La Palma to Sirena
I’m sure we can’t put into words what a wonderful adventure this turned out to be in Corcovado, but we’ll try. Our second good decision, after deciding to go to Corcovado, was hiring Nito from Surcostours as our guide for 3 days. His knowledge of all things nature was incredible along with being a super nice guy. However, we started questioning that decision when he did not arrive at our pre-assigned starting point, the bakery, in Peurto Jimenez. Fortunately we had his cell phone number and after 20 minutes of waiting knowing we were going to miss the bus we called to find him still snoozing (understandable with the back-to-back trips he was making). To make amends Nito paid for a 4WD taxi to get us to La Palma where we would take the horses to the Los Patos ranger station and the start of our Sirena hike. Something to note on these Corcovado hikes is that the clients pay for all the guides costs, including the Sirena dorm, food, transportation, horses, as well as their guiding fees. It can be quite an expensive adventure!
The alternative to using horses to get us to the Los Patos ranger station was a 4WD but this was not going to happen due to the heavy rains from the wet season having washed out the trail making it impossible for a vehicle to make the 22 river crossings. The horses or walking was the only option and we agreed with Nito that the horses were the way to go. Neither Wayne nor I had been on a horse in over 20 years so it was going to be a fun experience, but sadly, the horses looked like they had seen better days. The horse that Wayne was provided kept trying to go back to the start of the trail as she had recently given birth and her foal was with the horses we had left behind for a larger group of hikers following behind us. The hike-a-horse section was only 5 kilometers but it took over an hour and we sure were relieved to get out of the saddles to start the 23 kilometer walk to Sirena. When we got to Sirena later that day we learned that one of the horses had fallen backwards into the river on top of one of the clients. Luckily, both horse and rider were confirmed alive and able to continue!
The hike to the Sirena ranger station where we were to spend 2 nights began in earnest after the horses dropped us at the far side of our first big river crossing, saving us from removing our hiking boots or soaking us up to our waists. This wasn’t going to matter in the grand scheme of things because we were heading for a soaking! The first of Nito’s little extras that made him stand out as a guide was when he made us trekking poles which we definitely required for the next 3 days.
For the next 8 hours, hiking almost 14 miles, we didn’t see much wildlife. This part of the park is primary rainforest known for more snakes and frogs. We had a long day ahead of us so we didn’t have much time to look for any animals. There was a major river crossing about 12 miles into our hike that we needed to cross before dark and before the rains came causing the river to be neck deep instead of waist deep. BTW…the river has crocodiles!
For the next 14 miles we hiked up and down what felt like a mountain of mud, it didn’t help that it was also hot and humid, Luckily we were under the cover of the canopy so the sunlight was not beaming down on us. After a short stop for lunch, the rain started and the trails turned to a small river. Having to walk in these conditions for miles, where some sections the mud was above our hiking boots, was thrilling. Nito had rubber boots, and now we know why!
We finally reached the river crossing about 3pm. Nito was very concerned due to all the rain that had fallen during the day, but everything was perfect when we arrived and the water was only waist deep. We prepared all of our belongings in case we were swept by the current. It was an exciting moment and we all crossed without any issues. Nito told us a story of another couple meeting the river when it was neck high and Nito was preparing shelter for them for the night. After waiting for 3 hours, they were able to cross, but in the dark. Thankfully, that didn’t happen with us.
You can not imagine how elated we were to see the Sirena Ranger Station in the distance. As we arrived a huge Tapir was feeding in the grass near the station and Wayne was able to get within 3 feet of it before his camera scared it away. This was exciting because I felt like we spent the entire day looking at our feet instead of in the trees. We did get to see an anteater, glass frogs, monkeys, and lots of ants! Nito is an ant expert and we learned all about Army and Soldier ants and how they battle.
After arriving at the station Nito put sheets and mosquito nets on our beds – no other guides had done that for their clients! He really went above and beyond. We stayed in a dormitory with a lovely couple from Austria. After that long hike we both just wanted a beer, but no alcohol is allowed in the park – bummer!
Sirena Day Hikes
At the ranger station you are required to pay an exorbitant amount of money for food as everything must be flown or ferried in from Puerto Jiminez. To avoid some of the expense we carried in our lunches for the 3 days. Wayne didn’t seal his food properly and during our first night a bat ate his banana and the ants invaded his nuts and bread. Luckily – I carried in extra food!
