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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Costa Rica Part 6

    Thursday, August 3, 2017
    Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

    My guide, Keller (far left), takes a photo of wildlife with a smart phone through a telescope on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    My guide, Keller (far left), takes a photo of wildlife with a smart phone through a telescope on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    A tropical screech owl and spider monkeys on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A tropical screech owl and spider monkeys on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Although my alarm was set for the brutal hour of 4:00 am, I woke up even earlier at 3:20 am to pee and never fell back asleep. So, all told, since I didn’t hit the hay until midnight, I got maybe four hours of sleep. At 5:30 am, my guide, Keller, met me and a couple from near Milan, Italy out in front of the Monar Bakery, which was surprisingly already open for business for a crowd of locals and hikers alike. A few minutes later, we piled into a small, four-wheel drive van with a few other hikers and guides and headed south.

    A three-toed sloth on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A three-toed sloth on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    We passed by some jungle homesteads, a few farms and the occasional rustic country store, and over ultra-narrow bridges that spanned creeks and small rivers. On the way around the southern end of the Osa Peninsula, we careened, stopping four or five times to view wildlife through small telescopes on tripods that the guides carried with them. It was so rad! The guides even took photos for us through the telescopes with our cameras and smart phones. We saw three different kinds of monkeys, a sloth, and several different kinds of birds–and that was just on the way there! Rest assured, I had a big grin on my face the whole time.

    A Euphonia bird and howler monkeys on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A Euphonia bird and howler monkeys on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    During the second half of the drive, we had to chug up and down some really steep hills, cross shallow rivers and creeks with no bridges, and snake our way around hairpin curves. I doubt if a two-wheel drive vehicle could have made it. Finally, after about 90 minutes, we pulled up to a small dirt parking lot in the tiny village of Carate on the Pacific Coast. This is the end of the road–the final outpost before you enter the wilderness of Corcovado National Park.

    White herons on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    White herons on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    “Corcovado National Park is on the Osa Peninsula in Osa Canton, southwestern Costa Rica, which is part of the Osa Conservation Area. It was established on October 24, 1975 and encompasses an area of 424 square kilometers (164 square miles). It is the largest park in Costa Rica, and protects about a third of the Osa Peninsula. Corcovado is widely considered the crown jewel in the extensive system of national parks and biological reserves spread across the country.

    Heading into the jungle on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    Heading into the jungle on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    “The ecological variety is quite stunning. National Geographic has called Corcovado ‘the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity.’ Not only is the park very popular with tropical ecologists, a visitor can expect to see an abundance of wildlife. The park conserves the largest primary forest on the American Pacific coastline and one of the few remaining sizable areas of lowland tropical forests in the world.”–Wikipedia

    A primeval-looking tree on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A primeval-looking tree on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    A lovely view of the Pacific Ocean from the trail on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A lovely view of the Pacific Ocean from the trail on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Climbing out of the van, we hit the trail right away, which headed north through the thick jungle for about 1.75 kilometers. In there, we passed by some huge trees that looked like they were straight out of The Land That Time Forgot, with tall yet narrow roots that splayed out all over wildly above ground. We also saw a big spider in a web, and our guide, Keller, picked some delicious, free bananas for us to chomp on. Keller is an awesome guide. He is really good at sharing with us the wealth of knowledge he has about the jungle and the many animals and plants that live there. He’s also highly skilled at spotting wildlife, and whenever he did, he always let us look at it through his telescope.

    The grass is always greener on the other side of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    The grass is always greener on the other side of the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Coming out of the jungle, we passed a few small houses and lodges situated on swaths of bright green grass in front of tall, swaying palm trees overlooking an emerald green ocean. Just a little slice of paradise, I guess you could say. Next came another 1.75 kilometer walk up the beach out in the scorching sun. Looking northward at the wild, rugged coastline of the jungle set against the bright, sunlit ocean filled me with awe.

    A another view through the trees of the Pacific Ocean from the trail on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A another view through the trees of the Pacific Ocean from the trail on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Finally, after having traversed a total of 3.5 kilometers (a little over two miles), we stopped at the La Leona ranger station to check into Corcovado National Park and rest for 20 minutes. As I opened my plastic bag containing my snacks (and lunch for later), I discovered that the three bananas I packed had exploded open. Argh! So, I spent half of the time that I should have been resting standing over a sink, washing the other produce and rinsing the slime out of the inside of the bag.

    The rugged Pacific coast on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    The rugged Pacific coast on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    After our guides got us all signed in, we headed north back into the jungle, past all kinds of twisty vines next to the trail, where we encountered more of those primeval trees, as well as thickets of vertical stick-like foliage and a rock wall covered with big, bright green leaves. After an hour or so, we reached the Madrigal River, where I decided to stop for a nice, long rest break as the rest of our group continued northward. Keller told me to stay put, while the other trekkers took off their shoes and socks. Then they waded across the 12″ deep water of the river and disappeared into a narrow “tunnel” leading into the canopy of the jungle.

