Corcovado National Park: One hot, wet smelly trek

Published: November 11th 2013
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Corcovado National Park

The main tip when trekking in Corcovado National Park is to pack light, meaning that clothes need to be re-worn over multiple days. By the second day of our trek, we could not determine if the terrible smell was from rotting carcases, schools of Peccaries, poo being thrown at us by Spider Monkeys, or just ourselves. By the end of the trek, our clothes smelt so bad that it was gut churning, and some of them had to be thrown out, as they were not salvageable. In fact they probably could have thrown themselves in the bin...

Corcovado is rated by National Geographic as the world's third best National Park, and the most biologically intense place in the world. It is one of the few remaining areas of lowland tropical rainforest left, and due to its remoteness is home to a vast array of fauna. Our original hope was to trek in from Carate to Sirena, and out to Los Patos. But this was not possible due to the amount of rain that has been falling, with the trek out to Los Patos involving 26 river crossings made all the more dangerous by flooded and crocodile infested waterways. So we had to settle for trekking the 20km along the coast to Sirena, a day to explore at Sirena, and then walk out the same way we came in.

The majority of the walk to Sirena along the coast was exposed and hard going in the deep, hot sand. The sky was clear and the sun proceeded to fry us from all angles, reflecting off the water and rocks. Every now and then we would get a reprieve when we hit an impassable headland and had to cross it via the rainforest. The shade was a welcome relief, but under the covers of the enormous trees it was extremely muddy and the humidity rose dramatically. Sea Almond trees line the edge of the rainforest and the beach, and in the trees Scarlet Macaws screeched and feasted on the fruit. These beautiful birds are extremely endangered, but here they are everywhere, usually in pairs as they mate for life. Within a few hours of the walk, we had seen the four types of monkeys that can be found in Costa Rica, Capuchin, Howler, Squirrel and Spiders. If you hang around too long gawking at the Spider monkeys, they will start throwing their poo at you. Needing no further encouragement to move on, we quickly came across groups of Coati's with their tails looking like periscopes in the ground cover. A member of the raccoon family, they are quite cute and not shy whatsoever, safe in the knowledge that a bite from them can get extremely infected very quickly. Even the Jaguar's and other big cats do not attack these guys. We found one of them digging up a turtles nest on the beach, and gorging itself on the eggs. On inspection of the remains it was sad to see that the baby turtles were well formed and only a few weeks away from hatching, but this is the way of life in the National Park. We saw a lot of dead animals, including the carcass of a baby humpback whale that had been stripped clean first by bull sharks and then vultures, with ribs and vertebrae littered across a 200 hundred metre stretch of sand.

Arriving at Sirena late in the afternoon, the storms that had been brewing out at sea also arrived and started to unleash the heaviest rain that i have experienced. It did not let up until 4am, when it eased to drizzle, but not before almost 40cm had been deposited on the already wet and muddy ground. Up early, we walked the 30 minute walk down to the Sirena River where at high tide bull sharks come into the river, and crocodiles venture out to sea. Soon the heavy rain returned, as we watched large pectoral fins and grey bodies pierce through the choppy waves, hunting for red snapper and waiting for enough water to allow the sharks to get upstream. With the high tide getting too close for comfort, it was back into the rainforest to walk along the numerous trails that surround the Sirena ranger station. Schools of Peccaries did not mind the rain, happily rutting around in the under growth, but all of the other animals took shelter and were not possible to see. Unbelievably, the rain got even heavier and soon the ground, unable to drain, was covered in 10cm or more of water, and the creeks got higher and flowed faster very quickly. Drenched to the bone we pushed on, but as big branches started falling down around us, it was an easy decision to turn around and make for the safety of the station.

After showering off the mud, we happily took the opportunity to go back to bed and snooze for a few hours. By lunchtime, the heavy rain had stopped and we went out and explored the Rio Claro trail that weaved its way up a small hill through old gold mining equipment and Indian burial grounds, both of which had succumbed to the growth of the jungle many years ago. As the rain completely eased the place came alive again with the animals taking the most of the reprieve to feed and play. Squirrel monkeys the size of my hand flung themselves from tree to tree, and howlers roared with happiness. Birds sang and dried themselves in the patches of sun that penetrated the canopy, and insects whirled past our heads sounding like mini B52's as they went past. Getting down to the river we could see from the debris that it was at least one metre higher last night during the downpour. Another night of rain like that, and we would not be able to leave the next day.

The sun stayed with us for the rest of the afternoon, and we went back down to the Sirena river in a hope to see more bull sharks and this time crocodiles. The tide was still coming in, so it was too early for the bull sharks, but a 3m croc made its way through the waves and back up the river, coming within a few metres of the shore and us. Out at sea, all one could see was a series of storms sucking up water and joining together to make a massive combined storm that would soon be making its way to us. As the the sun set, we trudged back to the station and got ready for another night of heavy rain. A plan was hatched that if it was not raining at 4am then we would go out searching for Tapir's that frequent the area in the early morning. When the time came the rain had eased off, but as i was still recovering from a nasty cold i could not be arsed getting out of bed. But mojo went out with Jonathon, and they searched for Tapir's for a few hours following the tracks along the beach, down to the river and into the rainforest, but alas to no avail.
Proof that Monkeys do eat bananasProof that Monkeys do eat bananasProof that Monkeys do eat bananas

or at least banana flowers..
The rain cleared, and the sun came out as did the Toucans, drying themselves off and sticking out like a sore thumb in the green of the canopy.

Heading off after breakfast, the tide was still quite high and combined with the overnight rain, the Rio Claro was running higher then normal. Stripped down to underwear we crossed the river waist high, keeping an ever present eye out for crocodiles at the same time. The sun was out, but the 50 or so creeks that we crossed on our first day were flowing a lot higher now, and soon we were defeated in our attempts to keep our feet dry. With heavy shoes full of water and sand, the blisters started forming, the skin pruning and it was hard going. In the rainforest thick mud added extra weight, which was felt even more when walking along the beach. Water streams out of the rainforest onto the beach at any opportune time. Sometimes it will be a wide creek that needs to be traversed, other times the water will disappear into the sand, only to resurface near the sea as it percolates its way through to the surface. Walking along the beach, there are no other footprints in the sand, only animal tracks, be it from the hundreds of thousands of hermit crabs that patrol the area for food, or in some cases large prints from Puma's or Coyotes. All the time the Scarlet Macaws are screeching either from the trees, or as they fly above.

Out to sea, another storm was forming and we pushed hard to get to La Leona on the edge of the park. At La Leona, we could take our shoes off and inspect the damage to what used to be our feet. They resembled and smelt like a piece of stilton, all blue and pasty, and skin that looked like it had been left in a bath overnight and then taken to with a cheese grater. The last 3km's to Carate was along the beach and could thankfully be done barefoot. Soon the skin dried out sufficiently and they started to look like feet again. The rain threatened, but never really got going, with just a thick sea mist blanketing us and clouds forming in the small valleys on the edge of the rainforest. The normal 2 hour ride back to Puerto Jimenez was done in half the time, an attempt I think by our driver to get us to the shower as quickly as possible.

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