Wildlife-spotting in San José – no, really!

Sloths - an unlikely city resident

I went to Corcovado. Oh yes. I spent those three days traipsing through the jungle, carrying everything I needed to live, unable to tell the difference between sweat, humidity and rain, and desperately keeping my eyes peeled for tapirs, sloths, even those little squirrel monkeys would have done. I got bitten to shit by the very many, very ravenous mosquitoes, and discovered no less than 11 ticks in various unmentionable places on my body.

I saw a small, golden-furred anteater. And that was on the truck on the way in before I’d even started walking. I am not a very successful wildlife hunter, it has to be said.

At least, that is what I though until one day as I was strolling through the Universidad de Costa Rica campus in San Pedro.

San Pedro is called a separate town from San José, but you’d be hard pushed to draw the line between them. There is no let-up in the urban landscape. The only vague difference is that there are more young people roaming around San Pedro as it is the student district of the city.

But it was there, as I headed towards the gates near the law building, that I detained myself on the edge of a large crowd that had gathered underneath a tree. They were all gawping at something in the branches, so I dutifully craned my neck in a similar fashion. And there it was. A sloth. Hanging out in the least nature-friendly part of Costa Rica you can imagine. He may as well have been having a snooze hanging from a window ledge in the towering Instituto Nacional de Seguros sky scraper.

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Hiking into the secluded peninsula – Corcovado national park

Check out maps and reservation details at the bottom of the post

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It has long been said that you have to suffer for beauty. While counting mosquito bites and pulling ticks out of their toes, hikers who have just walked 50 kilometers (31 miles) in tropical heat through the Osa Peninsula might be inclined to agree.

From volcanoes with drive-up access to luxury beach resorts, Costa Rica makes beauty readily available for the tourist. Parque Nacional Corcovado is, on the contrary, a small pocket of undisturbed wilderness that hides its deserted, undeveloped beaches and rare wildlife away from human eyes.

Corcovado lies on the outside edge of the Osa Peninsula, and protects the only old growth wet forest that still remains on the Pacific coast of Central America. The forest is easily comparable to an Amazon rain forest, the tall trees with their impressive buttress roots outstripping the height of those in the Bolivian Amazon. The lush vegetation and the yearly 6 meters (about 20 feet) of rainfall provide the perfect habitat for some of the continent’s rarest creatures.

Puerto Jiménez, the small town that is the gateway to the national park, lies a 10-hour bus journey away from San José. From here hikers take a dawn pick-up truck ride for the two-hour drive around the bottom of the peninsula to Carate.

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Absence and apple strudel make the heart grow fonder

As I sit here in Vienna, eating strudel, listening to the rain and generally being European, it seems to me the perfect time to start a blog about Costa Rica.

Every time I return to Europe after a significant time away, I find that it has become more beautiful. Architecture in Costa Rica can be called functional at the very best, so strolling around the latticed towers of Stephansdom, and past the fine carvings of Museumsquartier reminds me that cities in this corner of the world can be as inspiring and beautiful as any white-sand beach. And you can give me that strudel and a healthy slice of Pont l’Évêque over a gallo pinto any day.

But then, as the rainwater reaches its sloppy fingers up my jeans until it’s nearly touching my knees, and the icy wind whistles past my foolishly un-beanied ears, forcing me to step into a café and pay a staggering 3 euros for a coffee, I come to realise that perhaps I am not yet quite bored of sun, sand and simple food.

I first reached Costa Rican soil after spending three hours in Nicaraguan customs, waiting for my boyfriend’s “irregular” visa stamp to be approved, and getting general insults about being a loose western woman chucked at me by the lolling, bored officials.

As soon as we finally hauled our packs across the border, there was a difference. The passport control hall was air conditioned. A man with a stamp-happy demeanor was ushering people through in a process that took no more than two minutes. And when the bus started its 4 hour journey towards the capital, the countryside was well-ordered. Outside the windows, I saw prosperous looking fincas, pre-fab barns, and not a shack in sight. Was this Central America still, or had I been bundled off in the other direction, unwittingly crossing the Mexican border into the United States?

Well, no I hadn’t, and over the next five months I got to know a lot about the difficulties that run counter to the smooth front that the Costa Rican amantes de la Paz put on for every visitor.

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