A walk on the wild side

24 Jul

Cabuya, Costa Rica
by Jeremy

Eyelash viper

The venomous Eyelash Viper – looks all cute and innocent, eh?

It’s a jungle out there. Literally. From the Caribbean coast at Cahuita to the mountains of the Orosi Valley, the beaches of Tortuguero and the Nicoya Peninsula – hell, even in capital San Jose – Costa Rica is a wildlife wonderland.

It is a humbling experience to sit in the midnight darkness watching a 150kg green turtle dig a nest, lay more than 100 eggs, bury them and then make her way back to the sea. At Tortuguero we were treated to this amazing spectacle – made even more wonderful by the fact we’d travelled there upriver an hour from La Pavona, through a muddy, jungle-clad river, replete with crocodiles resting on the banks.

Pink bananas

Bananas, Jim, but not as we know them.

In the past fortnight we’ve had close encounters with howler and capuchin monkeys, raccoons, Lora snakes, hummingbirds, Pava birds – and frankly hundreds of other birds, marine life and mammals we can’t identify.

Even yesterday, at a tropical swimming hole in Cabuya, a shadow passed over the sun and overhead a glorious pink flamingo flew, then perched and posed for us.

And we actually thought someone was having a laugh the other day when we came across banana trees adorned with bright pink versions of the fruit. No, really!

Not all the wildlife is of the cuddly variety though. Cuddle the bright yellow eyelash viper we encountered in Cahuita and you’d be dead within a couple of hours. Of course we didn’t know that when Paula stuck a camera lens in its face and I moved the leaf it was resting on to get a better shot.

Tapanti, Orosi Valley, Costa Rica

It was worth braving the rain to drive through the lush Orosi Valley

A few years ago, when we were in Syria, we camped next to a lake. As we settled down for a peaceful night in our open-sided bedouin-style tent the owner of the restaurant in whose grounds we were pitched said: “There are no snakes here”. What! We hadn’t even imagined there were – now we couldn’t sleep, the fear of the unknown amplified when a couple of what turned out to be stray cats ran across us in the early hours of the morning.

Back in Cahuita, by the time we came across the startling green and black frog we took the precaution of asking if it was poisonous. No, said Maria. Yes, said Alex. So that’s clear. Poisonous or not it was incredible. As was the wonderful Maria’s Camping site – a little haven on the Caribbean.

Tourism in Costa Rica is a double-edged sword – and there are two sorts. Some areas are being overdeveloped with exclusive resorts and foreign businesses buying up all the best beach and mountain land, constructing zip lines and other adventure activities. Hundreds of non-environmentally sustainable places are given names like eco-this or green-that. They are advertised in shiny brochures and on massive billboards lining roads the length and breadth of the country.

On the other hand there is wonderful community tourism, barely even noticeable. Sometimes literally. We’ve camped at sites that are not even known about by many locals, with, at best, a tiny handwritten sign propped up against a lamp-post to alert you to its existence. Needless to say, we’ve been the only people at any of these sites and yet have met lovely families who couldn’t be more welcoming, camped on the banks of amazing rivers, had sweeping vistas of the cloud forest or woken up right on an empty beach.

Howler monkey, Cahuita, Costa Rica

Monkeys galore at Cahuita, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast.

But before you switch off, it’s not all been unending sunshine and joy.

It’s rainy season (or as the clever marketing people now call it: the Green Season) and the van has developed a leak – or two. Twice we’ve carried out repairs and sat back content at our handiwork. Each time a new leak appears. The problem is we can’t find the source of this one. Our response? Head to Parque Nacional Tapanti-Cerro de Muerte (yes it does mean mountain of death!), the wettest place in Costa Rica – with an average of 7000mm of rain per year. Most of it fell the night we camped there I think – just after our propane gas ran out and we had to resort to cooking our stew on the hastily-assembled barbeque in a storm. Then the leak reappeared in the night. On Paula’s head.

All of which seems a trifle ironic in light of the fact that when we went white-water rafting on the Rio Sarapiqui we were restricted to class II-III rapids because the river was too low due to lack of rain. I say that as if I had wanted more adrenaline-fuelled thrills and spills. Some things are easy to say with hindsight.

And it’s not all been fun and frivolity – there’s been work too. In San Jose I spent three days working for the International Federation of Journalists alongside union leaders from across Latin America and the Caribbean. It was inspirational, as we heard from those standing up against death threats, corrupt governments and powerful commercial media interests. When we left we had gained new friends and comrades (and a few packets of butter from the breakfast buffet!), but also the realisation that just when we thought our Spanish was getting better we’d struggled with a bewildering array of new words, accents and pronunciations – including finding out that words which mean one thing in El Salvador or Panama are insults in Argentina or Uruguay. There may be trouble ahead…

Cooking stew on the BBQ

When the gas runs out on your half-cooked stew, thank goodness for the back-up BBQ.

So now we’ve come full circle. Before we headed to the US to begin this journey last summer we had a month-long break in Costa Rica, here at Cabuya. (As my sister so delicately put it: “What! You’re having a bloody holiday before your massive bloody holiday.”)

We’ve returned to see friends we made then – Patricia and Simon – and because it feels like a real milestone to come back to where it all began. And actually getting back here, especially when our transmission problems made it look like we might not make it, feels like a real achievement. It seems the perfect place to reflect on all that has happened and changed in the last 12 months since we left home… for example, you really know life has shifted gear when you can spend over an hour watching an immobile sloth. But more of that next time.

Days: 295
Miles: 9,854
Things we now know to be true: Bananas can be pink, snakes can be yellow.

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4 Responses to “A walk on the wild side”

  1. james@homeonthehighway.com July 25, 2012 at 8:35 am #

    very nice wildlife shots! If you havent planned on it already, you MUST head to the Osa Peninsula and hike Corcovado National Park.

    • jeremyandpaula July 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      Cheers James. It’s in the plan! All we have to do is first drag ourselves away from our lovely camp spot in Cabuya..

  2. jed July 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    howdy fellow travelers. glad to hear that the van is finally in good working condition and you are having a good time. we are about to be in costa rica and are starting to look for shipping container partners for the mighty panama to colombia move. we are hoping to ship out end of august or first week of sept. if you all know of anyone looking for partners as well please give us a type at dirtyphishbowl@hotmail.com or http://www.adventureamericas.wordpress.com thanks and look forward to hearing from you. Jed

  3. Derek Jolly July 30, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    Are the pink bananas edible, and if so, do they still taste bananay? Or have you stumbled across the lost land of the Umpalumpa and actually they taste of bubble gum? Food for thought…

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