A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: margeg

"I Love Not Man The Less, But Nature More" - Lord Byron

Bearing such a cute little name, and given all the good things we'd heard about it, we had high expectations for the last real leg of our trip: a four night stay in Cahuita. Situated on an idyllic beach on the southern Caribbean coast, and merely steps away from the national park of the same name, this small town is home to reggae bars, coconut milk cuisine and an afro-carribean atmosphere, and we planned to chill here for a few days, go snorkelling and have a small hike around the park.

The town, although quite cute in theory, did little to make itself liked. Drug dealers and drunks sitting (or laying passed out) in the main dirty park, overpriced and only sometimes good eateries, not to mention the grocery store which was nothing but a giant dep, and the seemingly "rasta vibe" that didn't quite seem genuine were only a few of the elements that made us wonder if Cahuita always looked like this. Some people said yes, some said no, I guess we'll never know. Out hostel, seaside with a gorgeous view of the ocean, was decent but with the putrid smelling unequipped kitchen and overused foam mattresses, we were not as comfortable as we had hoped.

After spending out first morning updating this blog, we spent the afternoon in a delightful manner: reading on the hammocks, just steps away from the sea, drinking sangria. It's a hard life, I tell you! By the next morning, however, we had come to the realisation that albeit nice, we were getting a little antsy just "chilling" and needed to go on with the planned activities. First up: snorkelling, a first for the both of us, on a beautiful sunny day perfect for this activity. Cahuita is known for its beautiful coral reefs, home to more that 500 marine species. It was simply a fantastic experience! We must have seen over 20 sorts of fish, in all shapes and sizes, beautifully decorated by mother nature herself, with glowing shades of green, red, blue, gold, silver, and many more. We saw entire schools of over 100 fish swimming and exploring together, and Gosia even saw a shark (of course, the kind that is "not a threat to humans"…). The hardest part was definitely trying to get used to being in this foreign environment where we became just big fat clueless fish in the sea (I'm a terrible Aquarius…).

The next day, we got to go on a hike, yey! For a few hours, we explored the Cahuita National Park, where we saw plenty of White-faced Capuchin monkeys. As we walked down the trail and encountered the first one, we were delighted as he approached us, posed for photos and even got at arm's length! "How lucky are we?" we thought. Although as we approached a pit stop with many tourists, we quickly came to realize that these were the types of monkey that always approach humans, as they are fearless and sometimes ruthless, stealing people's food and possessions. In fact, one monkey with a baby on its back was just downing a bag of chips he had just stolen chips from some tourists. It was funny, but somehow disturbing as this cannot possibly be part of a capuchin's daily balanced diet! We also got to see a beautiful Emerald Basilisk, which we had not seen so far, a venomous and deadly Yellow Viper as well as some big fat spiders and plenty of crabs and lizzards, as per usual.

The next day, we set off on our last long-ish bus ride, four hours from Cahuita to San Jose, where we immediately got on a bus to Alajuela, where we are spending two nights until our trip back home on Wednesday.

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Posted by margeg 18:57 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Margaricas: 1, The Elements: 0

Special collaboration post, Gosia and Marge

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).
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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

Posted by margeg 12:01 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (5)

Monkey business

After awaking to a gorgeous view from our hostel, set just outside Manuel Antonio, and eating a not-so-complimentary breakfast (long story), we decided to take advantage of a planned "chill day" to go on a small and supposedly easy walk to a beach close to our hostel. After 2 unsuccessful attempts (one: no, sandals are definitely not going to be enough for this, two: "no worries ladies, that barbed wire is only meant to keep the cows out", which we assumed meant it was ok for us to cross…), we walked through the forest, across an shade-less field with the blazing sun above, and finally along a dirt road to arrive at the most wonderful deserted beach we could have imagined. It was breathtaking, and we were kicking ourselves for having left the cameras behind. All along the route, we were followed by our hostel's loyal three-legged and oh-so-sweet dog Luna, who seems to have taken quite a liking to us (like many other dogs in this country for that matter, who like to follow us around wherever we go). After taking in the scenery, we started the hike back to our hostel. The sun was beating down hard and we were nearing midday. The next hour proved to be quite challenging, as the heat and humidity made it extremely difficult to stay hydrated and keep our cool (all puns intended). Luckily, we found a place to refill our bottles of water (what a life saver!), even sharing some with Luna who was struggling as well, we finally made it back to our hostel, exhausted and hot, and immediately jumped in the pool. ¡Gracias a dios!

