Deep in the jungle in Costa Rica
An adventurous trip to a remote area of Costa Rica gave Mariellen Ward the opportunity for total immersion into the natural world of exotic animals, tropical birds, mist-shrouded rainforests, a roaring ocean — and the feeling of being part of it all.
It was the boat ride down a remote river, through thick jungle, past an eerie mangrove forest and over crashing, tumultuous waves into the ocean that did it. I felt I had left the world as I knew it behind.
Making it out of the river and into the Pacific Ocean, in a very small, open boat was like passing through a mythical test, and indeed I did think of Odysseus. If you capsized here, you would have to face three terrors: powerful waves that could smash you to pieces against craggy rocks; four-metre crocodiles in the river; or bull sharks in the ocean — for this area, where the fresh water of the river meets the saline of the ocean, is rich feeding ground for crocodiles on one side and sharks on the other.
The boat followed the coastline south towards Corcovado National Park, the most remote of Costa Rica’s many parks and nature reserves, and dropped us off at a tiny “resort” along the way. There were no roads, nor docks, so the only way to get there was by boat, which we had to jump out of, into the water, as the surf pounded the beach.
Our resort was comprised of a handful of very small, simple huts scattered amidst the rain forest, and a main building that housed the kitchen and was fronted by an outdoor dining area, covered with a thatch roof. There was no electricity, nothing to interfere with our total immersion into the natural world of the dense jungle and the magnificent ocean.
But there were a few comforts. A thatched roof beach bar whipped up tropical drinks using a car-battery-powered mixer. And the privacy of our hut, behind the main building, and totally ensconced in the jungle, seemed luxurious. Our hut had a romantic screened-in shower and screens (no windows) that soared from about waist height to the A-line peaked roof, allowing us to experience nature as closely as possible. One morning we woke very early to the sound of chattering and saw the trees filled with white-faced monkeys.
Nature was the reason we were in Bahia Drake, and nature was what we got. During our week there we saw several massive, hairy spiders and a sleeping fer de lance, one of the world’s most deadly snakes. As the full moon approached, we fell asleep to the sound of the surf as it increased to a roar. We delighted in watching the flights of polaroid-bright scarlet macaws, birds that mate for life and always travel in pairs. And on the best day of my life, we saw “Jesus Christ lizards” walk on water on Isla del Cano National Preserve.
On Christmas Eve we traveled by a small, open boat for one hour across the ocean to Isla del Cano with a Harrison-Ford-as-Indiana-Jones lookalike named Eddie — a Yellowstone Park ranger from the USA who was wandering around Costa Rica in shorts and flip flops, sleeping in his small tent and trying to recover from heartache — and our guide, Gerald, a transplanted German married to a Costa Rican woman.
An emerald in the turquoise ocean, tiny Isla del Cano is a protected area and living museum that allows only 50 visitors per day. We hiked to the top most peak, picked up shards of pre-Colombian pottery, snorkeled in the tropical waters flashing with colourful fish and had a picnic lunch on the beach.
None of my photos from that day turned out — and I wondered if it was the island’s curse: it had been a sacred burial ground for chiefs, and was said to be haunted because all of the gold in the burial mounds had been looted.
On the way back, Gerald put the deep-sea rod in the water and I caught a yellow-fin tuna, which we ate as sashimi that evening at dinner. Afterwards, we walked with Eddie and a few others from the resort through the dark, humid jungle to the closest pueblecito (settlement) and danced with Ticos at a Christmas Eve celebration in a cosy community centre.
Before turning in, we sat on the beach and stared out in the direction of mysterious Isla del Cano, watching the ebbing moon reflected on the mutable ocean, feeling immersed in the natural world and part of the cycle of life.