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Published: December 25th 2017
Geo: 8.69371, -83.6581
We were in Drake for a week and enjoyed the truly horizontal life style! Everyone snoozed, anywhere, at any time of the day. It is so hot and humid that it becomes natural to doze, but we did manage to walk and fit in some excursions.
First we did a night walk along a creek in the jungle. Jim and I set off just before sunset to be fitted with wellington boots and then followed our guide into the jungle as darkness fell. From then on I loved every minute of the following 3 hours It was like being a real explorer, splashing up the creek, shining our torches to spot any life at all, and there was an awful lot of life. The main attraction was the numerous different types of frogs, many of them finger nail sized and including the poison dart frog. These are poisonous because they live solely on ants so their bodies accumulate the acid from the ants and it is found on them in concentrated form.
There were fish and shrimps in the river and thousands of spiders of all shapes and sizes. There is a spider which eats shrimps but, disappointingly, I think,
we did not spot it that night. Then we saw a snake and finally a Mexican Mouse Opossum which is a lovely little marsupial. There were only the 3 of us in the creek and it must have triggered an echo of some childhood mischief because I felt as though I was being really naughty splashing up and down in my wellies.It was unbelievably hot and humid so the cool creek water felt very refreshing through the boots.
The next day we went into Corcovado National Park. It is very difficult to access requiring either a very long hike to reach one of the Ranger stations, carrying everything you need with you, a very expensive private flight landing on a strip of grass, or a one hour boat trip from Drake with a wet landing both ends on the beach. Not surprisingly we opted for the boat! It was a pleasant ride and we stopped en route to watch a family of Hump Backed Whales in the water. The mother was feeding a calf. I was surprised to learn (and still can't really visualise it) that the mother does not have teats, the calf has to hit her with its fin
to stimulate her skin which then secretes milk which is supposedly more like curd and floats in globules on the surface of the water. Luckily we had digested breakfast by this time.
After landing we hiked through primary and secondary jungle for 3 hours or so, spotting peccaries and even a rather sleepy Tapir, tucked away in the vegetation. We saw a troupe of Spider Monkeys, Howlers Monkeys and the more common Capuchins. So now we have seen the 4 different types living in Costa Rica as we have already seen the Squirrel Monkeys. The Spider Monkeys are the only ones to have arms longer than their legs.
It was interesting to visit 2 of the 3 Ranger Stations, Sirena and San Pedrillo. Their function is not to support tourists (apart from allowing them to sleep on VERY basic mattresses on the floor, covered with mosquito netting, or put up a tent that they have carried in themselves) but to prevent poaching of the animals by hunters wanting to sell the 'bush' meat'. They can obtain such high prices it is a very profitable enterprise. The Government has tried to stop it by imposing long prison sentences on those caught, up to
25 years I believe. This has backfired in that it has made the job of the Ranger much more dangerous and some have been shot because the poachers have nothing to lose. It is a much shorter sentence for murder, according to the guide.
Another day we were out by 6am to go with a birding guide. That was a good walk and resulted in our spotting about 50 new birds. Our guide is researching the Harpy Eagle on the Osa Peninsular. The Harpy is a large raptor, very shy and difficult to spot. It requires a huge territory so the Osa Peninsular can only support 2 pairs and the last couple of chicks have died because there is not enough space for them to move into their own territory. As we would love to see a Harpy, Neyer, our guide told us about the wild Darien area of Panama where it is possible to go with an eco-tour company to spot them. It is a 4 day trip requiring an overnight stay in an indigenous community with basic facilities, and then a 14 kilometres tough hike/climb in hot and humid jungle over rough terrain to a place where you can
view a est in the distance. Of course there is no guarantee that you will see the bird but it is the best chance there is. There were a couple of spaces left for the March trip, but after considering it for a while Jim decided that it was probably too much for him. He is probably very sensible but I am crazy enough to have tried it if he had. I think he might have saved me from myself on that one!
Drake is very small so it only takes a couple of days to get to know people.One afternoon we stopped for an ice-cream and started chatting to a late middle-aged couple with a teenage son from the US. It was only after we had discussed Drake, good walks, the wild life etc for some time that it became clear that they were Jehovah's Witnesses carrying out what they called, 'door to door work'. They had been placed in accommodation more than an hours walk from Drake in a very remote hamlet and they had to do that walk morning and evening. They had been sitting waiting for it to cool down a little before starting. They had been
supplied with bikes but only 2 bikes, and there were 3 of them, and the rocky, up hill, potholed road was almost impossible to ride on, so they stuck to walking.
