It seems like so long ago and it was only Saturday. There isn't much to be said about it. It was a long and exhausting day of travel that consisted of 4 buses, 1 terribly unpleasant ferry experience, and a hot walk to our hostel that was buffered only by the colourful Scarlett Macaws shouting in the trees above our path, reminding us of why we'd come here in the first place. We had arrived in Puerto Jimenez, the gateway (for independent travellers) to Corcovado National Park. Luckily the warmest, most welcoming abuelita (babcia) greeted us at the hostel and with her smile and hospitality, assured us that we had arrived at a safe haven that we could call home.
Passing out without any trouble, our long awaited sleep-in was ever so rudely interrupted by chainsaws outside our window too early for anyone's good. After dragging ourselves out of bed, we began our scheduled day of preparation for the long trek that awaited us in the next few days. A stroll over to the Corcovado National Park Office found us shouting through a locked gate (it was Sunday after all). Finally, someone popped their head out the door and we found our way in. The less than helpful girl informed us that our plan to leave the next morning was not realistic due to the unsynced tide and bus schedules. It was 11:10am and the collectivo (the only one that would get us to Carate, the furthest we could get by motorized vehicle) was leaving at 1:30pm. For the next two hours and twenty minutes we were on turbo mode, trying to arrange everything for our adventure, inevitably leaving us less prepared than we had intended on being (i.e. lack of rope, heavy cans of food, and overall not enough brain space to think of all that may be needed).
Arriving at the bus stop, without a second to spare, we jumped on the collectivo (or "chicken bus") which was already nearly filled with locals travelling in the same direction. The next three hours were rough, bumpy, but amusing due to the presence of four Costa Rican friends, who we later learned were also embarking on the same adventure that we were. Three hours on a rickety bus gave us an opportunity to get to know David, Gustavo, Jairo and Juan Jose a little bit, and after they offered us each a beer and some friendly conversation during a brief pit stop, we knew that we were in good company. Less friendly but equally amusing was an old man who must have repeated about 10 times that we need do make sure to have mucho cuidado (be very carefull) in a daunting and very serious tone.
After arriving at Carate, the six of us quickly set off for the 3.5km hike on the beach towards the first Corcovado Ranger Station, La Leona. As dusk was fast approaching, we quickly set up our tent, ate some dinner and hung around until our 8pm bedtime.
Our sleep did not last long. First we struggled for air due to the 100% humidity, and later a gentle drizzle turned into a torrential downpour that can only be encountered in the rainforest. In order to reach key points at low tide, we had to get up at 5am after just about three hours of sleep, somewhat damp to say the least. We downed a squished peanut butter sandwich for breakfast and were off on our 16km hike towards La Sirena, the second Ranger Station. Soaked through and through before even setting off, we followed the shoreline for the next four and a half hours, sometimes on the beach, sometimes on trails in the forest, crossing one major waist-deep river rapid, several small rivers and streams, all the while rain was pouring and pouring, without showing a sign of letting up. We were already as soaked as we could be, and our packs were getting no lighter as the rain accumulated. We were very lucky however that our four amigos (that we now believe were angels sent from heaven) were there every step of the way, across every river, always ready to lend a helping hand, and even offering to carry our heaviest backpack (which we refused, of course, we're way too hardcore, i.e. proud).
At 11:30am, we reached Rio Claro. We had not anticipated the challenge that was presented before us. A 40m wide river with a strong current lay before us. We all searched up and downstream for an easier place to pass, but none was found. Where the river spilled into the ocean, the currents were so strong that they would have undoubtedly washed us to sea, and no matter how far we walked upstream, the river was not looking any friendlier. High tide was also fast approaching, and this was going to be the worst time to attempt a crossing, so we had to just wait it out. Knowing that a big group was behind us, and with them an experienced guide, we decided it was best to wait for them and see how they go about the crossing. With no less than 2 hours to spare, two of our friends disappeared into the forest, leaving us wondering of their whereabouts. We were in shock and awe when we saw them appear out of the forest, carrying their wonderful and ingenious creation: a raft, made from jungle scratch and using only their bare hands. A-m-a-z-i-n-g!!! At 3pm, we were finally able to get across the shoulder-deep river, and our precious cargo (i.e. thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment) got a ride atop the raft.
Unfortunately, by this time, half of our party of six had started walking like cowboys as hiking for 5 hours in soaking wet shorts can result in a seriously painful and uncomfortable rash. We finally crossed the river and after what seemed like a never ending 30 minute walk to La Sirena, our final destination for the day, we had arrived. We were tired, pruny, rashy, hungry, dirty and smelling like human-sized old socks.
We settled into our room and with the last ounces of energy we had left in us, began unpacking our pack to see the extent of the damage. The cameras were fine (of course, we had quadruple wrapped them) but less could be said for our sleeping bags. The harcerki inside of us cried and we wondered how we could have allowed this to happen. Smelly, wet clothes and shoes aside, we had a bigger problem: Gosia couldn’t walk. The rash had become a serious enough handicap that forced us to rethink where we would go from here. WE WERE STUCK ON THE ISLAND (so to speak). La Sirena is very remote, with no road access and can only be reached (or escaped from) by plane or boat. Panic set in. We decided a good night's sleep, cuddling under the same wet sleeping bag, is what we needed to feel better about the entire situation.
By the morning, we were able to arrange to leave by boat with a group that was exploring the forest around La Sirena in the early afternoon. Having found a way out, we were free to explore a few trails in the hope of seeing some rare animals, which was, after all, the main motivation for attempting the hike all the way here (other than the simple "we can totally do this hike cause we're hardcore" motivation). Including what we saw during the walk to La Sirena, we were lucky enough to encounter many beautiful Blue Morpho butterflies, the endangered Spider Monkey enjoying his lunch, plenty of majestic Scarlet Macaws perched on trees, an unfortunately dead Sea Turtle, a Tarantula walking on our backpack, 2 Great Owl butterflies, several Thoas Swallowtail butterflies, 2 Roseate Spoonbills, 2 Peccaries, a (massive) Cane Toad, along with many lizards, ants, vultures and otherwise unidentified birds, butterflies and other species. Oh, and Gosia almost stepped into the mouth of a Spectacled Caiman, which growled at her and ran away before she actually managed to do so.
By the late morning, the sun had finally come out and did us the huge favour of drying some of our things (did nothing for the smell though…). Things were looking up!
We made it to Bahia Drake, where the boat was going, and quickly found an amazing hostel where we'd spend the night before getting back to our "home" at Puerto Jimenez. The night was short though, because even though we were sound asleep by 9pm, we heard dogs and coyotes howling all night (not surprisingly, it was full moon) and we woke up at 3:30am to catch a 4am bus.
We made it to Puerto Jimenez by 8:30, reunited with a hot shower, clean clothes, decent food and our lovely abuelita. We'd completed a long awaited milestone for which we'd been preparing (both physically and mentally) our entire trip. We're very happy to have made new friends, experienced what National Geographic calls "the most biologically intense place on Earth", battled with the elements and pushed our physical limits only to come out alive and better for it. Nothing like the fear of being consumed by Mother Nature to make you feel alive!
Needless to say, we now understand why every single guide book we consulted "strongly recommends" going into Corcovado with a guide. Tomorrow, we set off to Cahuita, a town on the Caribbean coast that will hopefully relax our strained muscles and sooth our swollen joints while the sun kisses our skin on the beach. It will be a long day of travel but there will be plenty of time to recover.
Gosia and Marge