Alarms on both iPhones woke us up at 4:15 am. We downed a quick breakfast of granola and a cup of coffee while gathering supplies for the day hike. Thinking ahead, David filled the Platypus with 2 liters of water and popped it in the fridge overnight. It would still sweat, but everything is vaguely damp from humidity anyway.
William, our guide, was waiting in his truck at 5:05 a.m. to drive us to Carate, the closest town to the Corcovado National Park. This entailed crossing six streams and two rivers on very primitive roads. His truck slowly lumbered past pastures with beautiful, exotic-looking cattle, and we arrived at the Carate airstrip at 6 a.m. to park.
From here, we walked north for two miles along the deserted, black sand beach to the La Leona Ranger Station, one of four entrances to the park. At regular intervals along the beach were markers for 24 study areas where the sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs.
It was nearly high tide, so we were close to the jungle side. The skies were overcast with the sun rising behind us. We heard and saw a few pairs of scarlet macaws, but not much else (apart from the millions of tiny hermit crabs). After signing in at the ranger station, we started up the trail into the Park.
Corcovado National Park exists to preserve over 420 square kilometers of the Osa Peninsula. From the ranger station, the trail along Playa Madrigal is six miles out and back. We hoped to see tapir, peccary, monkeys, snakes and birds – perhaps even a puma!
The trail stays fairly close to the beach and is relatively level. There were literally thousands of large, black-bodied, red-legged crabs hiding in the duff of the rainforest floor, rustling around and scattering as we approached. After a short while we spotted a pair of macaws in a tree above squawking and nipping at each other (macaw interactions always appear to be contentious and raucous). They let us watch them for a bit until they flew off.
The jungle is dense with an astounding variety of trees and plants that occupy many layers of the forest canopy which stretch up several hundred feet.
We passed by several large spider webs with huge spiders suspended in the middle. Fortunately, they were always along side the trail, rather than across it. There were surprisingly few annoying bugs and we suffered no bites. However, we did pick up a couple of tiny ticks (William pointed them out, or I likely would have missed them) which we discovered days later in various locations on our bodies.
Along the way, we took a side trail to the tiny Madrigal Cemetery where gold miners who died from gangrene, malaria and other jungle misfortunes are buried.
Overall, it was not a good day for seeing wildlife. The only animals we encountered were a couple of hawks (they let us get surprisingly close), a couple of red squirrels (much like the ones back home), and in the distance, a lone coati (a raccoon-like mammal with striped tail). Even the monkeys were scarce. We saw only one little group of white-faced capuchins with babies, and another group of spider monkeys spotted high up in the trees. We heard the howlers, but have yet to see them.
We did, however, spot a couple of the very large iridescent blue/black butterflies in their slow-motion flight (the kind you often see in display cases). But, that’s all.
We could tell that William was disappointed at the lack of wildlife, so for a consolation prize, he found a large, low hanging bunch of ripe bananas for us to try. They were tasty… sweeter and thicker than we get at home.
We didn’t meet any other people on the way in, and only a handful of other hikers on the way out.
By 10 a.m. we returned to the station. The sun was very hot on the unshaded two miles back down the black beach to Carate. Chris and William had more coverage from their hats, and I’m glad that I had a bandana to protect my already burned neck. The low tide on the return trip along the beach was even more stunning. And we could get out far enough on the sand to take in the entire jungle canopy. Que Bonita!
Several hours after arriving back at the house, we discovered that there had been a miscommunication about costs. We thought it was $75 for the whole trip (that’s what we’d discussed the night before) but, between our minimal Spanish, and William’s minimal English, we missed that it was an additional $75 for him to drive us to the park (taxi and local bus are the other options). The fact that the two figures were identical didn’t help. After a bit of vexation on both sides, we understood and paid him the remainder, but it added a sour note on both sides and cut in to our quickly diminishing spending money for the remaining eight days.
Ironically, we saw more spider monkeys in the tree by our driveway when we returned, than we saw in the national park!