Then there is Gringo Karl's bar. Karl was in banking but decided to change his life completely (about the time of the crash) and came to Drake as there is no bank or ATM. His bar looks out over a small valley to higher land and as he puts fruit on feeders it is a great place to sit and watch birds. He has an interesting marketing philosophy – take what there is as it's good and it would be unreasonable to want more than 3 choices. So in line with this policy he serves three drinks, coke, a 3 fruit smoothie (“gives a perfect blend so that no sugar is necessary”😉, and the 3 fruit smoothie with rum! The menu consists of 3 dishes, a pasta dish, a fish taco, both serve one person, and a fish platter with mashed potato and onion, and vegetables big enough for 2, or even 3 people. I have to say when Jim and I shared the fish platter it was one of
the most delicious meals we have ever eaten. Perhaps that is why his strategy of providing quality instead of lots of choice is so successful.
Eventually it was time to move on, so back on the boat, taxi, bus and bus to reach Golfito, on the Golfo Dulce or Sweet Bay.
The recent history of Golfito is fascinating. This small town stretches for 3 or 4 kilometres along the coast squeezed between the sea and the hills which rise up within metres of the shore in places, so it is possible to be in forest in minutes. The southern strip contains houses built by the American company United Fruit for the workers in the banana plantations that they developed in the area. That was the sole source of work for many years. The managers lived further along the shore in large houses surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Then in the mid 80s the bananas developed a fungus problem, the prices fell and there was labour unrest. So the United Fruit Company left. It was a disaster for the town but the government decided to help by establishing a duty free shopping area of 50 shops to stimulate business. They were also aware that many
Costa Ricans (or Ticos as they prefer to be known) crossed into Panama for duty free purchases so this provided a way of cutting back on that trade. It did help and appears to be a thriving commercial centre still, attracting shoppers from as far away as San Jose to buy goods a third cheaper than elsewhere in the country.
There are few tourists in Golfito and we enjoyed wandering around although it is a long way from one end to the other.
We stayed at Purruja Lodge which has beautiful gardens, complete with a family of Agoutis, large rabbit like animals. Fortunately, although the lodge was a good way from the town there was a lovely little restaurant just outside the gate run by a Tico lady called Elsa.
We ate there the first 3 nights but we knew that she would be closed on the 4th night so we had talked about having a meal at lunch time that day and just a snack at night. But we needn't have worried as on the third night Elsa said that as she was closed on our last night we had to go to her house across the road from the restaurant for
a meal. She did prepare a huge meal of rice and chicken, salad and patacones – very tasty!
Towards the end of our stay we started to worry a little about crossing into Panama, partly because Jim has to carry both bags at present (as I have had a shoulder problem which seems to be improving slowly but that I don't want to aggravate again), but more seriously because we had heard stories of how difficult the crossing is and how obstructive the officials can be on the Panamanian side. A number of scams to obtain money from travellers seem to operate unhindered. Many of the people we met in Drake have to go there every 3 months to renew visas by crossing the border and then re-entering Costa Rica and they have plenty of stories to tell.
Anyway, our host at Purruja Lodge kindly drove us to the bus station alleviating the need for case carrying at that stage, and we climbed aboard the bus to the border. It is necessary to obtain an exit stamp from Costa Rica before obtaining an entry stamp into Panama. Once off the bus in the very busy border area we realised there are no
signs at all and there is even a department store with doors into both countries – very confusing.
Eventually we located the CR Exit Counter, only a couple of hundred feet back from the border but because of the cases we had to go and acquire the stamps one at a time to avoid carrying the bags. After that someone magically popped up (honestly, he had been sitting on the ground behind a ledge) and offered to help carry the bags, for a tip of course, but we were very grateful!
So onwards to the Panamanian counter. Again we had to go one at a time There are a couple of requirements to fulfil before they will let you through. You have to be in possession of $500 US cash per person and, the craziest rule ever, you have to have a return flight ticket from Panama to your country of residence. No exceptions! So our flight booked from San Jose, CR, didn't qualify. Luckily as we learned this in advance we had taken steps to manage this situation. More about that when we are safely back in CR.
Then it was a collectivo to David, driven wildly and stopping frequently, a
quick change there to a bus (retired US school bus complete with rules intact) and soon we reached Boquete. Our tales of Panama will continue next time but I should say the people here are very friendly thankfully, unlike at the border.
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