Start: May 13, Cerro de la Muerte
Finish: May 21, Puerto Jiménez
Trout Successfully Speared in the Face: 0
Nights Camped for Free on Awesome Beach: 2
Scarlet Macaws Seen: About a Hundred
We've been in Costa Rica a bit more than a month now, and it's safe to say that we're beginning to understand the ubiquitous phrase "pura vida". Literally translated it means "pure life". In Costa Rica it's a way to say hello, goodbye or awesome! More to the point, it means "plenty of life" or "this is living".
This past week we have certainly done plenty of living! In the process, Costa Rica has been nearing the top of my all-time favorite list. I may finally have an answer when people ask me what the best place on our trip has been.
We started the week way up in the mountains of south-central Costa Rica, on Cerro de la Muerte (the hill of death), hanging out with our overlanding friends, catching fish and getting back into the camping groove.
From there we backtracked towards San Jose to visit an old friend of Kobus in Cartago, then went on to the location of our last great Costa Rican adventure: the Osa Peninsula, home of the Corcovado jungle.
We spent three nights at Truchas Selva Madre, camped next to a creek. The temperature was a merciful 60-70 degrees, offering us respite from the smoldering coast and central valley.
It was like a nice spring day in Seattle. We'd be putting on shorts for the first time in six months. However, it felt freezing cold, even in jackets and pants. I guess you can get used to 100 degree heat.
Truchas Selva Madre is part trout farm and part recreational park. Costa Ricans come up for the weekend to fish, grill their catch and hang out with family. There's also a short trail system that leads up into the hills behind the park. Our first morning in the park we headed out to see what the cloud forests of Cerro de la Muerte had to offer.
The trail starts off with an easy steady climb, about half way to the end of the loop we came across this section of trail that zigzags across the creek using bridges made from fallen trees. The logs were covered in chicken wire to keep you from slipping, which sort of worked. Steady as she goes.
Our first stop, about 20 minutes up the trail, was this small waterfall. The creek is about four feet wide at this point, and the falls roughly 15 feet high. Not spectacular, but definitely a unique setting given the high-mountain rainforest we were standing in.
To get to the falls we had to squeeze under a gigantic fallen tree, into what I like to call "The Spider Hole". If only I hadn't said that before Jessica climbed through. But, being the considerate guy that I am, I offered her my rainjacket as extra protection. Cuz y'know, spiders can't sense fear through a layer of Gore-Tex.
Back down at the camp, lacking any other source of entertainment aside from fishing, Jessica passes the time birdwatching. Dad gave us his binoculars and Costa Rican bird book after our visit in Atenas, and we've been amature bird watchers ever since. This is the country to be in if you are a fan of the avian species.
It took us a while, but we were able to identify the bird Jessica is stalking as a fiery throated hummingbird - a tiny, colorful little guy that only lives in the moutains of Costa Rica and western Panama. He wasn't really psyched to sit still for a photo though.
Kobus and I caught a couple trout from the pond our first night. It was more like stealing candy from a sleeping baby than actually fishing. It took us all of three casts. Catch and release was not allowed, so we spent the rest of our time fishing in the small stream to avoid shelling out $10 for every two pound trout we caught. Don't get me wrong though, the trout was delicious, more like salmon than the trout we catch in Washington.
Above is a video Kobus made of the pros cleaning and fileting the trout. Those guys don't fool around. Warning: fish gore.
On day two our amigos showed up, fresh from the horrors of the mechanic-who-was-really-a-wallpaper-man. Home on the Highway ended up taking their 4Runner to a different mechanic for repairs, and Brad from Drive Nacho Drive ended up doing most of the work on his Vanagon himself. Yeouwch.
But it's all good, everyone is back on the road, more or less in one piece, and we can spend a couple nights together enjoying the fresh mountain air.
The crew arrived in the rain, just after dark having been through a few mechanical problems en route. We happily invaded the gigantic pavilion for yet another overlanding party and started pouring drinks.
Dinner was on Life Remotely, with some donations from our friends. A gigantic pot of Thai curry, with a couple freshly caught trout. Delicious. Another great thing about Costa Rica: even though food is crazy expensive, we can find ingredients like Thai curry paste and coconut milk that we haven't had in half a year.
Our second night, Sheena kicked it up a notch by busting out her two cast-iron dutch ovens. She made herb bread in one, and the plum cobbler, pictured above, in the little guy. All done on charcoal. Impressive (and very tasty) stuff!
Before leaving the trout farm, we had one final mission: watch Brad spear a trout in the face. I'd say he looks ready.
This is a video of the morning trout feeding frenzy, in case you're wondering just how many fish are in this little pond, and how simple this whole expedition should have been.
Unfortunately, I think we have to chalk this one up to "easier said than done". I mean, there are a couple thousand fully grown trout in that pond and we even went so far as to ask for some food to throw in around Brad, effectively chumming the water.
After a half hour of flailing around in near-freezing water, wearing half of a wet suit, in water so murky he couldn't see his hands holding the spear gun, Brad threw in the towel. Regardless, t'was a solid thirty minutes of entertainment for the six guys sitting in the bleachers. Brad gets an A for effort, especially considering that José the friendly trout farmer told us that the last guy who went swimming in the pond almost died of hypothermia.
