Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 7 of 7 – Impact of an Eco-resort, “Au Revoir” and “Mucho Gusto.”

Editor’s Note: This is the FINAL excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

 

Part of the Community

Iguana Lodge sponsors “Save the Osa Turtle Project,” which offers financial, technical and educational support for sea turtle conservation operations on the beaches. Four species of turtles are affected.
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They also have ongoing tree and flower planting programs along the beach to attract more wildlife. The Lodge also serves as a dedicated employer of Costa Ricans only. Nearly all 30 employees at the Iguana Lodge are from Puerto Jimenez, and most either walk or ride to work on bicycles.
Employees are practically considered family at Iguana Lodge, and this leads to long-term employment and close relationships.As if that weren’t enough, one of the owners regularly drives a heavy-duty grader on the area roads to help with their maintenance.
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Mucho Gusto and Au Revoir
Leaving the resort was difficult. Life was simple here. I liked the slow pace. The friendliness. The natural harmony. The wildlife. The Honor Bar. We made special friends here, by sharing special experiences in a special place. It was indeed a total psychological escape to a seemingly lost tropical paradise.
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We wanted to stay forever, or at least longer than just one week. I knew we’d likely return for a few more visits, to further explore this country’s vast natural resources and diverse people. We knew this was a teasing first glimpse of a very small slice of Costa Rica’s full fruit pie.
The intense humidity was the only difficult factor we experienced. I’m sure the rainy season would also be challenging, if you lived here year-round. We were, after all, cool, dry-air mountain people from Colorado, which is a great home if you enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle and four distinct seasons. Everything experienced here was splendid, enriching, intoxicating. It would forever be on the mental and emotional radar screen.
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On the way through the lounge area, we came across a capsulizing sight. Pura Vida meant “peace, harmony, family, letting go.”  And the Tico tradition of avoiding conflict. So it only made sense we’d see this……
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As Ana and I stuffed our minimal belongings into our backpacks, I reached for my hiking shoes and yelped! Out crawled a Halloween Crab. It seemed he was trying to catch a ride to Denver. Perhaps he was needing an exotic vacation in another land, like we had just experienced here. Or maybe he needed a break from the humidity.
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I knew he’d be better off here (the sand is much more porous), and he was not meant to become a souvenir. I figured the next guests in our casita would love this little guy as a shower mate, so that’s where I left him.
It won’t be long. For who could stay away from such a Pure Life?

*****

Eric R. Schickler is a Colorado-based writer and photographer.

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

Photo Credits:  Eric Schickler, Ana Bowie, www.costarica.com and www.turubari.com, www.wildernesstravel.com

Factual Reference Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costa_Rica

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_colonization_of_the_Americas

http://www.costarica.com/

http://www.entercostarica.com/Costa_Rica/Culture/History.html

http://www.anywherecostarica.com/maps

http://www.turubari.com/htmleng/?page_id=284

The International Human Development Index

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Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 6 – Boating the Gulf, Wildlife Sanctuary, Zip Line Thrills, Tropical Weather

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

 

The next day we arranged for a day-long boat tour around the entire gulf. This was a welcomed, relaxing, non-life-threatening follow-up to Tarzan Day.

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We cruised along the shoreline of the Piedras Blancas National Park, a recent addition to the country’s park system. Much of this reserve’s acreage has been recovered from private ownership and saved from years of logging activity. It features tropical cloud forests, rugged mountains and two large rivers.

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It is an important addition because it protects the remaining lowland tropical rainforest near the Golfo Dulce, habitat that harbors many undiscovered plant and animal species. Therefore, research activity is ongoing in the park.

Piedras Blancas National Park features pristine beaches, several types of rare trees, and all five species of cats — the jaguar, ocelot, puma, margay and jaguarundi. Don’t plan on spying one, though; they are very evasive and nocturnal.

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One notable tree species is called the Tiger Tree. It has many vertical crevices and creases, resembling tiger stripes. This very hard wood is popular for use in homes, buildings and furniture, especially as ornamental columns and posts. We noticed this amazing wood in several buildings while in Costa Rica.

Mangroves and estuaries along the gulf are full of wildlife. You can explore these ecosystems by small boats, canoes or kayaks and see river otters, crocodiles, monkeys, sloths, birds and waterfowl. Coral reefs also offer sensational snorkeling.

The park is considered one of the best bird watching areas in Costa Rica. But be sure to keep an eye on where you step — snakes and frogs are abundant as well.

IMG_8203.JPGOur boat made just one stop on shore, at Rio Esquinas, home of the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary. It is here that orphaned and injured animals from the region are cared for until subsequent re-introduction to their habitats.

Because the animals are injured and temporarily in contact with their caregiving humans, some can be handled and petted by visitors.

 

 

Ana was allowed to play with a squirrel monkey, cuddle with a rare three-toed sloth and interact with an anteater.

Back on the boat, we headed north to the far end of the gulf, where the waters are so calm, waveless, and clear you could see fish deep down below the surface. We snorkeled in the reefs briefly, then re-boarded to cruise slowly along the shore, looking for birds and marine life.

We spotted frigate birds high above, patrolling the waters for fish. Then a sea turtle just off the side of the boat. On the other side, a large manta ray floated just beneath the surface. Blue-footed boobies perched on floating tree limbs.

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Flying fish rode shotgun alongside us as we gained speed to head back to the Iguana Lodge, some 20 miles down the gulf toward the Pacific.

Then the spinner dolphins joined in our high-speed race atop the sparkling waters—bouncing, weaving, jumping and, rightly so—spinning.

We stopped briefly so Ana could jump in the water and ride the boogie-board on a tow-rope behind the boat. Our guide billed this as “swimming with the dolphins.”