The Sirena day hikes were the highlight of the trip. If you ever make this journey make sure you have at least one day to venture around Sirena. The wildlife is spectacular! Nito was equipped with a fancy spotting scope that allowed us to get some awesome pictures! The spider monkeys were by far my favorite, although we did get to see all 4 of the monkey species native to the park – howler, spider, squirrel and white faced capuchins.
We never knew ants could be so fascinating. Nito really enlightened us with his knowledge. We were able to see ants creating bridges out of themselves to cross the water, destroying everything within a 5 foot perimeter around the tree they were protecting, and colonies that were more than 100 square feet in size.
The bird life in and around Corcovado is world renowned. Nito had an app on his iPhone with all the bird sounds, it was amazing how the birds responded to the phone by flying really close. This was perfect as it allowed us to get some wonderful pictures.
Wayne’s favorite was the bats sleeping in the rolled up banana leafs connected by suckers on their feet! We spent the day checking all the rolled-up leaves hoping to find more as they were so cute. The bats in Costa Rica are herbivores so no rabies. We also saw tent-making bats hanging upside down under the banana leaves.
In the afternoon Wayne went out with Nito as I stayed at Sirena, they saw an Ocelot after being notified of a cat presence by the scuffle in the trees above, howler monkey’s and birds setting off alarm bells. This was to be the only cat out of the 5-6 species native to the area that we would see and with sightings being pretty rare it was definitely a good find. Nito was showing his expertise again after stopping Wayne in his tracks upon hearing the fracas up above, he followed the noise to where the cat was hiding, and once again when it crossed the path right in front of him – very cool.
Sirena to Carate
The last day we needed to be prepared for our 8 hour hike to Carate, but our dorm mates were taking an early morning hike with their guide and we didn’t want to miss out on anything! We headed out at 4am into the very dark night, where it’s a much different feeling being in the rainforest with headlamps. The Austrian girl and I were very worried about encountering snakes!! Unfortunately, we should have just stayed in bed and rested as we didn’t see anything new.
After breakfast we headed for Carate. All the other groups hiking out started at 4am to beat the heat, but Nito just told us to hike fast because he needed his coffee, and so did Wayne for that matter – it worked as we eventually caught both groups ahead of us. The hike out was much easier than the hike in as it was flat and “only” 12 miles. The worst part was the almost 3 miles on beach with no protection from the sun and an incoming tide. I can’t describe the heat – it was brutal and my face was burned from the reflection off the sand. There are 2 tricky parts on the hike from Sirena to Carate. The first is the river crossing close to Sirena where the previous day we saw crocodiles in the water, but the tide was low when we left and the water was only mid calf so we weren’t too concerned about them. The second was from the high tides along the beach. There are sections where the beach butts against the cliffs and there is no room to walk during high tide, and some hikers have even ended up being stranded having to wait for the tides to fall.
We had some great animal encounters on this leg of the hike too, including Nito rescuing a sea turtle nest from an invasion by coatimundi’s to the various anteater sightings, and even a boa constrictor curled up in a tree. The coati’s were eating the turtle eggs after sniffing out the nest with their sensitive noses, and having a vulture audience made them very determined to clear them all up. Nito had other ideas when he cleared them off and collected up the remaining eggs and transplanting them a few hundred yards along the beach – he still didn’t expect them to survive after unsuccessfully having done this numerous times before and seeing them always dug up again by the coati’s. One of Wayne’s ‘must see’ animals was any variety of poison dart frog which for 6 weeks in Costa Rica had so far eluded him, but due to our guide this was about to change. We headed off trail to a spot that Nito had found them at before and within a few minutes we had 3 baby Golfodulcean poison frogs hopping around in front of us. They were so much smaller than we had imagined which is why we had never come across them before.
The end was in sight for a tremendous trip and so worth the money we spent with the valuable lessons we learnt from hiring a top-class local guide and having our money go directly into the local economy instead of to some wealthy overseas travel company. We were so in need of a beer and the last mile along the beach was torture, even after removing our soaking wet and muddy hiking boots, replacing them with more appropriate footwear. Never has Imperial tasted so good!
Our transport was waiting for us as planned and the 4WD fortunately handled the severely pot-holed terrain and numerous river crossings without any problems. Two hours later we were back in Puerto Jimenez arranging our final meal at the best pizza house outside of Italy, Pizzamail.it. A great way to end our time in Puerto Jimenez and Corcovado national park. Thanks Nito of Surcostours!
November 22nd – November 24th 2012