The next day was our intended exploration day as we set off to visit the Manuel Antonio national park, famous for being the most visited park in Costa Rica. The town around the park, seemingly built solely due to the influx of tourists, is by far the most tourist-centered place we have been to so far. "You want Cuban cigars honey?" says one vendor, "You like clay pots baby" says another, and this was never ending. The guides were no less insistent, but budget travel not permitting, we decided to do without. We entered the park, hoping to see the monkeys everyone had been promising, and tried our best to spot some "wildlife" (it's hardly wild when you have so many people around). We toured the park, walked along about a kilometre of beautiful beach crawling with crabs, but reached the exit without seeing a single monkey. What were we going to do!? Determined to reach our day's goal, we had lunch and re-entered the park. This time, as the morning's rain finally caught up with the afternoon, it started to drizzle, and about 15 monkeys we're making their way across the tall trees surrounding the road to find shelter from the storm. Yippee! Not much of a photo op, as they were far and hidden by many branches, but we were very happy to see them fly from tree to tree.

Today was spent chilling, as we are embarking on a new journey tomorrow: travelling to the south of the country in order to hike through the rain forests of the Osa peninsula in Parque Nacional Corcovado. All in all, Manuel Antonio has left us a little… uninspired. Blame it on the extreme humidity, the frequent rain, the tourist traps, home sickness, never actually meeting Manuel nor Antonio, or whatever else it was, we're happy to be entering this new part of our trip, which should provide us with a good challenge.large_DSC_0086.jpglarge_DSC_0102.jpg

Posted by margeg 21:44 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Delightful idleness

We woke up at the crack of dawn on Monday, travelled aalllllll day long (sauna-bus, ferry, smelly-bus, dusty-bus) to get to Santa Teresa in the late afternoon, where we checked in at the aptly named Casa Zen, situated 200m from the beach. It's been a tough couple of days, lying around on the beach, bumming, reading and trying our feet at surfing, swinging on hammocks, eating delicious mangos and trying out local restaurants. I think we landed in heaven and finally captured the true meaning of Pura Vida. We talked to many travellers who stopped in for a few days and have been here for the last 3 or 6 months, sometimes even years. We had planned to stay only 3 nights but in the end have spent 5 nights here. With the rainy season settling in on the Pacific coast, it is technically low season for tourists, which makes the experience that much more enjoyable.

After a few days of pleasant idleness, we decided it was time for a little adventure and set off to see the Montezuma waterfalls on an ATV. The drive there (and back) was half the fun of the whole day, as we both felt like we had rented a kids toy and nobody was there to tell us we were not allowed to ride it on the street. It was a bumpy pot-hole filled and dusty ride, but so much fun! We hiked up to the waterfalls, at times wondering if we shouldn't have brought some rock climbing gear with us, and were delighted to hop into one of the basins, complete with tarzan rope, to cool off. We then decided that we were up for the challenge presented before us: jump down the 40 foot waterfall into another basin. The idea seemed delightful, until we had to stand upon the launch rock and stare down the waterfall. Ouf! Not as easy to summon up the courage to jump as it may seem. However, after some rumination, we both ordered our legs to propel us and just went for it. The jumping part was nice, but the contact with the water was absolutely brutal, worse than we expected. We got out of it somewhat bruised and battered, but with our egos intact.

After a more than enjoyable stay in Santa Teresa, it is now time to move along on our trip and head down south along the coast.large__DSC6980.jpglarge_DSC_0416.jpglarge_DSC_0518.jpg

Posted by margeg 20:09 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Flowers and fears

aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!

After a very early bedtime, hoping to sleep off a cold I'd been cultivating for the last few days, I woke up sicker than ever… boohoo. Unfortunately this meant that our plans to hike up to a pristine waterfall just outside of Santa Elena had, well, fallen through. Determined to take advantage of the day nonetheless, we recalled reading about an orchid garden in the city and decided that admiring beautiful flowers was the best way to cheer a sick travelling girl up (and yes, it absolutely worked). We learned many things about the flowers, most importantly that even though orchids can attach themselves and grow directly on trees, they are not parasites as they only require sunlight and water to grow. We also saw the world's tiniest orchid, barely visible to the naked eye, measuring about 2mm.

In the afternoon, we had booked a zip lining tour, and no amount of sick was going to stop that from taking place. We set off as a group of 6, with 4 other travellers from Quebec, and we all had pretty high pre-zip jitters and excitement. Trying as best as possible to channel our fearless inner adolescents, we zipped and zipped through the magnificent could forest of Monteverde. The views were breathtaking and the feeling was exhilarating. Then came the best zip of them all: super(wo)man. This time tied up at our backs, in full superman position and not holding onto anything, we sped through the clouds, amazed at the sheer beauty of the forest and high on the velocity but also completely terrified (see screeching sounds below). But this was only a baby rush compared to what was coming next: the tarzan rope. The rest of the group went before us and hearing them yell out in terror did little to comfort us, but we are brave and were not going to chicken out. What happened next is a feeling too difficult to describe. A short moment of total free-fall followed by a full swing in the forest sent a rush of adrenaline through out bodies and minds like we'd never experienced before. We were completely blown away, intoxicated by both pure fear and blissful euphoria, which lasted well after we'd safely touched the ground. It was one of the most intense, if not the most intense, experiences of our lives.

It's been a rigorous and adventurous week and we can't wait to chill out on the beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula. Starting tomorrow!

Posted by margeg 23:53 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

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