Sure enough, after just a few seconds the dolphins found her, swam alongside, dipped below her and tickled her toes. It was quite the aquatic dance. Ana wore a scuba facemask, allowing her to watch them weaving below the surface.

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By late afternoon we were eager to escape the hot, bright sun. The cool, shady hideaway known as the Iguana Lodge awaited our return. We retreated from the beach, disappearing into our tropical refuge, tucked like a sinful secret in the jungle foliage.

As the sun set over the Pacific, the aroma of fresh grilled fish and burning candles infiltrated our senses. We reflected on our rather comprehensive tour around this scenic gulf, and now had a much better understanding of the space we were in. So remote, so pristine, so secluded, so peaceful and unspoiled. So ruled by its natural inhabitants. We felt very fortunate to have caught a passing glance at one moment in time.

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Once again, it was “Pura Vida”

We fell asleep so peacefully that night to the sounds of gentle breezes and receding ocean waves, breathing an intoxicating mix of fragrances from the plants and flowers growing all around us outside our open-air casita.

Storms rumbled overnight. Rain and thunder and some lightning awakened us. Cool breezes belied our tropical locale. It was to be the last touch of temperate weather, before the late April heat and humidity crept in. We would soon learn what tropical weather was really like.

Morning brought a hazy humidity. The sun emerged to begin its work on the airborne moisture from last night’s storm. I smelled Costa Rican coffee and mango. Morning in Costa Rica. Morning on the Osa Peninsula. Morning on Golfo Dulce. Butterflies everywhere. Birds everywhere. Sounds everywhere. Fragrances everywhere. This place was magical.

Zip It

We enjoyed breakfast under stable skies, but learned that the rain was to resume for most of the day—not surprising as the rainy season was just two weeks away.

But the forecast was not great news, as were heading into the mountains today for some thrilling zip-line action along the tree canopy, near Miramar. Our guide and zip-line expert, Jacobo, told us that traveling to higher elevations was an advantage on a day like this.

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It was fascinating how elevation affected precipitation behaviors in tropical climates. There were parallels to what we experience at varying elevations in Colorado. In April, and sometimes even in May, if it’s raining at 5,280 feet in Denver, it’s usually snowing in the foothills or mountains, elevations that are anywhere from 2,000 to 9,000 feet higher. It’s colder and often dryer the higher you go.

In southern Costa Rica, the lower elevations have tropical rain forests. But in the high mountains of this tropical zone, the biome you find is called the cloud forest. Because it is much cooler at these elevations, rain does not fall. Instead, the vegetation absorbs moisture directly from the clouds, which engulf the mountaintops.

As we maneuvered up the mountain on extremely muddy roads in our four-wheel-drive vehicle, the rain slowly dissipated, the air became cooler, and we soon found ourselves in the clouds! Alrighty then, let the zip-line fun begin!

This was a new adventure for us both. It paralleled my tree-jump & rappel adventure in that, once again, I wanted to yodel like Tarzan.

Stopping in time to land properly on the tree platform was tricky. I nearly hit the tree on my first landing. Reminded me of the crash-test dummy thing in car tests. I learned really fast how to better use the brake by the second ride. We definitely felt like circus trapeze artists. One platform was 105 feet off the ground.

We zipped along on several different lines, totaling 2000 feet in length. It most certainly gave you the feeling of being a jungle animal or bird—dipping, rising and soaring at high speeds above and through the dense forest canopy.

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If that wasn’t enough, we spotted several howler monkeys, a friendly sloth and a colorful toucan in the trees nearby.

Thinking our day of adventure was done, we all loaded back onto the two trucks for the long ride back to Iguana Lodge. That was when the fun really began. Both trucks slipped and struggled on the muddy road, one obviously carrying a few too many passengers to make it up the one hill we encountered before beginning our ascent to the valley below.

We watched in shock as the top-heavy vehicle slid sideways, then listed to one side as it slipped into the drainage ditch along the road. It was close to rolling over!

The driver spun the tires, but to no avail. Now the vehicle started sliding slowly backwards–down the hill towards our vehicle! Our shock turned to alarm. With everyone in our vehicle preparing to jump from the truck before we got rammed, their driver brought the truck to a halt.

He exited the truck, stepping down into the slippery mud, and with a matter-of-fact nod to our driver, uttered one word: “Chains?”

“Yes. Time for chains,” was the reply.

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Strapping tire chains on two vehicles in sloppy mud didn’t look like fun, and I’m thankful they didn’t enlist our help. We were doing just fine enjoying cold beer on the back of the truck. In short order the chains were on and they did the trick. Our drivers got us out and safely down the mountain.

Will the Osa adventure ever cease?

 

“Did You Forget How Close You Are to the Equator?”

After a few very comfortable April days, with cooling storms at night, and some daytime cloud cover, we met Central American reality on the fourth day.

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Now came clear skies, increasing heat and much higher humidity. Our active pace was about to slow down.

After 20 years in Colorado’s cool, dry climate, I had lost all memory of what muggy weather was. My only experience with humidity was in areas of the United States, and during a single trip to Cancun, Mexico, 18 years earlier.

This was a new experience. Afternoon humidity became almost unbearable on a few days on the Osa Peninsula. Even lying in a hammock in the shade was uncomfortable.

I started to think we should alter our daily schedules–get up earlier, stay up later, and save the middle part for siesta. A wise adjustment. Now I understood one of the reasons for “Tico time.”

Another way to beat the sultry afternoons was with a long cool shower. Our casita had a wonderful open-air bathroom & garden shower, featuring a five-foot privacy wall, over which was a clear view of the jungle. It had large built-in gardens with exotic plants and colorful growing flowers–succulents, bromeliads, orchids.

