Campin' With Critters in Costa Rica
|Written by Jared on May 07, 2012|
Start: April 22, Junquillal Bay
Costa Rica! Pura vida. We've been here for little over a week and have camped the entire time. Every day brings a new creature into our campsite, and every night we tuck in early to avoid the bugs, some of which are down right monstrous.
We started our Costa Rica experience on the coast, just south of the Nicaraguan border camped in a national park. Then headed to the Nicoya Peninsula and stayed five nights on the beach in three different places.
After becoming fed up with the heat we drove inland towards the Arenal region to see one of the world's most active volcanoes and picturesque lakes.
We spent our first nights in Costa Rica at the Junquillal Bay Wildlife Refuge camped on the beach. My research has shown that camping in Costa Rica is definitely the way to go. It is by far the most expensive country in Central America, the fee to enter this park was a steep $13 per person and $9 for the three of us to camp each night.
However, the facilities are excellent. The park had properly designated campsites and knowledgeable and friendly park rangers. It was like camping in the US, except with monkeys.
In front of the park office there is a watering hole. Each morning it's surrounded by monkeys and other critters. This is a white-faced capuchin, the third species of poo flinger we've seen on this trip.
Jessica snapped a picture of these two sandpipers early one morning. It's safe to say we saw more animals during our two nights at Junquillal Bay than we did during the months we spent in the rest of Central America, excluding the Belize Zoo.
Crabs, everywhere! I've never seen so many. They cover the beaches and are constantly digging holes, invading other crabs' holes and sifting through sand. You could spend hours just sitting and watching the little creeps scurry around the beach.
This is one of half a dozen species of orioles found in Costa Rica. He was nice enough to pose for a picture before flying off.
Why did the R.O.U.S. cross the road? Cuz it was about to get squished by a 4Runner. We've seen these giant guinea pig-like critters, called agoutis, frequently since we entered Central America in Belize. We've also been told that they are good eating. Mmmm R.O.U.S.
From Jonquillal Bay we headed a couple hours south into the Nicoya Peninsula. We stayed one night at Playa Brasilito at a hotel/campground that claimed online to have both a kitchen and internet, but in reality had neither. Plus the owners were jerks.
These gigantic marine toads invaded our camp at night. Kobus got up close and personal to take this picture, little did he know that these guys are poisonous enough to kill a dog, and can spit venom. Nice.
Moving along through the Nicoya Peninsula we stopped at Playa Carrillo, close to Playa Samara and stayed at a campground just off the beach. The place was completely empty, the owners super friendly and they had internet, which more than made up for our disappointment in Brasilito.
The beach at Playa Carrillo is picture perfect. The waves are too small for surfing so there weren't many people around, we had the place to ourselves most of the time.
Kobus and I went out fishing a couple times, using squid as bait. A bored Jessica spent her time taking emo pictures with the fancy settings in Kobus' camera.
We didn't land anything, but Kobus hooked a monster fish (possibly a hammerhead) that damn near spooled him and ended up shredding his 30lb braided line at the tip of the rod. Son of a...
Our campsite at Playa Carrillo was infested with two types of critters. The first, black iguanas; not really big guys, but big enough to scare the crap out of you when you don't see 'em sneak up on you. Around 10 o' clock, when it started getting really hot, these guys would sprint through the woods, our campsite, under our chairs and table, just about everywhere.
Invader numero dos were land crabs. Bright orange legs, purple claws, yellow eyes and black bodies, they are easy to see coming. Except they only emerge at night, shortly after dark. We'd hear them scratching and clacking along before we could see 'em.
Every year, just before the raining season (ie. now) they migrate from the shore to inland areas to lay their eggs. They take a direct route, climbing over or under rather than around. Jessica and Kobus spent a couple nights shoeing them out from under their tent.
Our fourth campsite in Costa Rica was on a farm just outside the entrance to Arenal Volcano National Park. Cows, chickens, the world's biggest roosters, horses, dogs, cats, and pigs. Gigantic porkers.
Also, little baby porkers. There were 4 or 5 gigantic pigs that would snuff around our tent makin' bacon. We had to chase 'em off while we were cooking. Good times.
The next day we moved off the slopes of the volcano. It was rainy and cloudy the night before so we never got a good look at the volcano until we setup our tents on Lake Arenal a few miles down the road.
Unfortunately, one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world was anything but active during our stay. Click on this photo for a full panorama. Add a bit of lava and you have the makings of an award winning view.
The next day we drove into town. El Castillo is the name of the place, it's pretty far off the radar due to lack of public transportation options.
Our destination was a butterfly conservatory with the goal of promoting environmental education and sustainable development. The butterflies and amphibians they raise are used to help repopulate endangered areas around Arenal Volcano.
One of our favorite butterflies of Central America is the clearwing. Being in a cloud of these guys is magical. Magical like a fairy riding a unicorn that's prancing over a rainbow and eating skittles.
Not two minutes into the nature hike we have our first insect encounter. This wasp decided it liked Jessica's camera.
Unfortunately, Jessica had her camera around her neck and hands full. Rather than help her out, Kobus decided to take a picture. I did the only logical thing I could and took a picture of him taking a picture of Jessica freaking out.
We're a bit traumatized when it comes to wasps. Our campsite in Playa Carrillo was full of 'em. Big ones, little ones and itty bitty ones that liked to sting Kobus. Also, while we were sitting around our last campsite on the farm I heard a fast-moving unidentified buzzing object fly over our heads. Kobus was sure it was a humming bird, I was sure it was a huge bug of some sort.
Turns out it was a tarantula wasp the size of a baseball, maybe larger. They are reported to have the most painful insect sting in the world. Also, they kill tarantulas, lay their eggs in them and bury the body. Do. Not. Want.
Recovering from the wasp trauma (there were no casualties) we headed down to see some slightly less stingy insects. There are three different butterfly habitats at the conservatory, each containing a different variety of butterflies and mimicing a different environment.
Each environment is setup to contain the specific plants preferred by the butterflies. Each species has a plant of preference where it will lay its eggs. When the eggs hatch into caterpillars they start muching away on the delicious plant specially chosen by their loving mother.
This is a blue morpho, we've seen them around since southern Mexico but never had a good chance to take a photo. This little guy is about to kick the bucket. Butterflies live as long as their wings last, in the case of a blue morpho this is about two months.
Along with butterflies, the conservatory also has a variety of frogs, and a couple snapping turtles on display. This is the well-known poison dart frog. Touch this guy a couple times and your heart stops.
After hiking a short trail on the reserve we relaxed in a gazebo with awesome views of the volcano to let the sweat dry. There were half a dozen hummingbirds flying around. Jessica, BFL in hand, snapped a once-in-a-lifetime picture of this little guy stretching his wings.
Our lake-side campsite didn't have any amenities, but it was free, and the views of the lake and volcano were unbelievable, especially at sunset and sunrise. Lake Arenal is an artificial lake, hence the dead trees. It was created in 1979 when a hydroelectric damn was built, flooding the original town of Arenal and creating the largest lake in Costa Rica.
From Arenal we headed to the town of Santa Elena in the Monteverde cloud forests. We took a bit of an adventurous route, covering 30 scenic miles in roughly three hours, including a serious river crossing.
This shot was taken just after Blue got out of the bath. The rental car you see in the background drove about two feet into the river then got cold feet and turned around. Should've rented a 4Runner, man.
Up next: more river crossing photos, hiking in the cloud forests, and our parents come down for ten days of relaxation at an uber-luxurious rental house in Atenas.