Upon completion of a long seven year college career and subsequent graduation with a simple undergrad degree, I deserved a trip somewhere…much deserved and desired. So off to explore the jungles I went…the jungles of Costa Rica. This small nation is the modern day ‘inventor’ of eco-tourism, and has marketed itself brilliantly to people in the western world to venture down to Central America to explore its lush green cloud forests and delightful tropical beaches on both coasts. Being a semi-lawful citizen of a western world country, I felt it my duty and indeed responsibility to visit our distant neighbor to the south for mortal and financial (limited) support in its goal of increasing tourism revenue to fill its government coffers. Agh, who the hell am I fooling…I went down there for purely selfish reasons…to see the jungles, climb its cloud-scraping peaks, surf its beaches and to simply get away.
I started my trip with a flight to Houston, Texas, the 4th largest city in America. I had a four hour layover there from Salt Lake City, so I went and explored the downtown area. Beautifully designed skyscrapers, architecturally stunning in design. My anticipation of getting down to Costa Rica was high, real high! Finally I boarded another plane and arrived in San Jose 3 ½ hours later. I was finally here in this small yet lovely Central American country. I spent 11 days adventuring there in addition to next door neighbor Panama, doing and seeing so much that my time there was just a blur. Here is the following lazy attempt at documenting some of my observations and experiences down there in Latin America.
I was going not as a tourist, but as a traveler.
In Costa Rica…truly in the tropics now.
San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica)- just another dirty, old, garbage-strewn Third World city…the smell of car exhaust heavy in the air, choking, eye-watering. The city itself is surrounded by verdant green hills, o0ffering fresher air and better scenery.
Out of San Jose, I went into the lush highlands of Costa Rica, the spine of the country. I was aiming to climb its highest peak- Cerro Chirripo, which rises from the humid jungle depths into the chillier air of 12,500 feet. Such heights are not what most people think of when they fantasize about Costa Rica, yet glacial-carved lakes surrounded by granite fit for rock climbing adorn the Cordillera Talamanca Range, which Chirripo presides over. Chirripo is so high in fact that on a clear cloudless day, it is possible to view both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from up there. Alas, the day I was there, the trail was closed for the entire month due to trail maintenance, which was bad luck. But I had come all this way, so I at least wanted to get something positive out of it and decided to poach the peak anyway. Soon I was found hiking up through the rainforest-blanketed slopes of the peak towards the summit. After hiking along the pleasing trail for a few hours up into the heights of Costa Rica, I inevitably ran afoul of a patrolling ranger, who fortunately let me off with a stern warning in broken English and sent me back to where I came. Bummer. I will just have to come back another time to get this summit.
Out of the mountains and to the glorious coast, of which the country takes its name and gains its popular reputation. Having ventured by small bus over some rough dirt roads and over a ferry that carried that bus over a river (no bridge in sight), I exchanged my hiking boots for bare feet on a waxy surfboard at Pavones, which is one of the country’s best surf locales. Indeed the left-handed break went for a good 10 second ride, if you were good enough. Which I clearly wasn’t. The beach at Pavones was comprised of small sharp stones that did not feel good on bare feet. But the surfing was nice and fun, and I camped along the beach with towering palm trees overhead.
From Pavones, I could look out to the Osa Peninsula that loomed on the western horizon and after a few days spent surfing, I knew I would be headed there. So I made my way to a small jungle town called Golfito to locate a boat that would whisk me over to the Osa. The jungle coming up to the town was think, dense and musky, and I spent the night there drinking Imperial lagers while waiting for the coming day to head out across the bay. Daylight came and found me on a little skiff journeying across the Golfo Dulce where an hour later we landed in the frontier town of Puerto Jiminez. I hadn’t gotten sea sick from the boat journey, which was a pleasant surprise. I hired a jeep to take me another hour by primitive road to Carate, which is near the southern entry of the spectacular Corcovado National Park on the western coast of the Osa Peninsula. From there I embarked by foot north headed towards the park boundary at La Leona, where I would then hike to Sirena Camp nestled deep within the park’s coastal jungle. It was an all-day affair, with the hike covering 10.5 miles over a variety of jungle trail and the raw coast itself. In fact, it was one of the most enjoyable hikes I’ve ever done, being immersed in and on the edge of the dense jungle teeming with all matters of life, from busy ant trains and colorful crabs crawling amidst the rocks to sharks swimming at the mouths of rivers, the elegant and supremely colorful scarlet macaws flying through the air to monkeys swinging in the tree tops. The rainforest came all the way to the beach’s edge, with no trace of mankind presence, which was an extremely rewarding and pleasing sight. In early evening I finally came to the scientific research camp of Sirena Station, where I spent a few nights camping and spending quality time in the coastal rainforest. Sleep at times was hard to come by, what with the terrifying sounds of howler monkeys making all kinds of scary noises from dark hidden places in the jungle.
Some thoughts on Corcovado:
– The jungle, hot and humid in the still air.
– Such pleasure hiking along deserted, pristine beaches…some of the prettiest that I have ever seen. true paradise! No development, no people- just the crashing surf on the beach and the thick dense green jungle rushing out to meet the sand.
– Skinny dipping in refreshing pools of fresh water found in streams and rivers. Just when you’re about to pass out from the tropical heat while hiking, you come across a stream flowing out of the jungle with which to cool off.
– Tropical fish swimming in the tidal pools.
– Scarlet macaws screeching in the air adorned in their colorful bonanza of bright red, yellow and blue feathers- the loveliest bird on Earth.
– The peacefulness of Sirena Camp buried deep in the Corcovado jungle- the wild and mysterious sounds and smells of the jungle (el bosque) encircling camp.
– The endless waves crashing on the beach, with coconuts lying on the beach. exactly what a tropical paradise should look like.
Corcovado was amazing…one of the most spectacular places I have ever been to. Three days spent in that jungle paradise wasn’t nearly long enough, but indeed the time was passing quick and I had to get back on the road, this time south to Panama.
On my way to Panama, we had to cross the border entry point at Paso Canoas, which is a slimy, filthy border town.
A few hours later the bus crosses the 5,247 foot Bridge of Americas, which spans the mighty and world-famous Panama Canal. The country of Panama itself is a bridge linking the continents of North and South America.. Across the bridge stands Panama City. Amidst the tropical filth, squalor and stench characterized by other Latin American cities rises a modern and bustling city, even a little charming in places, such as the Casco Viejo district. It retains old world colonial charm, a neighborhood built in the 16th century, it resembles the French Quarter in New Orleans, complete with wrought-iron balconies and intricate architecture. Strolling the streets of downtown Panama City and colonial Casco Viejo, I thought that there is something a slight bit romantic about these steamy, tropical cities. Romance fills the air.
I made it a point to visit the Miraflores Locks on the Canal, which raises and lowers mighty ocean-going ships from the waters of the Atlantic to the Pacific, via the isthmus of Panama. The Panama Canal is truly an engineering marvel.
In Costa Rica- bad roads, friendly people, gorgeous landscapes.
In Panama- paved roads, air conditioned buses, forests chopped down, modern.
San Jose- dirty, unspectacular, distinctly Spanish.
Panama City- modern, sophisticated, American-influenced.
After sweating my ass off for nine days in the humidity of Central America in cheap dirt-bag motel rooms (with no air conditioning and sinks falling off the walls and mattresses that should’ve been in a landfill 20 years ago), or sleeping in my tent out in the wilds, I spent my last night at the luxurious 5-star Marriott Hotel in downtown Panama City, complete with a soft, spacious king-size bed, hot water showers and lots of cold air conditioning. I have never stayed in a nicer place. Plush!