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You could hear and see the birds, feel the breeze and smell the fragrant forest. I felt as if I were starring in a TV commercial for Herbal Essence shampoo. It was also not unusual to have a vibrant Halloween Crab, or bright green gecko hanging out in the shower looking for a free fresh-water rinse. I frankly didn’t want to leave the cool shower on those hot afternoons.

 

 

 

Nights were pleasant for sleeping, and our active days of adventure tired us so that we were dreaming about papayas by 10 p.m. Which was good, because around 4:30 a.m. the howler monkeys and macaws would start.

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Even when the hot humid days hit, by midnight it was comfortable and the large ceiling fans were the perfect touch. When the tide came in during the night, the roar of the waves, just 200 yards away, would often wake us. But who could ever complain about the rhythmic crash of ocean waves, even at 2 a.m.? It was another example of nature’s music on the Osa Peninsula.

Gosh…. “Pura Vida” happens even at night.

( Zip-line rider photo courtesy of www.turubari.com )
To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 7:   http://ericschickler.com/2011/11/21/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-7/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 5 – Tarzan and the Giant Strangler Fig Tree

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

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THE MATAPALO HIGHLANDS – Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

 

Cabo Matapalo is situated at a very strategic point on the southernmost tip of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Golfo Dulce. Its location isolates it from everywhere in Costa Rica, although it does have several upscale hotels.

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Named after the amazing strangler figs found in its forests, Matapalo is a most scenic ocean cape, with three outstanding beaches.

Long-board surfers find high pleasures near Matapalo, with its well-formed beginner and intermediate-level right-point breaks. Advanced surfers from around the world flock across the gulf to Playa Pavones, which boasts the longest left-hand break in Central America.

We were treated to some fantastic surfing exhibitions that afternoon at Matapalo, as some of the talented locals sliced up the 15- to 20-foot waves.

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Our day-long adventure into the Matapalo Highlands was billed as an audition for the next Tarzan movie. Sounds cool. Sign us up!

Getting to the highlands required a fairly arduous hike in dense forest. It was very warm and very humid, a new kind of hiking adventure for we Coloradans, who are used to cool, dry hiking conditions.

Our experience hiking in Colorado’s high altitudes did give us an advantage when it came to pulmonary stamina and endurance.

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Along the trail, our guides showed us how to find poisonous frogs’ hiding in the cool, moist areas under rocks. They’d simply chirp a few times and were quickly answered with a similar chirp from one of the frogs, revealing its general location. They expertly chose the correct rock to uncover and, VOILA!, there was our frog.

These frogs are known for their aposematic patterns and vibrant colors, meant to advertise their toxicity and deter predators. They are also diurnal, or active during the day, rather than nocturnal like most frogs.IMG_8037.JPG - Version 2-edited

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we moved further up the ridge, and the late-morning heat began to build, we found a very cool spring, that fed a large pool. It was the opposite experience of hitting the hot-tub, as we do in the snowy mountain ski towns of Colorado, after a cold, tiring day on skis. But the experience was equally rewarding.

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The cool swim was just what we needed to make it comfortably through the final leg of the hike, up to the location of the fabled tree. The ocean breeze greeted us as we reached the top of the ridge, which loomed some 450 feet above the gulf.

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This was where our guides introduced our small group to THE local legend: a 120-foot, 500-year-old Strangler Fig Tree. Locals like the climbing and rope-swinging fun offered by this monolith, which is not exactly your average tree.

It’s a fig tree that took over the tree that formerly held this beacon position on the sunny ridge. It’s a parasite tree wrapped around the hollowed out remains of a very large tree.

Some explanation is needed to understand a competitive displacement process in the Costa Rican rain forest. Multi-layer tree canopies keep most sunlight from reaching the forest floor, and they are often quite devoid of growth. All things growing tall enough to get light compete for it fiercely. This causes an abundance of epiphytes and vines.

Rather than grow huge trunks to hold their leaves up to the light, epiphytes and vines “reverse the rules” by growing from the top down.

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Epiphytes are plants that grow upon or are somehow attached to another plant or object for physical support. Epiphytes are primarily tropical and are sometimes called “air plants” because they have no attachment to the ground or other obvious source of food or moisture. They obtain water and minerals from rain and debris that collects on the supporting plants. Orchids, ferns, and some pineapples are epiphytes.

Birds and monkeys eat the fruit of an epiphyte, then climb or fly to another tree, where they defecate. The seeds, mixed in the rich feces, get caught up on the bark or in the crotch of a tree high up in the canopy where there is more light. Vines quickly send roots down to the ground to get minerals and water.

Epiphytes may grow against the tree or form a basin with their leaves. The basin will fill with a combination of water and feces from canopy animals and the epiphyte pulls minerals from the contained water.

Perhaps no vine exhibits this clever behavior better than the Strangler Fig. The seeds germinate in the crown of the canopy and a root makes its way downward to the forest floor. Once it reaches the ground, it sends nutrients upward, and the fig up top reciprocates by dropping more roots down the trunk.

Over time, the roots completely surround the trunk and begin to fuse; above in the canopy the fig is shading out the host tree’s leaves. The host tree falls victim, dies, and eventually decomposes. The strangle fig remains, however, towering above the forest floor, its fused roots creating a hollow trunk the same height as the long-gone host tree.

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The vines of the parasite become thick and strong, almost like giant steel cables. They are so strong that you can climb inside the tree, using the vines as a “ladder” to reach the tree top.

Our guides showed us how to climb barefooted up the tree–90 feet up the tree! I go barefooted often in Colorado and have strong calloused feet, but next time I’m wearing some kind of protective grippy shoes, I’ll tell ya that.

The climber’s hip harness gets tethered to a rope, which is hitched to a carabiner up top and anchored around the guide’s hip harness on the ground.

The harrowing climb brought me intermittent bouts with height paranoia.

