail we passed by a group with a guide all staring intently into the trees. The guide invited us to look through his telescope and we got a close up look at a bright yellow extremley poisonous eyelash viper sitting in a bunch of bananas. What a sight!

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Next we saw an anteater strolling around the forest floor and climbing up little trees. None of the animals we saw seemed frightened of us at all, they were all just doing their thing like it was no big deal that we were there.

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Green vine snake, almost impossible to see

After four hours of hot, sweaty hiking, we started to get tired but didnt want to stop because a section of the trail along a rocky point on the beach could only be passed at low tide.

As we pressed on we encountered a section of jungle where the trail was covered with leaves and was easy to veer off of. We were starting to think that we were lost when all of a sudden Aron yelled “Pigs!“. Without even trying to see the pigs, I immediately looked around for a tree to climb should the need arise. “And they’re chomping their teeth!!“. As Aron said it, I heard the scary cracking and growling noises the pigs were making all around us. I tried to climb into the tree I had designated as my safe haven but my pack was too heavy and I couldn’t pull myself up. I frantically unstrapped my pack and tried to scramble up into the tree again while I yelled at Aron to climb a tree as well. Before I knew what was happening the pigs had decided to retreat, lucky for me because I had never made it into that tree. Aron had bravely stood his ground, yelling and hitting his walking stick against some trees which perhaps scared them off. I never even saw the pigs because I was scared for my life and busy trying to unsuccessfully climb a tree.

After regaining my composure, we continued on while I couldn’t stop thinking about how my worst nightmare had come true. Every time Aron stopped quickly on the trail I thought it would be a mob of angry pigs ready to charge. Eventually, we made it to a river that we were supposed to cross at low tide due to bull sharks and crocodiles (yes, bullsharks and crocodiles) but we arrived at exactly high tide instead. We decided it would be a good idea to wait until the tide started going back out but after an hour and a half the sun was going down and we still had a ways to go. As we sat watching the river, Aron said “Look a tapir!“. I thought he was joking but I looked across the river and there was the shy, elusive tapir that every visitor wants so badly to see. He was coming out after the heat of the day to have a nice drink of water and an afternoon stroll by the river. What luck!

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At that point we decided to try the river crossing. It was just a narrow section of river and we hadn’t seen anything to be worried about so we decided to go for it. Aron went first of course and I stood by with his walking stick in hand so I could come to his rescue if the need arose. Needless to say, we both made it through the waist deep water safely. However, as we were putting on dry clothes on the other side of the river, we saw a large crocodile sneaking around in the lagoon, just a ways down from where we crossed the river. Holy moly. We decided we would plan our hike back to coincide better with low tide at the time of river crossing.

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Crocodile river crossing

And the adventure’s not over yet.

We still had a ways to go to get to the ranger station and the sun was quickly setting. We hurried along the darkening jungle trail trying to keep an eye out for deadly snakes and hand size spiders while hoping we would make it before dark. We had heard that many animals come out in the evening so I was of course worrying about the usual pack of wild pigs and started thinking about jaguars, pumas, snakes, and other dangerous jungle creatures. As we rushed along the trail all of a sudden Aron quickly stopped and said “Whoa!“. Of course my initial though was “Pigs!”, but as I looked up I saw a huge, black tapir on the side of the trail, literally three feet away from Aron, just happily munching on some green leaves. Aron backed up over to me, neither of us being sure of the temperament of wild tapirs. But the tapir just stood there and calmly kept on eating his leaves. As I fumbled for my camera he walked across the trail and then ran off into the dense jungle. Here is the blurry photo I snapped before he ran away.

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When we reached the ranger station a few minutes later, we spoke with some other hikers who told us that all their guides had been following tapir tracks to no avail for the last few days and hadn’t been able to find them. We were super lucky to have seen two and to have practically ran into one. We also spoke to a guide about the white lipped peccaries we encountered and he confirmed that they can be seriously dangerous and have attacked people! Let’s just say we were happy to be safe at camp after our wild adventure in the jungle.

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Categories: Costa Rica | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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