A warm breeze is floating through the trees. It carries the buzzing tymbal of cicadas and deep gutteral hoots of howler monkeys. “Shush shush” is the only sound we contribute to this orchestra, our boots sinking in the sand with each step, crushing palm and leaf decay. This primitive forest is enrobed in blackness in the early morning: the new moon provides little light and the stars are impossible to glimpse through the treetops.
The light from our headlamps bounces along the strangler trees, giving each drooping branch the appearance of boa constrictors, lying in wait. William stops abruptly, turns around, whispers, “We are to move very quickly underneath this tree: it is dangerous.” “Okay,” I reply. I do not voice my inner alarm which is screaming dangerous, why? I move hastily underneath the tree, my heart beating in my throat, sure this is the moment that boa constrictor is waiting for.
I clear the tree. “What did he say?” Michael asks, after clearing the tree himself. “He said we need to move fast underneath that tree, it’s dangerous.” I tell him. William, listening to our exchange, laughs, “Little help to tell him now! He’s already passed it. But that tree could have fallen on him.” We each break into giggles – I’m not quite sure what Michael or William are giggling about, but I know my giggles are of the hysterical variety. Not a lurking boa constrictor! Just an unstable tree! Who would have thought!
We are ‘shush shush’ing along, moving quickly down the trail when William stops again. “Turn off your lights,” he tells us. I click through the different settings on my headlamp until it finally clicks off – it is very dark now. “Listen to the forest at night.”
We stand, silent, straining. I am actively listening. I am searching for the hiss of the snake, the careful footsteps of the puma. I only hear the cicadas, the howlers, the soft rumble of low tide. I see nothing. I am sure there are darker places in the world, but at this moment, I cannot envisage them. This is the darkest I have ever experienced. I am not sure how much time has passed since I have seen the light. William clicks his flashlight on, thirty feet from where I saw him last, “Let’s go.”
Shush shush, shush shush, it seems like we are not making much noise, but to any living creature within a square mile, I am sure we sound like a horde of tapirs. All at once, our lights stop dancing along the trees and illuminate a sandy beach, instead. The lagoon. The same place where we saw a crocodile two days earlier. I flip through the wildlife files in my brain, stopping on crocodile: sharp teeth, big, fast, scaly, carnivorous, definitely nocturnal. William flashes his light over the lagoon. He points with his laser, “Crocodile eyes – see?”
Michael and I reply, real casual, “Oh. Yeah.” We start to walk along the water. My inner alarm sounds again, louder this time: Are we really walking toward it? Why are we walking toward it! Where did it go? WHERE DID IT GO! I’m turning my head every which way, flashing my light erratically along the beach and shoreline, convinced every piece of driftwood, and there are many, is a croc thirsting for my blood. Out of nowhere, a swarm of gnats surround us, similarly thirsty. They are everywhere. My light flashes on my arms, it has become the gruesome site of a gnat massacre. I’m breathing them; at least three have died in my nostrils. “Turn off your light!” Michael advises. Crocs forgotten, I switch my light off.
And then absolutely nothing matters. Not bloodthirsty crocs, not gnats, not even boa constrictors, because we are out from under the tree cover and the sky is absolutely drunk with stars. All I can think is how I finally understand….”The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet,” and how my feet must be wearing space shoes. I am astonished. I am flying. These incandescent bodies are twinkling wildly, like they are communicating with whomever is willing to witness it. I imagine what they are saying. I try to come up with something totally transcendent, but the only thing that comes mind is, “Stop worrying about snakes and crocodiles!” I wonder if they say something different to everyone. I wonder what they are saying to Michael. I am very small, and acknowledging this makes me feel very big.
I wish I could remove my pack and lie down in the sand and submit to these celestial beings. We could hold hands and listen to what the stars have to say until dawn arrives. When will we have this chance again?
Instead, we remove our boots and socks, roll up our pant legs, and ford the river where lagoon quickly becomes the sea. Without removing my pack, I balance on one leg while I dry my foot on my pant leg. I pull my sock on, followed by my boot, and repeat the process with my other foot. We shush shush on.
This part of the trail is all squishy sand. I start to hear the clicking of hermit crabs searching for food. The sky begins to lighten; first a titch of lavender on the horizon, then peach, followed by orange. William spots a tapir bathing in the surf, a quarter of a mile ahead of us. He advises Michael to run ahead to get some pictures. Michael runs off, chugging along in his thick boots. We continue to walk and watch as he approaches the tapir, snapping pictures, closer, closer, until the tapir finally walks into the woods, interested in losing Michael. When we reach him, William tells me to follow him, in hopes of finding the Tapir in the forest. It’s too late, he’s definitely gone. We continue along the beach.
I have no idea how long we have been walking. I hear a resounding thud. William walks up to the tree line and picks up a coconut. He quickly chops the top off and hands it to me. “Drink.” He doesn’t have to tell me twice. I am quite thirsty. I slurp up the cool coconut water, and hand the remainder to Michael. He slurps. We continue.