I stopped halfway as the insanity of what I was doing hit me. Then I reassured myself—I was tethered to a rope! I wasn’t going to die if I slipped. But I didn’t want to go there. Who could predict the inherent dangers of falling, even with a rope on your hip-harness? Not to mention the embarrassment. And, God help me, what if Bob, the guy on the ground, in charge of MY rope—MY life!—didn’t like me?

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I felt as if I were 200 feet up, but I had only climbed 45 feet. “Keep going!,” screamed the blonde-haired, muscle-toned 25-year-old Australian guide. This was the same woman who had scampered up to the 90-foot perch with the greatest of ease moments earlier, making it look oh so easy.

With eight people watching my progress, I gathered my monkey-man fortitude, stopped looking down, and moved for the summit! “Just pretend you’re hiking a 14,000-foot mountain, like you do all the time in Colorado,” I told myself. “You can do this. You have to. You signed up for this lunacy.”

Then the catcalls and orders and suggestions started from those on the ground. I couldn’t bear it. I told everyone below to shut up; their shouts and instructions and cheerleading was making me dizzy and distracting me and freaking me out more. I needed to concentrate and not over-think my mission. “Just climb. There’s no turning back.”

Concentration is an amazing thing. It got me to the end of the rainbow. I spotted the ornamental bell they nailed to the tree that signified the designated “monkey perch.”  I gave it the ceremonial jingle, at which came a round of applause from the peanut gallery below.

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I secured myself in a stable sitting position in the crotch of a tree limb, took a deep breath of relief and gathered my fragile composure. I wanted to savor my accomplishment and enjoy the view for a moment. “Wow. So this is what it’s like being a monkey in the canopy.”

I liked climbing trees as a kid, but it’s not something I’ve done very often as an adult. I can’t say I like heights all that much either.

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I wondered what I was doing up here, and thought about my future (and possible lack thereof). I thought about the money my parents spent on my college education, about our car parked back at Denver International Airport, and about my nonexistent life insurance policy.

My contemplative moment was quickly interrupted by our Australian honey on the ground. “Okay, get ready, then at the count of three, JUMP! Like Tarzan,” she screamed in her cute accent.

Then the man holding my life-rope added: “Just don’t do the Tarzan yodel, P-L-E-A-S-E!  If I hear that one more time, I’m going to become an anthropologist and quit this nutty guide business.”

The half-naked, barefoot dude who matter-of-factly rambled through all the climb logistics and safety procedures minutes earlier was telling me to jump, and trust that he would prevent my glorious, Jungle Jim death.

I had met him but two hours earlier, and was never shown any “Rope-Holding-Expert” certification papers, background-check reports, etc. And yet, there he was 90 feet below, with Ana and our new friends, the nice family from England, telling me to jump from Heaven to Earth…. and in just THREE seconds!

“You can trust me,” he yelled with a laugh.

IMG_8056.JPGI caught the encouraging, yet impatient stare of little Katrina, the fearless eight-year-old who had just climbed the darned tree like a monkey and jumped from it faster than you could say amusement park. Then, in chimed the howler monkeys in the trees near me, barking like sports-fan hecklers in the cheap seats.

So with my time dwindling (down to one second now), I held fast and tight on the rope and threw myself overboard–off my safe and comfortable perch, to certain peril.

There I was….. swinging, gasping, dangling, semi-panicking, just missing trees, getting belayed down gradually, but quick enough before the onset of cardiac arrest.

After both feet felt the joy of reaching the forest floor, I caught my breath, said a very sincere prayer of thanks, then the thrill of it all sunk in. I suddenly felt a fantastic adrenaline rush and felt profoundly alive.

Now I understood. Now I realized why adrenaline junkies jump out of airplanes, parachute of skyscrapers, ski off cliffs, bungee-jump bridges, paraglide off mountaintops, race dragsters, and attempt other assorted flirtations with death.

Now I knew why Tarzan yodeled.

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Ana was equally stirred up as she was lowered down from her 90-foot jump, and I could see her visibly shaking from her adrenaline rush as she neared the ground. Her smile came back quickly, once she caught her breathe.

With everyone safely returned to the forest floor, high fives were rampant.

As we left the tree, little Katrina smiled at me and snickered, “I knew you could do it. If I could do it, you could do it.”

“Gee thanks, Katrina.”

I trudged up the trail, looking back and up at the monster fig, knowing I had reached a new pinnacle of personal courage. I had matched the bravery of an eight-year-old.

The mood was spirited as we took our hike back down the ridge, legs fluttering along the trail with jubilation and a sense of accomplishment.

We stopped at a favorite adventure spot, the 90-foot King Louis Waterfalls, where guided visitors and locals rappel from the top of the falls, down through the cascading waters and mist.

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Our guides had not only brought us back alive, but had taught us a bevy of cool things about the local geography, landmarks, vegetation and wildlife. Guides are good for that. They deserve their tips. I floated good ol’ Bob an extra 20 bucks for his dedicated hold on my rope.

Ana and I, and our five British friends, all shared a new common bond. We had all survived a 90-foot leap from the notorious 500-year-old Strangler Fig tree.

Back at the lodge, happy hour, highlighted by some very robust mango daiquiris, was never more rewarding. We settled into our easy chairs, sipped our drinks and watched the iguanas slither in the trees off the second-story lodge deck, as the sun set in the distance out over Golfo Dulce.

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Not a bad weekday in Costa Rica. “Pura Vida” was in the air, and was indeed having its wondrous effect on us.

Our active day resulted in a very good night’s sleep. Until we were awakened at 3 a.m. by a crashing ka-boom! on the tin roof of our casita. We thought we were being shelled and, come to think of it—we were. A coconut had dropped from 25 feet above. Locals call them “grenades.”  I can’t recall why I never heard one hit during the day. It was always at night. Hmmm. I sensed a monkey was involved, and he knew darned well what he was doing.
To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 6:   http://ericschickler.com/2011/11/04/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-6/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 4 – Adventure, Wildlife, People, Beaches and Forested Parks

 

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.”

