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.

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