Five of us, led by Guido Sabario, walked 18km into Corcovado National Park, to stay 2 nights at Sirena, the park’s central HQ. I was impressed by the lack of vehicle access to the park. It was only accessible by foot, or by boat or plane, no cars. To back-pack without park or local community guides among potentially dangerous wildlife is a luxury these days and virtually unacceptable in now over-regulated Africa. Guido was a valuable source of knowledge, especially on reptiles. He leapt upon every snake he saw and pointed out reptiles and amphibians. Costa Rica is an amphibian/ reptile haven, and while these were largely ignored in Africa they came to the fore here because they were so numerous, noisy, colourful, diverse and sometimes huge! Guido pointed out a poison dart frog that shimmered a phosphorescent green.
Poison dart frog (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)
The reptiles had their fair share of lethal contenders, first and foremost the dreaded Fer-de-Lance, a pit viper responsible for more deaths than any other animal here. You do not mess with the Fer-de-Lance because it lies like a Puff Adder and chases like a Mamba. It strikes readily and boots are the formal wear. Being an old bush hand familiar with snakes, I wore sandals at first and scoffed at the chances of being hit. But as the days went on, I saw more snakes than one ever would see back home. I began to notice that macho young men strode about in gum boots and wore a huge panga (Machete) that hung from the belt almost to the ground. “Good for whacking the Fer-de-Lance” said Juanky. We were up in the hills one day and I was briefly allowed to lead the way when I saw, to my horror, that my left sandal was coming down in slow motion upon the back of a Fer-de-Lance. God intervened and I was able to step away, as if walking on thin air, and the snake slid away.
Fer-de-Lance (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)
During my stay, a young woman had been bitten on the toe a few kilometers away, and had collapsed within less than an hour with blood coming out of her nose and mouth. It may not have been a Fer-de-Lance but one of the Coral Snakes, one of which we came upon at night walking back through the forest. Laila, in flip flops, nudged the 2ft snake into the open and was angry that she did not have a camera. Despite having a very similar snake (Gunther’s Coral Snake) as a resident in my guest house back home, I was alarmed at the much higher chances of being bitten by a snake here and started wearing more appropriate footwear.
Corcovado NP(Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)
We spent only 2 nights at Sirena in the Park, but we saw a good number of wild animals. The trip started out well with a large pug mark of a Jaguar walking near the beach along the main road long before we entered the park proper. The very reasonable pre-booked fee of $10 per tourist (as apposed to 4 times that in Kenya) allows one in at a small guard post. The Coati’s were very tame in the park and foraged around, digging and rooting up insects, crabs and tubers with their pig-like snouts.
A rather mangy Coati (Photo by Laila Bahaa-el-din)
The route follows along the beach much of the time and rivers and tides had to be negotiated carefully and to the hour, lest one get stranded for 6 hours. Huge crystal clear rivers of fresh water poured into the ocean, and here Caimans and the American Crocodile live in large numbers.
My most memorable moment was seeing the retreating rear end of what looked like a medium sized hippo entering the forest from the beach, accompanied by a second, smaller rear end. I was amazed that the female Tapir with her baby stayed there eating unconcerned by our party of five, all of us clicking away with cameras. There was no question of danger, and although a Tapir can weigh some 700lbs and possibly flatten a human as readily as a rhino, they do not even think about it. They stood there eating with their elephant-like short trunks curling around the vegetation. This allowed us to approach to some 25m. They stepped back into the forest, and were gone from sight. Vanished without a trace or hint of disturbance to the foliage. No smell either. We saw many of their tracks, four sharp toes arranged around a small pad, but no feces.
Of raptors we saw relatively few, but plenty of vultures eating dead fish on the beach, possibly poisoned by a very obvious red tide off shore. The terrain frustrates the viewing of birds high in the canopy above. But we did see the Double-toothed Kite following, as Laila predicted, the Squirrel Monkeys. The Crane Hawk was identified only because it copied the behaviour of the Harrier Hawk. It was seen flying in a sloppy manner and clambering clumsily on branches before sitting and craning its head about listening. The face was long and thin, and its legs (doubled jointed like the Harrier Hawk) were also long. It had a bit of a waving crest, but otherwise it seemed to follow the same colour scheme as a few other raptors here. It had a black/dark grey body and a white tail band. (as does the Black hawk, Great Black Hawk and Black Hawk Eagle). I was feeling unwell at the time and when it came to the opportunity to foot it around the heart of the park on the second day, both the weather and my energy were not favourable. I began to accept that the chance of seeing Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot or jaguarundi was going to be in the hands of the Gods. If they cared to share, it would come to us. Rain in a forest jungle denies one the senses of sight, hearing and smell.