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Tossing a Line

The calm, clear, deep waters of the Golfo Dulce, and the Pacific Ocean just a few miles off the coast of Matapalo, offer world-renowned fishing for many species.

Offshore fish include black marlin, blue marlin, striped marlin, sailfish, dorado (mahi-mahi), yellowfin tuna, snapper and wahoo.

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Puerto Jimenez also offers some of the richest inshore fishing in the world, including roosterfish, jack crevalle, amberjack, snook, pompano, grouper, mackerel, snapper, blue travelli and more.

Secluded, Pristine Waterfronts

The waters of Golfo Dulce are exquisite—calm, clean, and, at 84 degrees, very soothing. The waves rolling onto shore are quite gentle in good weather, just a few feet high, but still fun for boogie-boarding or body surfing. Night-time swims are a special treat, especially with the warm glow of the moon overhead, floating in the hazy, moisture-laden sky.

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Iguana Lodge is situated near Playa Platanares and Playa Cienega, near the middle of an uninterrupted six-mile stretch of gorgeous beachfront.

We saw just a few dwellings along the entire stretch, and most of them were tucked back in the jungle, far from the beach. We walked the beach routinely at dusk and dawn, covering miles at a time, and rarely saw another person. The resort’s resident dogs, “Osa” and “Bam-Bam,” often served as our escorts. One night was especially remarkable. We walked for two hours at low tide, wandering far from the beach to explore exposed sandbars far out in the water.

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On another night, our friends from England joined us. Derric decided he was going to skinny dip for a bit. We lost him for nearly 30 minutes as he waded far off into the surf. His wife held his shorts over her arm as we walked the beach; their presence was a direct reminder that we best reunite with him at some point. We knew he wasn’t going back to the resort without us.

The waves kicked up a bit as a small weather disturbance rolled out over the gulf. I saw some boogie boards lying on the beach and decided it was play time. My first and only attempt at boogie-boarding that night resulted in total disaster.

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A big wave caught me the wrong way, driving my head underwater and into the sandy bottom. It also worked its magic on my shorts, pulling them down to my ankles. This made swimming difficult and provided me a shining opportunity to laugh at myself. Ana had a laugh too.

After bringing my shorts back to their upright and locked position, I rose up out of the foamy surf, hair full of sand, salt water in the eyes, ears, mouth and nose, boogie board rendered useless–broken in half. To the shower I went, with head held low.

Hoofing It

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Walking the beach was gratifying enough. But flying down the sand atop a frisky horse was something I’ll not soon forget. It was a far cry from the riding we are accustomed to in Colorado, often trudging up dusty, rocky trails, sometimes alongside precarious drop-offs.

Galloping unencumbered and free, on soft moist sand, with an ocean breeze blowing at your face, was akin to skiing deep, dry, light powder on a sunny Colorado morning in Vail’s vast Back Bowls. No set trail, no obstacles, no people, no timeline, no worries.

Just Ana and me and our guide, Ivan. Pura Vida! Ivan knew the area we were exploring very well, as if it were his back yard. And by golly, we learned that it was his back yard. His family had lived on this large plantation for more than 100 years. Iguana Lodge just happen to be his most recent neighbor.

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After our three-mile sprint down the beach at low tide, we toured along a cove near Puerto Jimenez, observing the fishing activities on the pier, and some tourists boarding the small tour boats.

We wandered onto a trail into the jungle, and later emerged onto Ivan’s large plantation, where we followed a small creek we eventually needed to cross. It was a thrill to ride a “swimming horse,” with water up to my ankles!

Suddenly we were back in a huge lush green meadow, just moseying along on Tico time. The meadow was surrounded on all sides by dense forest. As with the entire three-hour ride, it was peaceful, scenic, serene, ridiculously pleasant.

We found a shaded, tree-lined dirt road, and this final stretch afforded us and the horses a welcomed cool-down as we completed yet another rewarding Osa adventure.

Iguana Lodge Resort’s “Pearl of the Osa” Hotel

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That afternoon we meandered 300 feet along a trail through the trees to another part of the Iguana Lodge Resort.

This historic building, called “The Pearl of the Osa Hotel,” has a handful of affordable rooms on the top level, and a restaurant and bar below. It is open to the public, so it’s a great place to meet some of the local people.

We learned that The Pearl was a convenient spot to enjoy a quiet, relaxing lunch, and had an unencumbered view of the beach, the expansive gulf, and the cloud-forest mountains off in the distance across the gulf. Like the “Rancho Grande” Main Lodge, this restaurant and bar was also an open-air structure. At the Iguana Lodge Resort, anytime you were inside a structure, you still felt like you were outside!

Fiesta at the Pearl

Every Friday night, the staff throws a special party at the Osa, called “Salsa, Pasta & Locals Night.” I found out later that the salsa was the dance, not the sauce you have with tortilla chips. A sad surprise as I did not wear my dancing shoes. The creativity and flavor of the various pasta dishes continued our week-long series of culinary surprises.

We found that same short trail through the forest, which was now candle-lit in the 7 p.m. darkness. It was to be the most boisterous environment we had experienced all week, and quite a contrast from every other moment at the resort. But we were ready for some partying and live local music and a chance to interact with the locals.

I made a feeble attempt at learning some Salsa moves, but to no avail. The locals found me rather entertaining. Hey, I’m from Colorado! My natural reflex is to ski, not so much dance. Besides, I’m wearing sandals!

Ana did a much better job faking it. But she looks great skipping rope; even better dancing. “Woo-woo, macha!,” the Tico men shouted.

We met some very friendly locals; entire families showed up. We liked these people. We liked their zeal for simple fun. Everyone got along handsomely.