The lightening pale blue sky and chattering of several scarlet Macaws snacking in the almond trees above us, confirm that the day has officially started. We approach a grove of almond trees with several scarlet Macaws, and as I point and gasp in awe, one takes flight swooping out towards us and then back to the same bough, as if he were greeting us, “Hello! Good Morning! Welcome!”. I am giddy with delight. William says, “That was just for you.”
We sit under some almond trees not much further down, and watch as the leftover lime green almond shells fall to the ground, discarded after a quick snap of the beak. William finds two more coconuts and chops off the tops with his machete. Again he hands them over and Michael and I drink. We offer one to William, but he declines, “No, I like the really green coconuts, they taste so sweet and fresh. These coconuts still taste good to you, but I’ve had the best.” I respect this immensely. I feel this way about most food.
After our short coconut break, we continue along the beach. William promises “lunch” in about an hour, which would make it about 8am. We hike back into the woods, admiring all of the things we can now recognize. “Lunch” comes quickly. We set up on some rocks and dig into leftover vegan chili with tortilla.
It quickly becomes apparent that a four hour hike plus coffee plus chili equals bathroom time. William recommends I head back up the trail. I follow his advice, and find the ‘cleanest’ place I can, and get down to business. I am calmly squatting amongst young coconut palms when I hear a rustle. I think, Oh shit! What was that!? as I look up directly into dark brown eyes staring at me from ten feet away. Is that a wild pig? It’s clear this little guy is thinking, Oh shit, what IS that!? More rustling, and I break eye contact to look up and see at least fifteen more wild pigs, including two tiny little baby piglets. All of them are shuffling through the leaves, searching for meaty grubs and Halloween crabs. My staring contest buddy has moved along. I finish what I’m doing and head quickly back to Michael and William to tell them about my find. We run back up the trail to find them, and follow them through the forest a bit. We watch one gnaw on some wild fungi. We turn back. William has promised us bats and we are also on a time limit.
We follow him over giant boulder rocks, and repeat his footwork to avoid injuries. Inside the cave we hear the quiet hum of hundreds of tiny sleeping bats. William points out a mama sleeping wrapped up with its baby. I am amazed. I am also remembering Ace Ventura, and how bats fly into your hair. A few are whizzing around our heads. I duck lower. Michael is able to get a few snapshots without his flash. We exit the cave.
It isn’t even 8:30am and I already cannot believe the day I have had. Michael and I share this look, this, Can you even believe this? type glance, and then voice our disbelief. Continuing along the beach we cut a lot of time off of our original hike. We get some water pumped into our bottles, and Michael leaves for his bathroom time. I’ve been pouring sweat – I feel dehydrated. William offers me a peanut butter cracker sandwich, and I eat it, savoring the salt. I’ve chugged half of my bottle of water by the time Michael returns. We start down a hill and I see the flirty tail of a Coati. Their tails stick almost straight up as they walk, making it much easier to spot them. It’s alone, which means it is a male. This is the first male we’ve seen – every other time it has been a large group of females.
About an hour from the La Leona station, William starts to point out areas where the brush is cleared away. He tells us a puma has been here, this is its piss. Shortly after, he finds a dead gray necked wood rail, a bird I’ve only seen walking, never flying. All that is left is the skeleton. “This is from the puma,” he tells us, “Probably sometime yesterday.”
We stop for a short swim at the river we first crossed on our way to Sirena Station. The cool water is so refreshing – it is hot and all we’ve been doing is sweating. I try to repeat the balancing foot boot act, but I have a blister on my toe, and William, noticing my plight, plops a large rock down right behind me for me to sit on. Michael changes and then we begin the last leg of our hike. We reach La Leona station not long after, passing a few fellow hikers along the way.
After La Leona, all that’s left is a 3k hike along the beach back to Carate, where we are parked. It is now 10:40. Though it doesn’t seem possible, it has gotten hotter. We trudge along. I am starting to get grumpy when we come upon a giant empty turtle shell.
Finally, we reach Carate. Our Corcovado adventure is over. We still have two and a half hours of driving on the worst roads we’ve ever been on. But before we start that next journey, we stop at William’s Uncle’s restaurant, just 30 minutes from Carate, and order comida tipico and an ice cold Coca Cola. Michael orders coffee. We feast on rice, beans, pickled carrots, cabbage, fresh cheese, and plantains. Food has never tasted so good.
Thanks, Michael, for a lot, but mostly for taking most of these pictures. Except this one…I took this one ;).
**A quick note. This is about our trip from Puerto Jimenez, to Carate by car, to La Leona by foot, to Sirena by foot, AND BACK. Corcovado National Park is relatively secluded, and Osa Peninsula as a whole is pretty isolated. We hired a guide to hike with us to Sirena station and back. William was an amazing guide – he grew up within the hills outside of Puerto Jimenez, and knows SO MUCH about Corcovado. What he didn’t have an answer for, he found out. If you are interested in a similar trip, please contact me. I am happy to put anyone in touch with William, or give any advice. I also found this post on another blogger’s site. Check it out, the information is great. Hiking into Corcovado.