¡Pura Vida! Part 2
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Corcovado National Park: The Crown Jewel of Costa Rica
Convincing myself the 40 minute plane ride from San Jose in a plane the size of a large SUV was just the beginning of my adventure, I ignored my usual anxiety that surfaces when boarding a flight and sat myself directly behind the pilots. I watched as they confidentially fussed with controls that looked like toys, and within minutes we were airborne over the rain forest.
The Osa Peninsula is known for its sleepy fishing villages and not much else. However, it is home to the country's crown jewel - Corcovado National Park. Considered the most biologically intense place on the planet, somehow pretty kept under wraps, this one teeny area is home to 2.5% (!) of the world's biodiversity. With 13 types of ecosystems to explore, it's also the last remaining stretch of lowland rain forest in Central America. Hosting several endangered species - some found here and nowhere else - the park is regularly visited by scientists, researchers, and travelers seeking the adventure of a lifetime!
Of course, getting to the park is an adventure of itself. Not a dock in sight, we watched as as the crew hopped off the boat and grabbed the rear, struggling to keep it close to shore as the tide threatened to suck it back out to sea. Without a moment to prepare, they shouted at us to quickly climb aboard. Anticipating a gorgeous ride along the coast zipping by thick jungle, we watched as the sky suddenly turned gloomy - we were headed smack into a storm! The captain stopped the boat to prepare and we put on our rain gear and braced ourselves for rough seas. I held on for dear life, bouncing over waves, slamming against the bench after being thrown up to impressive heights. Rain pelted my jacket and sunglasses shielded my eyes but a huge smile spread across my face - adventure is what I sought, and adventure was what I was getting!
Some people come to the park for a day trip, but if you have the time and want to really experience the park - stay there overnight. Sirena research station (fate?) is the deepest part of the park, and home to the most animal sightings. This was a no brainer - we had to stay there.
Due to numerous deaths, and to help protect the fragile jungle, it's now mandatory to hire a guide and secure a permit to enter the park. Even then, entries are limited to 100 people a day, and priority is given to researchers to boot. After the boat stranded us on the remote shores of Corcovado, we left our packs on our bunk beds, sprayed on another layer of deet, and embarked on our first hike through the jungle!
Boy, was the forest teeming with life! Scarlet Macaws screeched overhead, Howler Monkeys roared from miles away, a myriad of insects buzzed all around - I couldn't believe how much activity there was.
We hiked for 8 hours the first day, and it was as if the whole park came out to see us. Branches constantly snapped above our heads as families of monkeys swung through the canopy. Groups of adorable Coati fumbled around us, oblivious as we watched them wrestle with another and drink from the holes in the trees.
Prestigious owls glared down at us from their posts, a crocodile eyed us menacingly from the swampy Rio Sireno as if daring us to cross. Massive trees surrounded us, various types competing for sunlight - like real life Survivor. I was fascinated by how the many trees and plants strategically found ways to survive - and thrive - in seemingly harsh conditions. Strangler vines gripped their victims, using the taller tree to gain height only to overpower and murder its host in a cruel - and literal - twist.
We saw all four types of monkeys in Costa Rica (Howler, Spider, Capuchin and Squirrel), Scarlet Macaws (aka the pirates' parrot), the endangered Baird's Tapir, crab eating raccoons, countless colorful butterflies, birds and insects so strange they looked like cartoon characters.
Wild turkeys and deer scurried away, vibrant birds posed for photos, exotic flowers took our breath away, ant eaters scurried about in the brush. We came across giant spiders that hung in webs strong enough to catch small birds, and stumbled upon a 7 foot snake coiled in our path that darted up a tree towards safety. We swooned over the millions of leaf cutter ants, their trails dozens of feet long, diligently marching along, focused on their mission.
Our guide knew everything about everything when it came to the flora and fauna of the forest. He called out names of every creature we spotted, he sourced out animals by sound and smell, and set up his powerful telescope to show us animals so hard to find you'd swear they had some secret prior arrangement. Although I found some things, going here without a guide not only would have been detrimental to our livelihood - I doubt we'd have seen nearly all we saw. Although hot and humid, the dense canopy shaded us from the powerful sun and my moisture wicking clothes worked hard to keep me cool as we explored this paradise.
I awoke at 4am the next morning to the sound of roaring in the distance. For a moment I was convinced I was back home in Cambridge - perhaps that's the commuter rail passing by my window? I opened my eyes to complete darkness, reached up and felt the mosquito net shielding me from bugs but not much else in my top bunk. Perched on a platform, the bunks were in a room with a roof but no walls - ideal for shielding us from the guaranteed downpours and exposing us to the glorious creatures of the jungle. I lay in bed listening to the surreal sound of the howler monkeys announcing a new day to the residents of Corcovado. Howler monkeys are the loudest land mammal in the world, their cries heard as far as three miles away.
As the sky began to lighten, various creatures joined in and we readied ourselves for our twilight hike to the music of the rain forest.
We returned to the mainland with that fantastic feeling of exhaustion one has after true physical exertion. Although our bodies had long since adjusted to the heat and humidity, trekking for days in the wilderness with sometimes only a Twizzler to keep us going left us depleted of our usual energy. As we soothed our muscles in the warm waters of Drake Bay, the vibrant sky turned gloomy once again, and rain poured over us. We floated on our backs and over the shore a massive rainbow appeared, signalling the end of our trip of a lifetime.