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Live music is rare on the gulf, outside of Puerto Jimenez, so this was a treat for those who live nearby. The food, the camaraderie, the music, the dancing and the frozen fruit daiquiris were a a potent combination. It was quite the festive night.

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We slipped out of the wild weekend celebration early and returned to our quiet secluded casita. The rhythmic beat of the salsa band and party chatter were quickly replaced with the more soothing rhythm of rolling waves on the gulf.


Corcovado National Park

The next morning, we set off on an adventure that would lead us to a fairly famous tree on a mountain ridge overlooking the Pacific, at the very tip of the peninsula near the small town of Cabo Matapalo.

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The best feature of this town is its back-door access to Costa Rica’s incomparable Corcovado National Park, via Carate and the La Leona Station, just to its north.

Carate is a hidden oasis with a small village and multiple treasures for nature lovers. Visitors will find forested mountains and–surprise!–seemingly endless pristine beaches.

Indeed, the Osa Peninsula’s primary allure is Corcovado. There are plenty of superlatives that spring forth at the mere mention of this park’s name.

— “The most biologically intense place on the planet.”  — National Geographic Society

— The single largest expanse of lowland tropical rainforest in Central America.

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— One of the highest rain forests in the world.

— The largest stretch of Pacific coastline primary forest in Central America.

— Home to some of Costa Rica’s most endangered plant and animal species.

It encompasses 103,300 acres of tropical rainforest teaming with rich biodiversity, including wildlife like jaguars, scarlet macaws, sloths, toucans, white-faced capuchins, the endangered Harpy Eagle, and even Baird’s Tapirs, the largest land mammal in Central America.

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All four species of sea turtle can be found here: the Pacific Green, the Olive Ridley, the Leatherback and the Hawksbill. Beware of running into the country’s deadliest snake, the very aggressive Fer-de-lance, which is rather common.

The pristine park is very wet and remote, but has good trails and guided tours, enabling hikers to see a wide variety of flora and fauna. Three-day/two-night tours are recommended to even scratch the surface of exploration, and to reach the interior of the park.

To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 5:   http://ericschickler.com/2011/08/11/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-5-tarzan-and-the-giant-strangler-fig-tree/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 3 – Iguana Lodge

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue, Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula”

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Iguana Lodge

Pura Vida was on our minds when our driver found the hidden gem named Iguana Lodge, an eco-resort operated ironically by two former trial attorneys from Colorado, where we live.

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Nestled contently in the tropical rainforest, just a few hundred yards from the beaches of Golfo Dulce, the small lodge fosters a tranquil, sedate, relaxed feeling. It is an isolated and private oasis where no oasis is even needed—in the middle of a massive tropical paradise.

Our home for the next week was situated just a few hundred feet off the finest beach on the Osa, Playa Platanares (locals call it “Playa Preciosa”).

My friend and traveling companion, Ana, and I were greeted with mango daiquiris and another “Pura Vida,” this time from someone in a colorful sarong with a warm smile and fresh flowers, and much better looking than the burly judge-and-jury, baggage-weighing pilot.

“I am Maureen. Welcome to Iguana Lodge.”

“We are so happy to be here,” said Ana.

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“Mucho gusto,” was the reply from our greeter. (“With much pleasure!” –My pleasure” “Thank you.”)

We got a quick tour of the quaint resort, checked into our casita, unpacked our 27-lb. backpacks (a five-minute task), and giggled about where we were. I looked at Ana and squealed, “Let’s go!”

Like two five-year-olds bolting from the classroom on the final day of school, we scooted 200 yards down a shaded, meticulously manicured path.

It was a living corridor of plants, flowers and all kinds of broad-leaf trees. Before we could say Robinson Crusoe, we emerged from our tunnel and onto the beach. A very deserted beach.

The hectic pace of the travel day had just melted away. With our minds and bodies at ease, our seaside jungle experience was underway. It was just one hour after our plane landed on the Osa, and “Pura Vida” had already sunk in. IMG_8023.JPG

We explored the beach for hours, unwinding more with every step.

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Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula
(Photo courtesy of NASA: Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce.)

We came upon a river outlet, and walked inland slightly to explore. Beyond the tree line was an enticing lagoon, but its sole proprietor greeted us as we approached. A  large caiman, looking for lunch! We moved back toward the gulf rather quickly, hoping to extend our vacation beyond the first two hours. Now we knew why they highly recommend using guides whenever you venture off into the jungle. The beach would be just fine for now.

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Back near the lodge, we found the secret trail, dipped back into the dense wall of trees, and it was Garden of Eden time.

The warm humid breeze gently tossed the palm fronds and supple plants to and fro, creating a kaleidoscope scattering of soft light.

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Butterflies and birds of all colors and sizes danced on the dense air. Reptiles slithered in the ground cover. Monkeys rattled the branches above us. A large iguana crawled slowly along a tree branch, munching away at the foliage.

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A brightly colored waterbird sipped from the lodge’s stone fountain, which was surrounded by a garden of vibrant flowers, including the unmistakable bird of paradise.

All this tropical adventure and sensory overload was making us hungry. We geared up for one of the resort’s most talked-about features–its food. Iguana Lodge offers outstanding international cuisine and local fare. The creative meals feature fresh, healthy ingredients, and the cuisine has attracted rave reviews, ranking among the best in all of Costa Rica.

The breakfasts featured incomparable Costa Rican coffees, considered some of the richest, most aromatic and most flavorful on Earth. IMG_7938.JPG

Then came our Adam & Eve experience. A giant tray was brought out from the kitchen, loaded with a cavalcade of local fruit treasures: fresh cut mangoes, papayas, melons, pineapples and bananas.

