With Sir and Sarah
(on the other side of the world)
Well it certainly has been a while since we last blogged. The access and availability of internet isn’t so good down here in the South of Costa Rica, although on the upside it is a whole lot cheaper and wilder in these parts!
We spent two weeks in Orosi, which has natural hot springs and made friends with some of the locals, lots of singing, guitar playing and mixing with people from all over the world. We have grown to love fried bananas as part of our meal, a favourite of Ticos. We climbed high up into the hills – around 7000 feet above sea level to see the vistas of the valley and the volcano Irazu. You can drive right up to the rim of this volcano, to peer into the green crater lake at the top. The volcano is active its last major eruption was when president Kennedy visited Costa Rica in the ‘60’s. There is also beautiful cloud forest here, where mountain lions and other big cats roam, however we didn’t spot any. We did find the smallest frog species in Costa Rica, but we are yet to find out its species’ name. It’s about half the size of a little fingernail and is very hard to spot in the forest. The forests in Costa Rica are full of interesting noises, with so many birds and frogs, and the regular calls of the Howler monkeys. We walked up a beautiful and wild river with great swimming holes, waterfalls and caves to swim into. A lot like the Mossman river but everything seems just that bit bigger here. On the way we came across a moving blanket of army ants and had to run the 10 metres or so to be clear of them as they ate everything in their path. They sting when they bite!
It was here in Orosi where Will earnt the nick-name of ‘Australia Man’ while jumping over the rocks in a river. He is sneaky like a koala, venomous like an ornithorincus (platypus) and strong like a kangaroo!
There were a few hiccups trying to leave Orosi, with our first bus breaking down and then waiting for our next bus in the heat, on the side of the dusty and polluted highway for hours while the shadows grew longer. For some reason the buses wouldn’t stop for us! Then as we almost gave up hope, a taxi pulled up and offered to take us the two-hour drive for just the price of a bus fare! It seems he was heading that way anyhow and it was a way to make a little money along the way. The drive was spectacular, over the two hours we climbed and then descended the 12000 feet over a road called Death’s Pass, so called due to the tough, wet, sub-zero conditions encountered by horse-drawn teams transporting goods for days.
Next main stop was the Brunca (named after a local indigenous group) Coast. Much like FNQ this is where the tropical lowland rainforest meets the sea. Here we slept in a tree-house at a backpackers in Uvita (and were only rained out once and had to seek shelter in the dorm rooms) and spent our days exploring the rainforest up the rivers, searching for waterfalls and animals. We were not disappointed with some beautiful places to swim, many, many chestnut-mandibled toucans and even a river-otter ran across the path in front of Sarah. Much to Sarah’s delight we also found a few little colonies of tent-making bats trying to hide in the shelter they had made from heliconia leaves.
The surf-town of Dominical is a favourite of American surfers with giant waves, black sand and iguanas wandering under the palm trees. The waves were too big and dangerous to go too deep but we did have a bit of a paddle. The beach was beautiful, the sunsets didn’t disappoint and we were lucky enough to get there just in time for a fiesta with the typical colour, dancing and percussion filling the street.
The next phase of our journey took us via ferry to the small frontier-feeling town of Puerto Jimenez, which is on the Osa Peninsula, the wildest part of Costa Rica and home to the Corcovado national park which rivals the Amazon with its biodiversity. There are apparently more Jaguars here than any other part of the country, so this will be our best chance to see one. Jaguars require a hunting range of at least a 100 square kilometres in order to access a steady supply of food.
Puerto Jimenez is home to a large flock of the stunning Scarlet Macaw – the giant colourful parrot that can often be seen on the shoulder of pirates in movies. These parrots sound like sulphur crested cockatoos only 10 times louder as they fly over. These bright red, yellow and blue birds fly in from the forested hills every morning and night. We thought we were going to have to comb the deepest jungles to find them!
From Jimenez we jumped in the pack of a ‘pick-up truck’ or ‘collectivo’ (like a collective taxi) to head into the jungles surrounding the Corcovado National park. We trekked ourselves and our gear an hour into the rainforest to stay in an old farmhouse with open walls and no electricity. The air here was thick with moisture, like walking into a cloud. We could see immediately why the frogs loved it so much; this was frog-heaven. We found 3 species of the colourful poison dart frogs and numerous others including the smoky jungle frog (the largest frog species in Costa Rica) and the famous red eyed tree frog.
The park is also home to some highly venomous snakes, in fact Will nearly fell on top of the much feared fer-de-lance pit viper – responsible for 4/5 snake bites in Costa Rica as well as the most fatalities. The venom contains a necrotoxin, which will kill by eating away the body’s major organs. It will also eat away skin and muscle, often requiring amputation of the bitten limb. They have particularly large fangs and produce a lot of venom. Luckily he saw it in time and regained his footing, and the startled viper coiled up ready to strike if need-be, but although this viper has a very aggressive reputation he obviously just wanted to get away.
