Corcovado National Park: wild life and sore feet

We were sitting in the common room at our hostel in San Jose, checking the bus schedule for San Jose-Drake Bay – we were headed to Corcovado National Park on the SW coast of Costa Rica and would enter from the north in Drake Bay.  Seemed like the only bus was at 7 am and got in at 3 and then there was a half hour taxi ride and a 2 hour boat ride to Drake Bay. The bus would go through Quepos, which is not very direct. We were exhausted from all the early mornings from Rara Avis and Tortuguero and were really not excited for the next day. My dad decided to check the plane schedule, and the flight left SJ at 7 am and arrived in Drake Bay at 8 am. Even better, the next day was my mom’s birthday. So happy birthday Mommy… (we sang to her on the plane!)

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Corcovado is in red. Drake Bay is just to the north. Thanks somebody from Germany for this map.

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We had a private airplane- my dad was feeling pretty bad about the carbon until we arrived and there were a half-dozen people getting on for the flight back to SJ
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The first part of the flight was over mountains...

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...And the next part was over the coast! See how the rivers drop their sediment into the ocean

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On arrival to Drake Bay, the Taxi driver told us that the 8 km ride from the airport (long gravel landing strip and a bathroom whose toilet has no seat) to the town would cost 8 dollars each. Being stubborn, and thinking there would be other options, we decided to start walking, only to realise that it was the only taxi (and possibly the only 4-wheeled vehicle) in town! Jake and I could hardly walk 400 m at a time with the huge packs on our backs. Then we got to a river we had to cross. Some locals showed us the shallowest place to walk through it. As we crossed it, the taxi drove by us in the opposite direction. It looked like a pickup truck with a raised back that had some seats in it. It is like that because of the river that flows across the road. He told us that he would be back in an hour. So my dad and I started walking there, and Jake and my mom stayed and waited for the taxi with the
packs. When we arrived in the small village we went our our hotel “Martina’s Place”, where we met our Guide for Corcovado, Rodolfo. The next morning, we would board a boat at 6 am that would bring us south along the coast to a ranger station in the park. But until then we were free, so we went to the beach and to the “Heladeria” (ice cream shop) for my mom’s birthday.

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On our way to Sirena, Corcovado National Park, with our guide Rodolfo
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After a very wavy two-hour boat ride, We have arrived!
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Some wealthy tourists arrive here by airplane. Even the Drake Bay airport was more sophisticated than this!

The Ranger station had a lot of services: kitchen, WiFi, covered area to pitch your tent, Restaurant, rooms for rent, and my dad got excited when he saw Solar Panels! We brought and cooked our own food and slept in our tent.

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The Sirena Ranger Station

Our Guide Rodolpho was fantastic. He was really committed to helping us find all sorts of wildlife, and would take us on long hikes and pause all along the way to listen and look up, down, and all around. The day we arrived we hiked 5 hours then went out again before dark for 2 more – we were trying to find a tapir. Second day the hike started at 4:15AM – 30 minutes before there was any light – we were back 4 hours later. After eating, we set out for another 6 hour hike .. the last 2 hours focused on finding the elusive tapir.
Corcovado is known as Costa Rica’s most important park. National Geographic says it is the most biologically diverse place on earth. Here’s some of the stuff we saw along the way:

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Collared Peccary. These are friendly, but the White Lipped Peccary is the most dangerous animal in Central America!
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Scarlet Macaw

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Spectacled owl
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Spider Monkeys use their tails as a 5th limb

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White Faced Capuchin Monkey

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Toucan

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The locals call this the "Gringo Tree" because it's "always red and peeling"
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I wonder if Army Camo was inspired by this!
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Coati:mundi the males are solitary, but the females live in huge groups. We saw three big coati groups!
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A cool river swim mid-way through the hike was much appreciated. A chance to cool off, take off those rubber boots and massage the feet!

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My dad liked to record the sound of the Howler Monkeys with our video camera. He's getting a photo of the tarantula here

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Rodolfo carried around his big scope everywhere, but it sure came in handy!

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This picture was taken through the eye piece of the scope. Look at the resolution!
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Rodolfo was amazing at spotting the animals and identifying them

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There are two kinds of sloths in Corcovado. We posted a photo of the 3 toed slot at Monteverde. Here we found the 5 toed sloth.

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This Puma track was not here an hour ago! Sadly, we didn't see the cat itself.

Cool stuff, eh? We were definitely rewarded for all our hiking. And what was day 3? Oh, yeah, we hiked 20 kilometres out of the park. With rubber boots on. We had to go across two rivers, and much of the hike was on sand beach in the heat of the day. Ready, Set, Go.

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Crossing Rio Claro

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"Just a bit sore"

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Coconut break!

Part way through, Rodolfo showed us a cave with little bats in it!