Next came entrees like eggs benedict, huevos rancheros with rice & beans, and banana crepes. And finally, the sinful homemade pastries. Then more delicious coffee.

Later in the week, before leaving the country, we would take a tour of the Cafe Britt Factory that produced this fine coffee in Heredia, just north of San Jose.

We were treated to educational, humorous and theatrical presentations that took our knowledge of coffee to a new slow-roasted level. This tour has become one of the country’s most popular.

IMG_8296.JPGWe learned the history of coffee, the growing and harvesting processes, how it is manufactured and the best way to brew and drink it. We also enjoyed complimentary coffee the entire time we were there. Despite the tour’s three-hour duration, I can’t recall one person getting sleepy.

This was not your average dining experience at the lodge.

Breakfast was enjoyed on the outside verandas, where just feet away tropical birds rustled about in the rain forest canopy, emitting so many varieties of songs and chirps and whistles you felt a symphony was warming up in the distance.

A male mantled howler monkey broke the morning calm with its baritone roars, causing more than a few startled guests to spill their treasured coffee. If these animals don’t remind you that you’re in the jungle, nothing will. They are found in great numbers in Costa Rica, and are best known for their resounding howls, audible for a half-mile or more. They are very vocal at dusk and dawn and, like dogs, will also howl at thunder, planes and humans.

After the howler settled down and the fresh fruit and pancakes arrived at our table, the serenity was again shattered, this time by the Osa Peninsula “Air Patrol,” approaching from up the beach.

IMG_8007.JPG The raucous, inescapable signature squawks, coming from two large scarlet macaws, startled us as much as the howler monkey.

We always knew when they were cruising the tree line near the beach, and we knew when they had passed by. Reminded me of an ambulance with its siren blazing—impossible to ignore. They are often seen in pairs “patrolling” the beaches, landing in the very tall almond trees and enjoying their fine bounties.

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They are quiet when feeding in the treetops, are very difficult to get near and rarely, if ever, come down low in the canopy.

The Iguana Lodge Resort was situated around a main lodge called “Rancho Grande.”  It is a two-level, open-air building that looks as if it grew from the forest floor, with native hardwoods, ornamental woods, bamboo trim, and a towering thatched roof.

Its large open kitchen was always bustling with activity; cooks meticulously cutting up the fresh fruits and vegetables that were brought in daily. The upper-level great room was used for quiet relaxation, happy hours and gourmet dinners. A large cooler was stocked with juices, champagne, wine and beer, and was a popular place to visit.

Guests simply recorded what they consumed on the “Honor Bar” Drink Register. At week’s end you pay a lump sum for your total. The running joke all week among the guests was betting on which couple would have the most painful bar tab.

We stayed in one of just a handful of cozy two-story casitas (or cabinas), set on pillars and nestled in the dense forest.

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The casitas’ decks had inviting cushioned bamboo furniture and a relaxing hammock, shaded under flowering tropical plants and trees.

Inside was a large and luxurious mosquito-netted bed, screened walls, and artistically designed “garden bathrooms” with semi-open outdoor showers. We discovered rather quickly and happily that insects and mosquitoes were quite scarce.

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But somehow an occasional tree frog, crab or gecko would sneak in to visit. We found out why the next morning. The resident cats stay busy all day chasing the geckos along the resort’s trails, an entertaining side show for us while we’d swing lazily in the hammock during afternoon siesta.

The resort does have electricity, but a portion of the power reserves are from sun-powered generators. Most of the lighting at night is with candles. This creates quite the ambiance.

New amenities added recently have brought a touch of luxury and culture to the resort. Guests can now exercise in a 65-foot lap pool, frolic in a jacuzzi, hit either of two salsa dance & yoga studios, kick back for some peaceful reading in the library and browse in the art gallery.

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After experiencing guided outdoor adventures and activities during the day throughout the peninsula, guests gathered at dark (about 6 p.m. year-round due to our proximity to the Equator).

The very friendly staff are known for their frozen rum daiquiris made with fresh fruits: passion fruit, papaya, mango, kiwi, banana, pineapple, pomegranate. Who could choose? But with seven days ahead of us, we knew we didn’t have to.

Guests who caught fish on deep-sea fishing excursions often added their catches to the culinary mix, so every night was a different seafood surprise.

The atmosphere at dinner was totally “Gilligan’s Island,” inherent in both the people present and the interior atmosphere of the lodge. In places like this, you can always spot  “Marianne,”  “The Professor,” a “Ginger” or two, “The Skipper,” a “Mr. & Mrs. Howell,” and of course, “Gilligan.”

Nightfall coincided with dinner. All of the resort’s 24 guests gathered around four long tables, which were arranged in a large square formation. A high number of candles ringed the tables, and represented the primary source of light. It created a rich, warm, comfortable atmosphere, spawning robust conversation.

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Stories that started at happy hour continued through dinner. So many colorful anecdotes of the day’s adventures at sea, in the trees, on the beach, in boats, on kayaks, on ropes and or on horses–many becoming more embellished as the wine flowed.

Each night we sat next to different guests, so by week’s end we had become acquainted with nearly every cast member from Gilligan’s Island.

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To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 4:

http://ericschickler.com/2011/08/11/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-4-superlative-activities-adventures-people-beaches-and-forested-parks/

 

© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula – Part 2 – Our Exotic Adventure

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Eric Schickler’s full-length travelogue,Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula”

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Exotic Adventure on the Osa Peninsula

Our Costa Rican fun started with a rather turbulent, attention-getting flight on a de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin-Engine Otter (capacity: 19 people). We flew out of the capital city of San Jose at mid-morning, up and over the Talamanca Range (Cordillera de Talamanca).

Even with turbulence, the 45-minute, 236-mile flight was visually rewarding, thanks to the special over-sized viewing windows Nature Air installs on its planes. The final leg took us over Corcovado National Park, one of Costa Rica’s largest, and the crown jewel of the Osa Peninsula.

