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Our intern's experience at Corcovado National Park

DIARY OF AN EXPERIENCE AT CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK

After having experienced the astounding amount of biodiversity present in and around the El Remanso property, one might feel compelled to delve deeper into the Costa Rican Rainforest and further from civilisation in order to seek out more of the secrets it holds.

            For the people of this mind-set there is one place that stands out from the others… …Corcovado National Park.

            I am lucky enough to be staying at El Remanso Lodge on the Osa Peninsula for two months as an intern and having previously visited briefly as a guest I was determined to use this opportunity to do and see everything that one can in the Osa Pensinsula. I am very interested in wildlife and Corcovado National Park was therefore at the top of my “to do” list. Hearing how the local people here speak about the Park with awe and mystery, provoked a sense of ambition similar to that of Fawcett in his exploration of the Amazon (On a smaller scale perhaps).

            On the 9th of February, Adriana told me that she had organised and confirmed for me to visit the Park. Not only that but I was to leave at five O`clock the following morning…

            Five O`clock the next morning I was sat at the El Remanso Lodge entrance with what was intended to be a lightweight backpack, however the hotel chefs took good care of me and prepared the equivalent of my bodyweight in snacks for me, despite the fact I would be gone for less than 3 days. As a tourist you are able to visit Corcovado for up to five days at a time). In Tico-time my guide, who`s name was Ronny, and I, were driven to the neighbouring village of Carate and from there we had two options regarding entrance to the Park; a 20km walk in the searing heat or a seven minute plane journey (It is not possible to drive into Corcovado). It was a tough decision but in the end we decided we would be doing enough walking inside the park and so chose the plane.

            The plane into Corcovado National Park arrived one and a half hours late, another fine example of Costa Rican timing and it was an even smaller craft than that of Nature Air, seating only 5 passengers with their bags on their laps (if you are over six foot you are forced to sit with your knees near to your face as there is very little legroom!). However, the slight discomfort was well worth it for the splendid views of the vast 40 000 hectare expanse of pristine green forest.

            A bumpy landing signified our arrival at Sirena Station, the most popular place to stay for visitors. I was very surprised by the station because I had imagined a very basic wooden hut with a couple of hammocks but instead I found it to resemble a well-maintained cricket pavilion with a cluster of smaller buildings and a lawn surrounding it. Not only was the station comfortable but it served fantastic food for breakfast, lunch and dinner (although not cheap). I think I may actually have gained weight over my stay! You are able to pay extra for a more private dormitory but most people just sleep on the decking under mosquito nets as it is less hot.

            Once we had settled in, Ronny and I set off on our first hike around the nearby trails. The trails are not marked which means they feel very wild but they are also well enough trodden that it is difficult to get lost. My initial impression was that they were quite touristy as people were going around in large groups compared to El Remanso. Fortunately after five minutes or so of walking you lose all trace of other groups and at this moment we were greeted by a tamandua who happened to be wandering through the canopy above us and troops of coati that patrolled the undergrowth.

            Although it felt that we were deep in the heart of the forest, it was not long before we found ourselves on the banks of the wide mouth of the Sirena River. Ronny was hoping that as the tide advanced we would be able to see bull sharks enter the river from the sea but they appeared to have other plans. Instead we saw several enormous American crocodile basking on the opposite bank, more in the water. We decided not to go for a swim.

            As we headed back to the station for dinner, Ronny suddenly stopped walking and began to creep through the undergrowth off of the track. Confused as to what he had seen I followed, looking for signs of movement near us. It was to my astonishment when I found myself within a meter of two, large, sleeping tapirs! An odd looking animal that is related to horses but resembles a mix of an elephant and a pig, weighing up to 600kg with a very calm and laid back character, the tapir was the Costa Rican mammal I had most wanted to see. Overwhelmed with excitement the tourist in me took over and immediately my camera was out and snapping!

            Seeing those tapir was a really special moment because I had travelled so far in hope of seeing wildlife and these specimens were so extraordinary. I felt a strong sense of achievement to be so close to them.

            Dinner was self-service; rice and beans with casserole, vegetables and warm bread. Like everyone else in the park, as a result of lots of walking I ate well and then went to bed early.

            I was sceptical as to whether day two could live up to the first but it definitely managed to. We began at four O`clock in the morning and headed into the forest with torches in search of nocturnal activity. I considered it a great start when after a loud honking and flapping of wings our torch beams picked out the large eye-shine and then figure of a boat-billed heron, a bird I had been searching for during my time in Costa Rica so far without luck!

            At six the conch shell was blown to signal breakfast where we tucked into rice, beans, sour cream, eggs, plantanes and fresh fruit. Once we were convinced we could eat no more, Ronny and I prepared and the embarked on a long hike up the river.

            The scenery around the river was picturesque and we were accompanied by agouti, currassow, spider monkeys and kingfishers, that darted across the river ahead of us. After several hours of walking , Ronnie pointed to a dark shadow moving under the water. Before I knew it the shadow broke the surface and a giant river otter was looking directly towards me. It disappeared as quickly as it had arrived but that glimpse was priceless.

            That evening we pottered about the station and chatted to a few of the other visitors. There were people of all ages and nationalities who had all been brought together by their enthusiasm about nature and the great outdoors. Everyone was very friendly and there was much discussion about sightings and other popular destinations in Costa Rica. I was most surprised that night to find there is wifi at Sirena, it seems technology has spread to even the remotest and harshest of environments, but it was nice to share my experiences with friends and family back in England where they were working and it was cold, grey and snowy…

            The next day was another early start and by this time I reckon it was evident that I had been sleeping in the jungle. Talking about bad smells, at one point we found ourselves in the middle of a herd of thirty or so peccary. Peccary are surprisingly dangerous, not just because they smell worse than mouldy goat cheese but because they are unusually aggressive. Large herds can easily stampede you and the individuals can pack a nasty bite. We kept this experience short because Ronny explained how he had been attacked by them before and felt that once was enough as he still had the scars to show for it.

            We had decided to leave Corcovado National Park by foot rather than plane which was why we had started the day so early again because we did not want to be walking twenty kilometres along beaches in the midday sun with backpacks (this is exactly what we found ourselves doing at midday). The return walk took us about seven hours and although it was fairly tough it was rewarding to see various bats roosting under leaves, nesting trogons and much more wildlife as well as beautiful, empty tropical beaches and coastal caves. I was relieved when after six hours we had a proper stop at a hotel en route where I lay on a hammock and drank ice tea. But then it was the final stretch of the hike, all on the beach, exposed to the heat of the sun.

            After a very long hour we arrived in Carate and caught a taxi to El Remanso Lodge. I got back, showered, waxed-lyrical and fell fast asleep.

            Since visiting Corcovado National Park I have been kept busy picking the ticks off of me that I had unknowingly collected.  Something I forgot to mention earlier.

            To conclude, I had an incredible time in Corcovado and the amount I saw within less than three whole days has just made me wonder what more I could have seen if I had been there for longer! The Park is so vast and pristine that it seems prehistoric and it`s size is what makes it possible to see species of animals you would struggle to see anywhere else. The accommodation was much better than it was made out to be. Anyone who likes adventure, hiking or just sitting on a deckchair and watching birds would be mad not to travel there.

            Without doubt the best way to round off a trip to Corcovado would be a few days to recover and relax in the luxury of El Remanso!

Harry Lavelle