The drive to one of the most remote national parks in Costa Rica, Corcovado National Park and the Osa peninsula takes us along the coast from Uvita and via a narrow gravel 4×4 track climbing up steep hills, along rickety bridges composed of weathered wooden boards (which look like they can barely take our weight let alone 3 tonnes of 4×4) and traversing muddy streams, surrounded by dense forest.
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We barely see another car on the road in the hours that we are driving through as we cut across the peninsula to get to Drake Bay, one of the two main entry points to the park.
A few hours later, arriving at the Rio Drake, we are abruptly stopped by a deep fast-flowing river with a relatively steep bank on the other side. People are making the crossing on foot through the shallower parts, jumping down from the opposite bank. Martin decides to wade through the murky looking waters (as I am not that brave) to check how deep it is, spending around half an hour searching up and down the river for a safe route for the car to cross. Eventually, he decides it‘s too high and not worth the risk of taking the car through, then possibly getting stuck or not being able to make it up the bank, and then finally washed away in the river! And it was all going so well up until that point!
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So, we have no choice but to turn around and make the long drive back again off the peninsula, finding some accommodation just outside of the port town of Golfito with the small amount of internet signal we have on our phone. The heavens open and it starts to pour, with the previously easily crossed stream now turning into a brown gushing nightmare in a matter of minutes. Martin jumps out to check the depth and strength of the stream, we don’t have many choices, either stay here and hope the rains stop, risking getting stranded over night, or try to cross. Martin hits the accelerator as we descend down into the water, i feel the back of the car moving down stream, we cross up onto the bank with brown water pouring over the front bonnet! That was much faster and deeper than I expected!!
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We have no GPS co-ordinates for the lodge, it’s beginning to get dark and the directions on their website are abysmal! We find ourselves driving along a deserted pot-holed gravel track with the odd person walking in the middle of nowhere through the rainforest and begin to wonder if we are going the right way….
Thinking we have reached Golfito, we ask some locals where the hotel is but they tell us this is not Golfito and still have a really long way to go before we get there. Perfect!
Driving along in the dark and with it raining heavily, we luckily see the lodge name to our right and pull in, a mere 8 hours later! We then head off down the road to find somewhere to eat, stopping at a local soda.
Our attempt to get to Corcovado was a complete disaster although it could have been a lot worse! Talk about an exhausting day! Knowing our luck, the impassable river will probably turn into a tiny trickle by tomorrow!
10th November PIEDRAS BLANCAS NATIONAL PARK
Piedras Blancas National Park, also known as the Rainforest of the Austrians was one of the last unprotected lowland tropical rainforest on Central America’s Pacific coast. It was established as an extension of Corcovado NP in 1992. 2 million euros, donated by mostly Austrian individuals enabled purchase of the rainforest, which was then subsequently donated to the Costa Rican government.
As the park is so remote, it is the site for several animal projects such as the reintroduction of scarlet macaws and big cats including pumas and margay.
After breakfast in the pretty garden of the guesthouse with lots of tiny hummingbirds and other brightly coloured birds flying all around us, we drive to the tiny village of La Gamba via the same pot-holed track through the rainforest in the opposite direction to just outside of Golfito and the Tropical Research station (with hot showers!) The station is used by a small number of post graduate students and others to complete dissertations and scientific fieldwork.
After setting up the roof tent in the small courtyard area, we head off to the Las Esquinas Rainforest lodge, around a 10 minute walk away which has numerous trails leading from it into the remote and relatively untouched Piedras Blancas National Park.
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Just before we get to the lodge we spot a caiman pond, some only visible from their eyes above the waters surface and also lots of young ones.
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The muddy Waterfall trail and Ocelot trail takes us through tropical primary rainforest crossing rocky streams where we spot a few insects, lizards and some agouti but not much else wildlife.
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By the time we finish the trail, it starts to rain and it doesn‘t let up for the whole day!
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It is unbelievably hot and humid with virtually zero breeze which causes a nasty headache and nausea for a good few hours! We could not imagine staying here for an extended period of time, it is just way too sticky!
