Tag Archives: Costa Rica

Costa Rica: day tour in the Corcovado

10 May
Thursday 3 May, 2012. Third day at Lapa Rios in the Osa Peninsula. A day of adventure, like I wrote yesterday as a teaser. The helpful staff at Lapa Rios had asked whether they could help us make arrangements or provide information, so we told them we were keen on a day tour in the Corcovado and had heard there was a bus going to Carate and it would be helpful if they had more information. They said the bus in question was called “colectivo” (or camion) and wasn’t a bus strictly speaking. It is a truck and behind the cab the passengers area is made of wooden planks as floor, two long benches and this is covered with a tarp. I think most of the lodge staff came to us over the two days prior to make sure this is how we really wanted to travel. One of them even said it could be a traumatic experience (sic). We thought we would live through it. We actually enjoyed it, being a one-time experiment.

We woke up at 5.45 a.m. to prepare ourselves, get an early breakfast (again, the staff was kind enough to accommodate us, as the kitchen normally opens at 7), and be by the country road before 7 a.m. with one of the staff members, Eli, who wanted to make sure we were on the right track and find out from the driver when and where we had to be to make it back to the lodge on the same day ;) We paid the flat fare ($8 per person for a single ticket), climbed inside and waved Eli good bye. With us were four or five locals and four other young tourists.

A fellow traveler in the colectivo looking at the landscape

A fellow traveler in the colectivo looking at the landscape

It was a long trip, all in all, 1h30 for something like 20 km. It had been bumpy, some rough patches even hurt our back. The truck passed through water (either rivers, or puddles big as small ponds), climbed steep rocky hills at the speed of the sloth, but the driver was pretty good, I found. We arrived in Carate around 8:30 a.m.

Vlad gets off the colectivo

Vlad gets off the colectivo

It was already hot outside and the weather was gorgeous on that day, with sun and big white clouds. We needed to walk on the beach forever to reach La Leona, where the entrance of the Corcovado National Park was. The beach was splendid. We wondered why nobody was either sunbathing or swimming. We later heard there were rip currents. And sharks.

Long beach and palm tree, walking toward the Corcovado

Long beach and palm tree, walking toward the Corcovado

After an hour of walk along the beach we reached La Leona, gave our tickets to the guard and mumbled something about high-tide around noon, crossing the river, “walking two hours”. We nodded and took off, it was nearly 10. We entered a forest by the beach but were walking on a trail in the woods. There was something peculiar about the light during the morning. I think it had to do with the very fine mist created by the breaking waves which crept inside the forest and was visible when met by the sun. I saw beautiful sunbeams through the trees. We soon saw capuchin monkeys, at eye level and only a few meters away from us. This appears to be a favourite position:

Capuchin monkey

Capuchin monkey

We found ourselves at the river the guard had mentioned. It wasn’t noon already but the waves met the water of the river. We took off our walking shoes and socks, rolled up our trousers and waded in waters that weren’t too deep (mid-sheen) but reached our knees when a wave was breaking. We met a couple of trekkers who tipped us that there was a Baird’s tapir near the Cementerio Madrigal and they explained how to find the place, not far from where we were. We were looking for a smaller animal than it actually was (my idea of a tapir was that it was as big as a cat, and Vlad thought it was the size of a dog). Then I saw it. Huge. The height of a poney, the bulk of pot-bellied pig, the feet of an elephant and a dinosaur, the ears of a hippo and that snout which is so distinctive.

Baird's tapir

Baird’s tapir

We came a little too close to the tapir who went away. We followed. Then Vlad spotted an anteater in a tree. This too, was larger, longer, and bigger than we thought. It was really beautiful. Alas, it was pretty active, moved a lot and at some point we couldn’t keep up.

Ant eater

Ant eater

We were near the beach and walked to it. Perfect place to picnic. The Lapa Rios staff prepared sandwiches, crips and cakes.

Vlad sitting on a tree trunk near the beach at picnic time

Vlad sitting on a tree trunk near the beach at picnic time

At 1 p.m. we resolved to turn back and take our time. We had to be in Carate where the colectivo had dropped us by 4 p.m. (or spend the night and catch the next one on the next morning). The light has changed. Less over-exposed. But the mist and sunbeams were gone. We crossed the Rio Madrigal again.

Crossing the Rio Madrigal where the high tide waves meet the river water

Crossing the Rio Madrigal where the high tide waves meet the river water

The spider webs in the forest were beautiful, strong, small, tightly woven, and there were many of them. Some bare branches even looked like a whole dream catcher with the amount of spider webs they bore. We saw several golden orb spiders (they’re the length of my index finger):

Golden orb spider

Golden orb spider

Vlad spotted a squirrel for the second time on that day. This one was reasonably close to us. It was busy munching wood (isn’t there good acorn in Corcovado, I ask?), checking on us from a distance every now and then.

