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Published: September 25th 2013
Keeping a friendly watch over us
The crocodile that inspired the blog title!
Before arrival in Costa Rica, reports I had heard from other travellers meant I hadn't been expecting it to be quite to my taste – I.e. a well developed country with very expensive prices, and huge numbers of American tourists to boot. As usual the reality turned out differently to the rumours, as my first journey was to the out of the way Corcovado national park, on some pretty rickety buses across some pretty rough roads!
I also got introduced to levels of bureaucracy that would have made Venezuela proud! To gain entry to the national park you couldn't just pay at the entrance like virtually every other national park in the world, you had to hike across town to their office to register your preferences, then take this form to their bank on the other side of town to pay and get your receipt, then right back across town to show proof of payment and get your final approval!! Hmmpff! I spoke to one of the national park guides in the bank to grumble about the state of the system and he seemed quite shocked that I thought negatively about it – in his view it was a great
Corcovado national park
The blend of coastline and forest
system as it meant that the national park office would never get robbed! I wasn't aware that Costa Rica was suffering from a spate of armed robberies in their park offices to relieve them of their daily takings of about $100 but there you go!!
Anyway, grumbling over, the next morning I set off on the dawn transport ready to start a 2 day 40km out and back hike through one of Costa Rica's most highly rated national parks – things were all good again! The route was mainly through the forest with great opportunities to see wildlife, but also had some sections walking along the beach, which was a novel experience for me – although during the sections in the midday Sun you could really feel the heat!! I had decided to do the hike without a guide, given the high prices they were charging, albeit knowing that this decision might hinder the number of animals I might see. However, I did get quite lucky as during the first couple of hours I caught up to two separate guided groups who had located first howler monkeys and then white faced monkeys so the lack of guide was not
The aim of the hike was to make it to the “La Serana” ecological station set in the middle of the forest, but to get there there was a crossing of the Rio Claro which at that point was spanning 30 or 40 metres. Luckily, the water was slow running and never more than waist high so I made it across with no problems, only to be informed by one of the guides that I had caught up to on the other side that a huge crocodile was sunning himself just in the distance. “Don't worry”, he said reassuringly, “the crocodile is so big and tough that he has that spot to himself (an island where the river and sea meet) and the fishing is so good that he'll never need to go for a human”!
On the nature spotting side, along with the monkeys and crocodiles I managed to see two types of snake (the dangerous coral snake and the friendly yellow bellied snake – guess which one I have a picture of!!), macaws, toucans, wild pigs, an anteater and a very cute fruit eating relative of the racoon that scurried along the ground and
though the trees in packs of 15-20! The hike was a good challenge, and good fun to boot, and despite the long journey times and bureaucracy it was definitely worth the effort!
Another long bus journey took me to the capital San Jose, where I met up again with Matt and in addition two of his friends from London who had flown out for a holiday. San Jose really didn't seem to have too much as a capital – apart from one very cool vintage bookshop with books packed higgledy-piggledy in all corners and shelves looking like they were going to collapse at any moment! We did have the good fortune to be there on the night Costa Rica beat the USA in their world cup qualifier, and the atmosphere in the bar we went to was electric!
From San Jose we headed up to the cloud forest reserve of Monteverde – also famous as Costa Rica's base for extreme sports! We had been recommended the appropriately named “Extremo sports” to do the almost obligatory zipline canopy tour, being connected by a harness and swooping both through the treetop canopy and across wide canyons to experience both the
thrill of the journey and the chance to see the animals – although as the tour also included rappeling, a slightly rickety tarzan swing and the absolutely brilliant Superman zipline, it was far more about the thrill seeking than the nature spotting! The Superman zipline spanned the largest of the canyons on site and was more than a kilometre in length. The guides attached a special harness to your back and feet allowing you swoop across the canyon with your hands completely free and no view of the wires or any other safety equipment that is holding you up there. It menat that it gave an amazing sensation of flying – and your hands being free meant you could film it as well!
However, the undoubted highlight of our “extreme” day was the highest bungee jump in Latin America which clocked in at 143 metres. 3 of our group were stupid enough to give it a go, and I ended being the first to go. Given my previous experience bungee jumping in South Africa, I asked if I could jump off backwards – as I had rumours that this sensation was even more incredible than doing it
the normal way! The jumpmasters agreed, and so it was all down to me holding my nerve and leaping (read “falling”!) backwards off the platform, with all of my senses being completely overloaded in an incredible brain scrambling rush which seemed to force every last bit of air from my lungs!
After such a busy morning, the afternoon took on a more sedate pace as we managed to find online a version of “Sharknado”, what must be one of the cheesiest, tackiest films ever made – with more plot holes than actual plot. We huddled round a laptop watching the unintentional hilarity unfold, and if I tell you that the plot consisted of a tornado picking up sharks off the coast of San Francisco and throwing them into the city streets you start to get the picture!! However, after the crazy morning it was the perfect tonic to pass the afternoon!
Monteverde more than anywhere we started to be hit by the higher prices of Costa Rica – entrance to Cloud Forest reserves ran at nearly $20 and anything guided seemed to have a starting price of about $40. Therefore we set off on the back
of the advice of our hostel owner to find the “hole tree”, something I had never seen before where a strangler fig or similar plant uses an existing tree as support and grows around it, forming a strong lattice frame of interconnecting branches. When the host tree eventually dies, the strangler fig continues on its own, but with the peculiar feature that it now looks like a completely hollow tree!
Not only does the tree look amazingly unique, but the strangler's growth forms a natural climbing frame so we were able to enjoy the novel feeling of climbing up inside a tree to the height of its canopy - probably 10-15 metres – although it certainly felt higher when we were up there!
Our final stop in Costa Rica was to visit the famous Arenal volcano - an almost symmetrical cone that is very active, therefore you are not allowed to summit. We ended up staying in a self styled “6 star backpackers resort”, and while it wasn't quite up to the standards of some of Dubai's finest hotels, the modern dorms and huge swimming pool and bar area were certainly a cut above the normal backpacker's fare!
"The hole tree"
Looking closely you can see me part way up inside it
While there we climbed up Volcan Arenal's neighbour, Cerro Chato, and managed to get quite lucky with a few breaks in the cloud which allowed us to enjoy good views across to the main volcano. However, the main reason for climbing to the top was to be able to swim in the huge crater lake that had been formed. The water wasn't as cold as I was expecting and having a swim in a volcano was certainly a novel experience!
I had enjoyed Costa Rica more than I had expected. By avoiding the coastal resorts and getting off the beaten track (and onto the rough roads!!), I had seen more of “my” type of attractions, and the country is undeniably beautiful. If only it was a bit cheaper...
People may have noticed my blogs getting more frequent and shorter. It stems from a (slightly strange!) desire to post a blog from every country I visit, and in an area like central america with so many small nations, it has tweaked my style of blogging a bit, so the next update should be soon!! I'm not sure how I'm going to find 1,000 words on El
Our first view as we approached across the lake
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