We have a dinner of pork steak with rice and salad at the lodge with the other semi-permanent residents; one guy from Germany is stationed here as an alternative to doing a year in the army.
Martin heads off by himself for a night walk into the pitch-black forest armed with a torch looking for bugs and frogs… he says he’ll be just an hour, 3 hours later he returns….
The heat makes for a relatively sleepless night, wish we had that fan wired up!
After breakfast at 7am (when we hear the gong go off!) consisting of gallo pinto, eggs, fresh juice and chocolate brownies, we don our wellington boots and set off for our walk, stopping at the rainforest lodge down the road to organise a night walk with them for tonight. We are also tempted to book their 3 course dinner which sounds good but reluctantly decide not to!
Heading back towards the research station, the walk via the Valle Bonito trail takes us steeply uphill through red sticky clay then on a narrow trail surrounded by high bushes and lots of colourful dragonflies.
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When we come out at the top, the path opens up and we see a night vision camera with a notice in Spanish and a picture of a puma … no one had mentioned pumas when they suggested we take this trail! Even though they are nocturnal and elusive, you just never know!
Walking is a slow process as each footstep sees us sinking into the wet mud and it’s also really hot and humid. We start to wish someone would have warned us just how muddy it would be and that it’s probably not worth going up there!
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The mud gets worse and worse and we are still climbing through the forest when we suddenly hear a scarily loud crashing sound through the trees and the heart rate starts to increase rapidly. Stopping in our tracks, we think a large tree may have fallen (or could it possibly be a puma…).
When we look up above us, we see two enormous black and white birds with red beaks and huge wing spans, the sound of their wings make a loud whooshing sound, flying over the top of our heads. They look like vultures… We hear them in the trees following behind us, probably waiting for one of us to trip over so they could pounce!
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Continuing on, a staircase trail leads off from the main trail which we attempt to go up but the mud is ridiculously deep and there are fallen branches everywhere. So we decide to turn around, wading through the sticky mud to get back down to civilisation!
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Having survived pumas and vultures, we arrive back at the safety of the lodge. One of the girls there tells us they were King Vultures that we had seen, that they are not very commonly observed here and we were actually very lucky to see them!
We also mention how muddy the trail was and they tell us the trail had not been maintained due to all the recent rains.
We head back to our camp where we recover from our escapades, washing off all the mud and then have a quick rest before heading back to the lodge for the Bird trail. As we are walking past the gardens, we spot a large unusual looking bird. It has an unbelievably stretchy neck which it extends to look around it.
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It sees an agouti with its young in the grass and begins to move deliberately, gently putting one foot in front of the other! It looks like it wants to pounce but the agouti scurry away into the undergrowth.
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All kinds of colourful birds are in the garden including hummingbirds and tanagers but we continue on to the lodge where the trail has us wading over rocky streams and then traipsing along the shallow river bed. This is when I realise the boots I am wearing have a hole in them! Before long it turns into an impassable muddy path. We actually saw more birds in the gardens right at the lodge than we do on the bird trail!
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The trail takes us back over the stream and past the lodge with its swaying palm trees and coconuts when it suddenly starts to bucket it down. The rain has started a bit earlier than usual which we hadn’t planned on and we get a bit of a soaking walking back! At least it cools us down a bit…
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Dinner at the station tonight is chicken with rice, salad and chocolate cake.
The walk down to the lodge takes us along a pitch black road with bats flying just inches from our heads (and maybe a couple of screams!) Our guide leads our small group through the gardens and then through the forest where he points out masked eye frogs, red-eyed tree frogs, huge bull frogs (which never sleep), miniscule golden hourglass tree frogs, wolf spiders and a cat-eyed snake curled around the branches of a tree. We manage to get a few good photos but later discover a corrupt SD card resulting in the loss of a few days worth of photos!
We drive down to Golfito where we spend the night celebrating our last night in Costa Rica with a delicious mixed seafood rice and grilled meat platter before crossing the border into country number 45, Panama!