    The La Leona ranger station, entrance to Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    The La Leona ranger station, entrance to Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    As scores of tiny sand crabs crawled all around me on the ground, I just sat on a log at river’s edge and ate my lunch, which consisted of biting off pieces of a bell pepper, bread, broccoli, carrots and tomatoes–a disintegrated sandwich, if you will. After that, I re-applied the Vaseline on my toes to prevent blisters, and the cream on my legs that a guide from Osa Wild had recommended to keep the heat rash at bay. Then I waited and waited what seemed like forever and a day.

    A Basilisk or Jesus lizard and a white-nosed coati in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A Basilisk or Jesus lizard and a white-nosed coati in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Hiking through the vines in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    Hiking through the vines in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Keller said they would be back in an hour, but it was actually past an hour-and-a-half when he came bursting out of the jungle, yelling my name and “Puma! Puma!” Then he ran across the river toward me, and told me to jump up on his back. (This was to avoid getting my shoes and socks wet, because there was no time for me to take them off and put them back on again.) So, I did. I jumped up on his back. There I was, a grown man getting a piggyback ride from another grown man across a river in Costa Rica. It was so absurd, I was literally laughing out loud right as it was happening.

    My guide, Keller, in the loop at Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    My guide, Keller, in the loop at Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    On the other side, Keller urgently told me to follow him into the jungle. Keep in mind this was not on a trail. Oh, no. He ventured straight into the thickets, where I followed. Quite a few meters in, I stopped because the foliage was getting too thick, and we were on the face of an extremely steep hillside that was difficult to navigate amid myriad vines and branches. But, Keller continued. I decided to hang back until he yelled for me. A short while later, he re-appeared in the distance and did just that. So, I made my way down to the bottom of the hill, where it was easier to walk, then climbed back up and joined him. Another group of trekkers moved in, as well.

    A jungle tunnel in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A jungle tunnel in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    There, across a small stream maybe eight meters away, was a real, live puma laying underneath some foliage! I couldn’t believe it. I stared right into its eyes. It was truly a moving experience. I even got a video clip of it. There I was, crouched down on a steep hillside in the Costa Rican jungle, quietly freaking the capital F out. Simply put, it was thrilling. We got a rare chance to see a puma close up in the wild! (A national park in name only, Corcovado is more like land that’s being protected from human destruction. There are no roads in the park. It’s a bona fide, 100% legitimate jungle.)

    Hiking through the vines in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    Hiking through the vines in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    After a few minutes, Keller asked me if I was ready to go, and I said yes, since we had a long walk back ahead of us and the day was not getting any younger. So, we basically re-traced our steps back south. About a quarter of the way, my left knee started hurting, which is weird because it hasn’t done that in 20 years, back when I used to run. Then again, I’m not used to walking anywhere near this far all in one day. I usually go on a walk every day, but only for 40 minutes, not several hours.

    Hiking past a rock wall covered with big leaves in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    Hiking past a rock wall covered with big leaves in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    After a quick rest break at the La Leona ranger station at the border of Corcovado, we trudged back out on the beach for a tough, scorching slog, then back into the jungle, finally reaching the parking lot in Carate around 4:30 pm. There, I noticed a nice tiki standing guard at a coconut water stall. During the ride back to Puerto Jimenez in our mini-van, there was a small, shirtless Costa Rican man with a pony tail talking a blue streak, seriously a mile-a-minute. Every time he said something, all of the other Ticos would crack up. This guy was so hyper, he made Robin Williams seem comatose by comparison.

    The Madrigal River in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    The Madrigal River in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    A puma in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A puma in Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Back at the Oro Verde Hostel, the girl from San Diego was gone, but the three Euro guys were still there. Needing some peace and quiet, I asked the hostel owner if I could move into another room, and he was nice enough to let me. I just laid back in glorious solitude and rested for the rest of the evening. Then, around 9:00 pm, a shortish, middle-aged Costa Rican guy moved into my room. Argh! Right away, I did not like his vibe at all. He did not speak much English, and he kept asking if he could use my phone cord. Since he seemed sketchy, I flat out refused. He had some kind of smart phone that looked straight out of 2005, and it seemed like he was eyeing my iPhone.

    Wild wood on the beach on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    Wild wood on the beach on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Then he took a shower, but he didn’t take a towel into the bathroom with him, so he got a massive amount of water all over the bathroom floor and tracked it out into the room. Oh, yeah, he was totally naked when he did that. That was the last straw. I started packing up all of my stuff into my backpack. After that, the crazy guy went out to eat. For some reason, he told me he didn’t have a key to the room. Nothing about this guy seemed right.

    Scenic hiking through a ravine on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    Scenic hiking through a ravine on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    So, while he was gone, I told the hostel owner I could not sleep in the same room with that guy, and asked if I could move rooms yet again. Fortunately, he let me. When the crazy guy returned, he got my former key to what was now his room. Whew! I’m glad that mess got straightened out. Even though I was in my own room, I kept my stuff all packed up right next to me, and slept with one eye open.

    A tiki stands guard over a coconut water stall in the village of Carate on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    A tiki stands guard over a coconut water stall in the village of Carate on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Our four-wheel drive van waits to shuttle us back to Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.
    Our four-wheel drive van waits to shuttle us back to Puerto Jimenez on the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica.

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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