Squirrel, close-up

Squirrel, close-up

Then I spotted a black-throated male trogon on a low branch. It was splendid!

Black-throated trogon

Black-throated trogon

We resumed our walk but stopped almost immediately; I had spotted a black and green dart frog:

Black and green dart frog

Black and green dart frog

Again, we resumed walking but soon stopped under a group of capuchin monkeys with their young. One appeared to smile at me. And then I wondered, was it a smile or was it baring its teeth at me. The latter, most likely. I went from “awww, look, it’s smiling at us!” to “wait, this isn’t a pretty smile”. So here’s a non-threatening monkey, looking up at a young one (the baby isn’t in the photo):

Capuchin monkey closer, lifting his face

Capuchin monkey closer, lifting his face

We exited the forest (and the boundary of the Corcovado) after 2 p.m. and braced for the long walk along the beach, under the sun. We stopped mid-way next to a pond to watch the Jesus Christ lizards run on the water. What a singular spectacle. The spot was lovely. With no wind, there were palm trees reflected in the water. We took a little break. Vlad joked that the one thing we hadn’t seen was the caiman. The next instant, there was a swift movement and a splash –a caiman was there, not 3 meters away from us! We were so certain there wouldn’t be one (we had inspected the pond edges on the way to the park in the morning), that we didn’t think to check again. Oh, the idiots. On the photo I took of the spot, we can see a dark shape by the water, behind a log, it is the caiman (I have increased the contrast in post-processing to make it a little bit more obvious, but still it is a fraction of the photo, and this made me think of where is Waldo).

Stop by a pond on the beach, caiman by the water

Stop by a pond on the beach, caiman by the water

We laughed at ourselves for a while, and kept walking back to Carate. At the end of the beach, there was one last beautiful animal in plain view. A yellow-headed caracara was perched on a low bare branch not far from us:

Yellow-headed caracara

Yellow-headed caracara

We reached Carate at 3.40 p.m., with ample time for drinks and reflection. What a great day. It was as though every animal we had seen had been planted there for us to admire. The colectivo was a little late and we were back at the Lapa Rios lodge shortly after sunset, 5.45 p.m.

5 p.m., on the way back in the colectivo, red dirt road

5 p.m., on the way back in the colectivo, red dirt road

We were greeted, like a couple days prior, with wet hand towels and fruit cocktails. And then it made sense. Both were totally welcome and highly appropriate. The staff asked us how it was, they looked worried but not for long, we looked and were delighted.

Costa Rica: Second day at Lapa Rios, more beach and rainforest

8 May

Wednesday 2 May, 2012. The morning of the second day at Lapa Rios, I got to see the sun rise. It wasn’t yet 5:30 a.m. and surfers were already in the water between the pan dulce playa and the backwash playa. Two of them. I sat on the deck and sipped coffee, took photographs of what was around me. In the tree above the roof, there was a big iguana which had been there already the day before. It had barely moved. It was partially hidden by foliage but in the morning sun its colours were splendid. There were hummingbirds in the little garden trees by the deck. And butterflies. Pelicans which crossed the sky between the forest and the beach. None of the photos are good enough to post, though. So here is our bungalow as seen from the deck:

Our bungalow as seen from the deck

Our bungalow as seen from the deck

It occurred to me that morning, and at other times during the trip, that while one is busy taking a photograph of something, there is often a sound that disrupts the whole process, because one knows this is something else worth photographing. I sipped more coffee with Vlad around 6:30 a.m. when he woke up (the slacker).

We had decided to go down to the beach again before breakfast and left at 7:30. Pan dulce playa and Backwash playa:

Pan dulce playa

Pan dulce playa


Backwash playa

Backwash playa

There were several surfers, by now. Here is one who was smiling (perhaps it isn’t obvious on the small photo):

Surfer smiling

Surfer smiling

From the beach this is the view we had on the bungalows:

Some of the Lapa Rios bungalows as seen from the pan dulce playa

Some of the Lapa Rios bungalows as seen from the pan dulce playa

On our way and at the beach, we saw spider monkeys, crabs, scarlet macaws, a black vulture. We left in time to get breakfast up-hill at the lodge, and came back down. On our way, we finally spotted the sloth in one of the trees. A naturalist had told us the day prior that a sloth had been spotted in that tree and there was a good chance it was there. But the tree was quite tall and not exactly bare of leaves. Anyway, there it was, far up, and we saw its fur. For a good while we could not guess in which position it was. We were pretty sure its back was facing us and this is it. After some time, it moved slowly. One has to see it to reckon how slow the movements are. We distinguished an arm and guessed where his head was. We knew this was a male; we had heard from a guide in Manuel Antonio national park, that male sloth have a black strip along the neck. We were keen to wait to see more of him. I was thinking of my good friend Amy who is endeared by sloth. Eventually, he showed us his face:

A sloth!