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We left at 7:30 am. We finished hiking at 3 pm. The last 4 kilometres, I thought I was going to faint. You should have seen the joy on my face when Rodolfo said “200 metres left!”. When we got to the end, all I wanted to do was go out for ice cream, put my feet up, and relax. Guess what we got to do instead? Squish ourselves into the back of a truck for two hours as we got driven back to Puerto Jimenez on bumpy, bumpy roads.

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Our reward of hiking 20 kilometres!

That car had no ventilation at the back, so imagine how happy we were to get out, shower, have some fish dinner and ice cream, and go to bed! Even better, our room had three double beds so Jake and I got our own. 🙂
Kaia

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Tortuguero turtles take two

In his post below published yesterday, Jake did a great job explaining the nesting process and how tourists are controlled to minimize impacts on nesting.  I wanted to make a few additional comments about how impressive conservation efforts are in Tortuguero.  Ecotourism at its best, in so many ways.  Everywhere you looked in Tortuguero you see signs and murals about turtle conservation.  The night turtle tour was jam packed with turtle ecology and conservation information … as an eco-tour should be.  Four species nest at Tortuguero.  Leatherbacks are classified as “vulnerable”.  Green (the ones we saw) and Loggerhead are endangered.  Hawksbill are critically endangered.  So this conservation work is pretty important.  Like salmon, turtles return … somehow! … to the very beach they were born on after about 20 years.  They nest on the beach 3 to 4 times over a one month period, but may go 2 to 3 years between nesting.  As Jake mentioned in his description of our encounter with little “Squirt”, light plays a critical role.  I think this is one area the town could be more vigilant.  We heard of some stories of villagers collecting up and reclocating hundreds of baby turtles that had walked right into town following bright lights.
There were research stations affiliated with the park, and many volunteers from abroad helping with the work.  I think this caught the interest of Kaia and Jake.
Tourist infrastructure in the town was very obvious but very scaled down.  Only 1 story buildings, no pools or sprawling hotel grounds with pools.  People come here for the turtles.
I guess the most important question is whether the money and awareness (leading to political pressure for stepped up conservation efforts) coming from tourists ultimately does more good for the turtles than the impacts we had.  I felt a little badly for the mom who nested late and then slid back to sea with an audience of about 20 people.  We were behind her more or less … but I can imagine she was pretty stressed.  But if we didn’t come … would the community still be eating the turtles?  I didn’t get a chance to try to find an answer for this question yet.  Any thoughts from readers?
I’ve also added a few more photos of the journey to and from and around Tortuguero.
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this is the loading area for the "launcha" (motorboats) heading down the canal to Tortuguero from Pavona

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the canal to Tortuguero. It starts in cleared ranch land but then transitions to old growth forest once inside the National Park
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this coconut had been in ice water ... it was SOOO refreshing!
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I'm lovin' the camouflage in Costa Rica!
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It's all about the turtles in Tortuguero. and the tours. There were probably a dozen other shop fronts like this.
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Everywhere you look there are murals about the importance of protecting the turtles, including a whole school wall full of them
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because in the future we won't have only silloutettes
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every tour had a $5 surcharge that went directly towards turtle conservation efforts. You might recall from my Rara Avis blog that this is one of the TIES ecotourism principles.
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The 6PM part was enforced. But it seemed that beach access was fair game any time after 1st light of the morning.
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A US college volunteer explains all things turtle to us at their interpretation center.
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here's where Tortuguero's leatherbacks migrate to
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This diarama at the interp. center shows a cross section of a turtle nest. The little guys are actually pretty far down and have a significant task just getting to the surface before their daunting crawl to the ocean.
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these turtle tracks are EVERYWHERE along the beach. But they only come ashore at night ... and only if there are no lights on shore.
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you can see how this track leads to the bushes and the nesting hole
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sunrise ... in the midst of turtle watching
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These happy "tortugueros" are among thousands who have redefined the meaning of the word (it means turtle hunter). Original settlement here was for hunting turtles and their eggs. But in the 1950s a US biologist set out to convince these tortugueros that alive turtles were worth much more to the community as tourist attractors than as meat. Boy, did he get that right! Our family spent $80 for our guided night turtle tour and $60 for our morning canal wildlife tour. Then add hotel, food, boat ride ... Anyone reminded of Amos Bien's vision for Rara Avis?
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these eggs likely dug up by coatamundi (racoon/dog/monkey)
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sad, but these eggs play a critical role in nutrition for so many coastal animals
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here is mom in her "camouflage" stage - she is digging the sand from in front of her to cover over where the egg cavity is. The eggs are NOT at the bottom of the final depression as would otherwise seem likely.
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there are many many swanky lodges around the town, but they are all water acess like this, and these folks cannot roam the great little village or see the beach/turtles without taking a water taxi. I'll take our little beachfront cabina for $32 thank you very much!
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look very closely .... click to enlarge ... what's here?
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Isn't that awesome camouflage?! I was so fascinated by this guy

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these old growth giants ... so magnificent
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the canal on the return trip
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EVERYTHING (except for a few wealthier tourists on planes) comes in by launcha. Including horses!