We spent a week exploring this paradise during the day, and being visited by the frogs, big glow-beetles and nectar-feeding bats at night. Our spotlighting trips were always cut-short as we reminded ourselves of the jaguars and pumas that were out roaming the forest looking for dinner. However, during the day we found many trails to follow, including some that were so overgrown due to lack of use we could barely follow them, disappearing into a tangle of vines.
Now we are on the other side of the park, 8pm, in a permanent tent perched on hill overlooking a very impressive bay with forested hills in Bahia Drake. We just need to find somewhere with internet to post this extra-long and overdue blog entry!
PS so far only two cases of swine-flu in Costa Rica – there have probably been more in Australia! So far, not too worried.
06.04.2009 33 °C
Buenos tardes (Good-day)
We decided to take a break from the hot-dry heat and headed to the Pacific coast (the other side of it) to cool off on the beach – Playa Tamarindo. Will was seeking the perfect (body-surfing) wave. Tamarando is a small village that reminded us a bit of Port Douglas as it is a tourist town, but being a surf beach attracts many American surfers. A few multi-storey buildings are popping up around the place which detracts from the charm of this place. The waves satisfied Will the first day but then were too choppy for any good body-surfing.
Sarah enjoyed breakfast at one of the beach-side cafes and was pleasantly surprised to be accompanied by a young howler monkey, just sitting there low in a tree.
The sunsets at Tamarindo were beautiful, as the sun sank into the ocean. They were especially nice to enjoy a margherita or mojito while watching, or to be serenaded by a costumed musical trio.
After a few days at Tamarindo Will began to really regret not having climbed up to the crater of the volcano Rincón de la Vieja., so we packed our gear up once again and went back to the park- just to the other side. We went our separate ways for a day – Will went by horseback to the base of the volcano, then climbed 8kms up to the crater lake with a local guide. He was 60 years old and as strong as an ox, and could not speak a word of english. Will still managed to joke around with him, but who knows if they were laughing about the same things? It is the best thing Will has done on our trip so far, getting up dangerously close to the crumbling edge of the green bubbling sulphurous lake. The clouds in the photos is made from the volcano’s sulphurous smoke.
Meanwhile, Sarah had a Spanish-only speaking guide of her own, to take her on horse-back into the eastern side of the park. She finally saw wild toucans (the larger and more colourful species)! Her guide was a keen bird-watcher and found her a few interesting species, including the charismatic wood-peckers. Of-course there were ever more capuchins to watch as well.
We have since travelled from the hot northern regions to the central plateau of the country, just south of the capital San Jose, and where most of the population is found. On the way down we had refreshing stop at another beautiful waterfall in Bagaces, before finding our way to the village of Orosi. Our bus-driver was loco (crazy) and there seemed to be many close-calls with screeching brakes and honking horns on our drive. Not too much fun! Orosi is nestled in a green valley amongst cloud forest and near a national park – with another active volcano nearby! Sarah starts a week of Spanish lessons here today, and will is hoping to spend some time slowing down and doing some art (along with exploring the surrounding country-side).
31.03.2009 33 °C
Buenos Dias (Good day) all.
We have journeyed north by public bus, which we are finding a lot cheaper than the regular tourist transport shuttles, to the town of Liberia. It is a very dry and hot climate here and is famous for its Guanacastan cowboys (Sabaneros). A little like the North American kind you may be familiar with, but with a more Spanish flavour.
They like their maize (corn) here and even make milkshakes with corn flour or corn grits, flavoured with cinnamon. They call these drinks Horchata and they are actually quite tasty. The Guanacastans even make corn pancakes and donuts. Everything moves slowly here except for the cars, which will not stop for pedestrians. In fact, this is the case all across the country and Costa Rica has a lot of pedestrian fatalities.
We spent a lot of our time here at the national park Rincón de la Vieja, which is dominated by two active volcanoes. We spent two days hiking to the two prettiest waterfalls we have ever seen, and spectacular views. The waterfalls are clear blue due to all the volcanic minerals present in the water, and there is too much sulphur in the water to be able to drink it. These provided an oasis to cool down after our long hot dry windy up-hill hikes. The park is very volcanically active, and we passed many steam vents (called fumaroles) and boiling mud pits which is between 75 and 106 degrees Celsius. Visitors have badly burned when walking in the wrong areas and treading through the thin crust.
The park has three out of four of the monkey species found in Costa Rica. We heard the Howler monkeys (apparently the loudest land animal on earth, with the blue whale being the loudest animal overall). We got up close to the white-faced capuchins who descended from the treetops to check us out. They were very playful. Meanwhile Will was mesmerised by a beautiful little bird singing to us a few feet away, and was too busy trying to get the perfect photo to be paying any attention to the capuchins which had come right up to Sarah. The little bird was a long-tailed Manikin, and the boys live and sing together to attract females.
Another highlight of the park were our encounters with the beautiful and graceful black-handed spider monkeys which hung-out in the trees above us while feeding on flower-buds and just hanging around. These monkeys have very long arms, and often hang just with their prehensile tails (like having an extra arm). We watched them swing off into the distance over the valley.
Well, Hasta luego amigos, until next time…
The photos we tried to upload onto travellers blog didn't work so have a look at these ones instead: