On the Edge of Reality
Here is the fifth chapter of a 5-part series chronicling our "Trek Through the Wilderness." This story is about three friends, all globe drifters with a love for life, who stepped out of their comfort zones and into the wilderness for a three and a half day hike through the rainforest of Corcovado, Costa Rica. It turned out to be a trek that took them from the edge of civilization and back.
Meeting the Goblins of Corcovado
Most people who come to explore Corcovado make a beeline for Sirena Ranger Station. There they typically will stay a night or two taking it all in, exploring the surroundings and enjoying its vast remoteness.
Sitting on the steps of the lodge a couple of hours before dawn's light gave me a chance to slowly let a sense of place sink in. The moon was full and bright and the drowning sound of jungle nightlife seemed to gradually dim around me until it was nothing but a dull hum. If there was anything I could have changed about how we did it here, it would be to tack on an extra day to sit around and relax at Sirena Station.
But as it was, we had previous arrangements to be elsewhere. Previous arrangements...plans. The very sound of those words felt so foreign in the center of Corcovado. But that's what we had, and that meant we weren't staying.
The night before, we had all decided to make our way out of Sirena by first light. The faint glow above the trees along the eastern edge of the rainforest told me that dawn was at hand, so I made my way back to my room, carefully keeping my eyes peeled for anything venomous hidden in shadowy crevices along the pathway.
The others were already up and packing. I did a last minute check of my pack before strapping it on and heading out. We decided to skip breakfast and just snack along the way. The earlier we could depart the better.
Before leaving, Scott and I sat out on the deck and watched as the evening mist lifted up off the ground, only to disappear into the already humid morning air. Across the field we could see another camper, an early riser, making his way down the beach trail with his camera in hand. Above him a tree full of Howler Monkeys shook as he walked by. Their goblin-like screams of protests bellowed out into the early morning, echoing around the station and reverberating out into the deep jungle. This was the fourth and final primate species we witnessed while in the park. They were darkly wild and their namesake howls were down right creepy. (Click here to hear a soundbyte!)
Leaving Behind Rustic
Overall our departure from Sirena Ranger Station was uneventful. There was a moment's debate over what path to take, after which we made our way along the trail that led out onto the beach. We took one last look behind and realized that the trail we were walking on also acted as a runway for occasional planes. This place really was makeshift and rustic.
Our final hike would be the mother doozy. We had 16 kilometers to go before we reached La Leona Ranger Station, our last stop before exiting Corcovado. Following that was an additional 4 kilometers to the first town, Carate. The entire stretch was a beach trail, moving along the southern coastline of the Osa Peninsula. Some of it would be under the shade of the jungle which skirted the edge of the coastline. Most would be done on the sand directly under the scorching sun.
Rocking da Rubbah Slippahz
At our first (and biggest) river crossing of the day, I opted to rock rubbah slippahz the rest of the way. Ash and Scott looked at me nervously.
Although charging the world with rubbah slippahz, our pidgin word for flip-flops or thongs in Hawai'i, is all the craze back in the home state, it was true that I'd never actually walked eight full hours over blistering sand in slippahz before. But my wide and flat islander feet had been rocking the amphibians for two soggy days now, and they were crying out for freedom from oppression! So I slipped off my shoes and slid on the slippahz, deciding to go at it luau style, or barefoot. Crossing through the river with my feet fancy free was refreshing, and it gave me a little kick start for the day.
Moving along the sand felt comfortably familiar, after all we do come from Hawai'i, the land of sand-and-sun fun, but we also knew that any extended time spent tramping on unstable ground would eventually become tiresome, especially with 40 pound packs strapped to our backs. We braced ourselves mentally for what was time.
It was a good thing for us that the scenery was absolutely stunning. Looking behind, we saw the rainforest gradually descend from the inland where we had just hiked through the day before, eventually spilling into the ocean at the water's edge. Thick jungle fog rose slowly from the interior, and light sea mist sprayed us along the shore. Flocks of pelicans flew along the horizon, skimming their way across the surface of the water. They were so far off in the distance over the churning ocean that, especially against the brightness of the sky, they looked like nothing more than fluttering checkmarks flying along in haphazard formation.
It was altogether a different beauty from the previous day's experience. Trekking right through the heart of Corcovado was wild, exhilarating and totally foreign. But now, as we made our way down the Osa Peninsula Coastline on our final trek, walking along in sand, it sort of felt comfortable and homely.
At the same time, the thick jungle that grew right up along the shore was a reminder of everything wild that we had just gone through the day before, and that lightly tugging sensation of memories told us not to feel too familiar with our surroundings. After all, we weren't back in Hawaii just yet.
Overall the contrasts of differing beauties intertwined with one another on such a relatively small piece of land was amazing. Reflecting on our surroundings allowed us to keep our minds off of the reality that the early morning shadows were lessening and the blazing sun was approaching.
Coatis on the Right!
Corcovado National Park is sold as 'one of the hottest spots of biodiversity' on the face of the globe. Especially for such a small chunk of land mass, there's an exceptional amount of wildlife tramping around in the bush.
Not surprisingly, the homo sapien-to-animal ratio is pretty low, and for two out of the three days that we were there, it almost felt as if we had the entire place to ourselves. Aside form the park rangers and their families, we never ran into any other passers through until the very ending of our second day.
It wasn't until the afternoon of the third day, while crisscrossing our way from beach to bush and back, that we began to bump into other explorers. We could tell we were nearing the borderlands, as little by little, tour groups of three or four slowly trickled past us. They were day hikers, clean, crisp and accompanied by a guide. "And on our right we have the ring-tailed coati..." Walking past them I began to realize how foul we really were. Our packs were damp, our feet blistery, and our faces streaked with salty sweat.
At one point, I thought I'd caught a familiar whiff of the interior rainforest, but realized that it was just soggy Scott three feet in front of me. We had roughed it for three days in the boondocks, and we were beginning to show it.
But despite all that, it felt like we had one up on every group of sightseers that we passed. They held hands like honeymooners and coat-tailed their guides, while we three had braved the jungle alone. They eyed the shadows suspiciously and turned at every rustling leaf. We tramped past them in a hurry, long over the fear of all things slithery. Their packs were light or non-existent, and ours were weighted down, muddied and messed. I was almost proud of how dirty we looked.
The Search For "Agua Potable"
At one point, we found ourselves off the beaten path, following a tattered map and vague trail signs that would lead us to drinking water. I wasn't sure what to expect, a stagnant water hole or a trickling stream. Sure enough, we weren't disappointed. At the end of the trail, where a large sign read "Agua Potable", was a waterfall that poured out cool spring water. We took our time to refill our water bottles in the trickling stream and rinse the sweat off our faces.
About 3.5 kilometers before we exited the park, we came upon our final river crossing. Emerging from the bush it opened out before our eyes, wide and murky. Loose branches hung forlorn over the water's edge, lazily flicking the surface of the water.
We decided to make an event of it. Dropping our packs along the river bank, we plunged into the river water rinsing off the day's grunge. We scrubbed our sweaty shirts and pickled socks with gritty sand and river rocks and lay them out to dry. While the high afternoon sun did it's job, we lay floating in the river, soaking up the warmth of the day and contemplating everything we had seen and done in such a short amount of time.
Exit Rainforest to the East
From our final river crossing it was just a few minutes to the last ranger station, La Leona. Compared to the stations found in the interior of the rainforest, this one felt like a summer resort, complete with paved pathways and beach lounge chairs! We stumbled past it in a hurry, partly in a rush to exit the rainforest, and partly to avoid being seen by any of the day-tourists.
As our trek drew to a close and we neared the closest border town of Carate, our minds, we had one thing on our minds: "Where's the exit?!" We were a ragtag bunch, the three of us, and we had the looks to prove it. Tired, exhausted, aching and ready for some creature comforts, we stumbled along the newly found pathway, following it until we finally emerged from the jungle and crossed over into the borderlands of civilization.
But despite the discomfort felt on the last leg of our journey, there were smiles and lots of laughter shared between the three of us. We had already started to recount the memorable events we'd been through and the experiences we'd shared together. It was a special trip. Being from the same island in Hawai'i, the three of us had been travel buddies and beach bums together from before. But Ash had already been living in Panama for almost a year at that point. We had been living separate lives for quite some time. This trip was a way for us to reconnect and revive the friendships that we had.
The town of Carate eventually came into view, a tiny dust-plot of tin roofed houses and red dirt. It looked like the promised land to us. We shifted our damp packs and pushed our sore feet forward, until we knocked off our soggy boots, gingerly brushed off our blistery soles, and stepped up to the little snack shop-slash-bus stop where we bought a round of sodas, 2 whopping bucks a pop! The perfect way to welcome ourselves back to civilization.
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...