A sloth!

We had spent so much time there that returning to the beach wasn’t a plan anymore. We indulged in lazing around for a bit at the bungalow and went for lunch. Food was delicious there. I can’t think of any good reason to miss a meal at Lapa Rios ;) All the more reason that from the deck next to the tables we had seen many birds and animals. And there happened to be spider monkeys, albeit a bit far:

Spider monkey dangling from a branch

Spider monkey dangling from a branch

In the afternoon we went back down-hill along the edge of the rainforest. We meant to walk on the country road a good while and reach a flat area with fields and a river, where we expected to see herons, birds of prey and possibly a caiman. But we didn’t since we spotted so many other animals after travelling only a short distance –a yellow-headed gecko with a blue body, the sloth again (which was apparently sleeping and had shifted position a bit, he was sitting and bundled and his arms were hugging a branch and his head seemed to be rested between his folded arms). We also saw an agouti which we sort of tracked as it progressed in the forest parallel to our trail. A little farther down, Vlad spotted a blue-crowned motmot, a lovely colourful bird with a long tail which tip resembles two rackets.

Yellow-headed gecko

Yellow-headed gecko


Agouti

Agouti


Blue-crowned mot-mot

Blue-crowned mot-mot

We went into the forest, instead of going to the plain. We were looking for a waterfall but had no idea where it was. We crossed a river but couldn’t progress on the side of the river we thought we could find the waterfall. We saw more vegetation than wildlife, to the exception of ants with a big yellow abdomen that looked almost golden. Some of the trees had colours on the bark that made me think of camouflage. Here is Vlad next to one of them, a big one:

Mini Vlad next to big camo tree

Mini Vlad next to big camo tree

We found ourselves on the path we had taken the night before with the guide. We easily found the tarantula nest. Vlad couldn’t resist; he grabbed a thin stick and did as the naturalist had done to coax the spider out. He lightly touched the mesh of thin web outside and around the edges of the nest –hairy brown legs darted out to attack the stick. Guillermo had described this as fishing. So Vlad fished the tarantula out. It took him a couple of minutes. Well done.

Vlad fishing out a tarantula

Vlad fishing out a tarantula

As the guide had said, it was too bad we didn’t have a grasshopper for the spider, as it had really earned it. I wasn’t going to find it myself, scared as I am of insects. Again, I was so eager to be out of the forest. It was going to be sunset soon and this part of the forest was already getting dark.

The sunset colours were pretty. I can’t believe it took us two days to look for them.

After sunset colours in the clouds

After sunset colours in the clouds

The dinner time and evening were rich in emotions. During dinner a huge brown grasshopper decided to land on my back and stay there until Vlad carefully took it away. Already the night prior at dinner, a couple of lizards had landed on my hand from a beam in the ceiling and they scared me, but I didn’t freak out about the lizards as much as I did about the grasshopper. Then we walked to the bungalow, where I went straight in whil
e Vlad stayed outside and walked further down to look for tree frogs or poison dart frogs. As soon as I closed the door I noticed another big brown grasshopper which was on the door, inside the bungalow. I called Vlad and asked him to come save me again, which he did. Whew. But that wasn’t all. A few minutes afterwards I spotted a big black cockroach inside one of the white mosquito nets that surround the beds. That wasn’t all, there was another one, one of the kind that is wide, long, flat and brown. It was at eye level, on the mosquito net that served as separation between inside and outside the bungalow. Both of them were immobile. So I did that too, at a safe distance from each of them, and surveyed them till Vlad returned and was my hero again.

The week prior in the mountains, a huge green grasshopper flew straight to me cheek and landed next to me on the bench. There has to be a law that the insects will go to those who are scared of them. If Vlad had similar experiences during our stay, either I wasn’t around when it happened, or he didn’t make a big deal out of it and didn’t tell me at all ;)

We’re now back where insects are minuscule and I can tell that these don’t scare me as much as they did pre-Costa Rica. Last night even, I ushered a spider outside. Yay, me. End of the insect phobia rant.

Closing statement of the entry at hand. Our next day in the Osa Peninsula was going to be quite an adventure and this is a story for next time.

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