After leaving Truchas Selva Madre we made one last stop in central Costa Rica before heading closer Panama. Gustavo, a friend who used to work on cruise ships, and previous roommate of Kobus invited us to his house in Cartago for some home-cooked food and beers the size of our head.
Gus' son Max was instantly hooked on Jessica. This little dude had half a bag of sugar and a cup of coffee just after we arrived. I'm surprised this photo isn't more blurry than it is, he wouldn't sit still for more than two seconds, and was prone to bursting into giggle fits given the slightest provocation. We did our best to wear him out for Gus and Jessica (Gus' wife) but in the end he was too much for us.
Gus took us on a night time tour of Cartago and the surrounding towns. He showed us the famous Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, and walked us around the church, explaining how every year 2.5 million Costa Ricans would make a pilgramage to the church every year to drink from the holy river flowing under the basilica.
One last group shot before we left: the three of us with Gus and his wife Jessica. Very awesome people, they showed us a great time and Gus definitely went to every length to help us sort out our remaining days in Costa Rica. We left with promises to meet up again when work takes him to Argentina later this year.
The next five days bring us to three campsites with some spectacular scenery and bird life. Our first stop was Ranchos Remos, just outside Uvita. This off-the-grid place has a restaurant, a few cabins, a camping area and one heck of a view of the ocean. All you need is a 4x4 to climb up the rough access road.
Within thirty minutes of setting up camp we had our first toucan sighting. We'd never been close enough to one to get a picture, let alone watch one of the goofy bastards dangle upside down while grabing a bite to eat. The next morning we found a dozen of these clowns in the tree over our campsite. If you want to see toucans, go to Uvita!
Next stop: Osa Peninsula! Home of the last primary jungle in North America, the Corcovado. The road to Bahia Drake, on the western end of the peninsula, was better than expected. A few river crossings, but all were shallow and easily passable. Makin' waves in the jungle.
En route we came across a falcon perched on the back of a horse. Doesn't really look like the horse gives a damn. Bird book in hand we identified this as a yellow-headed caracara. The description literally says "perches high in trees as well as on ground, and even on the backs of cattle". These bird book people really know their stuff.
Arriving in Bahia Drake, we scout around for a campsite. We wind up staying at a hostel named Vista Drake, with similarly spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. This time the bird of the day was the scarlet macaw. We never got close enough to take a decent photo, but we'll soon remedy that situation.
Following a tip from our friends James and Lauren, we left Bahia Drake and headed farther south along graded dirt roads, across a couple more rivers, to a beach the likes of which I have never seen in my life. Picturesque would be an understatement.
Unsure if we could camp, we asked the locals (all two of them) if it was possible and if we could use a nearby shack to cook under. We got the thumbs up, setup camp just off the sand, and spent some time sweating and enjoying the view.
Playa Josecito is the name of the place. It's about as far off the grid as you can before you enter the Corcovado park, roughly two miles away. We opted against entering the park from this side of the peninsula, instead planned to spend a couple lazy days unplugged, enjoying the scenery and taking a few walks down the jungle-lined beach.
As if the spectacular beach wasn't enough, we also had a few noisy neighbors. Within thirty minutes of showing up on the beach we had our first sighting of wild scarlet macaws. We'd seen these guys in zoos and rehab centers, but nothing compares to watching them in their native habitat.
Scarlet macaws are only found in a couple places in Costa Rica, with the Osa Peninsula containing the majority of them. They hang out in almond trees that grow along the coast, picking off the fruit and gnawing their way to the nut.
Surprisingly, they aren't always easy to see as they tend to climb far into the broad-leafed trees. However, they are incredibly noisy, especially in flight. Might be a gorgeous bird, but it makes the worst sounds. AAAWK RAAAWK!
Given that there wasn't much else to do aside from walk around, Jessica had ample opportunity to take some amazing shots of the macaws. This guy landed on a palm tree not twenty feet from where we were camped.
Another fantastic macaw action shot courtesy of Jessica and the BFL!
Our last night in Playa Josecito we sat and watched the thunderstorms slowly roll towards over the Pacific. We caught sight of this water spout that lasted about five minutes. It was a few miles away, but close enough to make me wonder what the night's weather would bring to our campsite.
We woke up the next morning, after a night of torrential downpours, to find half of the beach missing in front of our tents. Combine the rain with the fact it was a new moon, meaning tides higher than usual, and we were lucky we weren't sleeping with the fishes.
On the way back our biggest concerns were the river crossings, they were shin-deep on the way in. Given the rain they may have become impassable, leaving us stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat but rice and ketchup. We waited a couple extra hours, hoping to give the rivers time to drop a bit. This worked out in our favor, they were just about knee hight, not a problem for Blue.
On the way back we checked a critter off of our must-see list. A basilisk, also known as a Jesus lizard for its ability to run across water.
Up next: Into the jungle! We spend a work day in Puerto Jimenez and then head to Carate for a two night hike into the Corcovado. Then it's on to Panama, the last country we'll visit before heading to South America.