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The second half of the flight was along the Pacific coast, southward to the small port town of Puerto Jimenez, home to just 1,780 people, but the largest town on the peninsula.

It is best known for its gold mining and logging that started in the 1960s and, as late as the 1980s, was considered a frontier cowboy town bustling with commercial activity and gun-toting miners. Even today, with some gold mining still occurring (much of it illegal), rough-and-tumble gold diggers add a wild west feel to the bars at night.

The mining and logging decades caused considerable damage to the natural beauty of the area. When the government designated the peninsula’s lands as protected nature reserves, the influx of conservationists and adventurers caused a revitalization of the town as a staging grounds for area eco-tourism.

The airstrip in Puerto Jimenez was more like some farm’s back cornfield than an aviation center. I thought the pilot was confused about our landing, as we came in so fast and dropped so quickly into a narrow gap in the treed costal area, onto a hidden strip of pavement on “the farm.” I learned that our plane was a STOL aircraft (Short Take Off & Landing). It was aptly named.

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The terminal was nothing more than an open-air lean-to with a corrugated tin roof, tucked snugly under some trees—built for shade and that’s it.

Children on bikes and clueless animals intermittently cruised along or crossed the very small runway.

The airstrip was adjacent to the town’s cemetery, leading me to wonder if its close proximity is related to occasional mishaps between aircraft and runway inhabitants.

Even more interesting, the Century 21 Real Estate office is next to the cemetery. Yet another coincidence?

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The puritan architecture of the lean-to terminal left me confused about where to get our luggage.  No problem, there’s the pilot himself getting them out of the storage compartment for us. What service.  What multi-talent.

Wait, isn’t he the same guy who had the judge-and-jury attitude back at San Jose International Airport? The man who eyed the luggage scale so scrupulously as my bag’s reading hovered near the 27-lb. limit? What a champ. What a transformation of character.

“Your bags, sir. Enjoy your stay on the Osa Peninsula. Pura Vida.”

The Osa Peninsula is one of just a handful of ocean-piercing peninsulas found in all of Central America. There are also just four or five gulfs. The rest of the continent’s shoreline is fairly smooth and consistent. The peninsula is far away from civilization and very close to the border of Panama to the south.

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Remote, sparsely populated and almost entirely protected as forest preserves, the Osa has but a few small towns, which are accessed only by air, sea or primitive, dangerous roads. Some mountain roads get little or no maintenance, and can be impassable during the rainy season (May-November), when they turn to mud and nearby rivers over-run their banks.

The Osa is described as pristine, peaceful, beautiful, rustic and adventurous.

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Don’t expect huge five-star hotels with modern-day accoutrements. Located in the south portion of the Puntarenas Province, it is bordered on the Pacific side by Drake Bay and by an inlet known as Golfo Dulce.

Drake Bay, discovered by Sir Francis Drake of England when he circled the globe in the late 1500s, is at the northwestern end of the peninsula and the expansive Corcovado Park, which covers one-third of the peninsula.

The tiny town of Drake offers a few places to eat, a scattering of small stores and tour-business shops. But most importantly, it has an airport and several luxury resorts and lodges nearby.

IMG_8265.JPGBeach lovers will feel as if they have escaped civilization on Playas San Josecito and Cocalito. Walks in the rain forest nearby will take you up close to kinkajous, sloths and monkeys, to name a few.

Cano Island, just 12 miles off shore, boasts outstanding snorkeling and diving, and is a biological reserve. Its waters are almost always crystal clear. Look for white-tip reef sharks, needle fish, sea turtles, dolphins and whales.

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Golfo Dulce (“Sweet Gulf”) runs along the southeastern coast of the Osa Peninsula, and is the tenth deepest gulf in the world (600 feet in the middle).

It captured the attention and passion of marine conservationist and explorer Jacque Cousteau decades ago for its pristine beauty, biodiversity and abundant animal and marine life. He believed it was a close runner-up to the Norwegian Fjords, and called it a “tropical fjord,” one of only three such “fjords” in the world. Although technically, fjords are carved by glaciers.

It is one of the most humid and wettest parts of Costa Rica, receiving 200+ inches of rain annually. The entire gulf shoreline (27 miles long and five miles across) is virtually uninhabited by people and development, but rich in flora and fauna.

The Osa Peninsula is home to the largest concentration of Scarlet Macaws in the world. Locals call them lapas.

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They are the largest member of the parrot family, are monogamous and pair for life, 35-45 years. If one mate dies, often times the other dies shortly thereafter. Their appeal as pets and the impact of deforestation have kept them on the endangered species list.

The gulf is a calving area for the north and south Pacific humpback whale groups and attracts schools of whale sharks from April to May. Bottlenose and spinner dolphins are also abundant.

Swimming is very popular, as the gulf is very calm and smooth and contains a great amount of fresh water from nearby rivers. Thus the name Dolce, meaning “Sweet” or “Fresh.”

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It didn’t take long to get a feel for the area, and a feel for tropical relaxation.

Our Toyota touring truck moved slowly through the small town, and we instantly noticed the slow pace and friendliness of the people. Children smiled and waved. Automobiles were few and far between. Horses, motorcycles, bicycles and feet were the main modes of transport.

We were beyond the town in mere minutes and suddenly out in wide-open plantation country. All we saw were a dozen dwellings over the entire three-mile ride.

The truck had an open rear bed with two long, cushioned sightseeing benches.  We loved the great views, but there was a risk of getting clipped by overhanging roadside tree branches. Better pay attention, stay close to the middle of the truck, and look ahead!

Weather on the Osa is fairly predictable.  The nicest months (the “dry season”) are December through April. The May through November “green season” has higher rainfall totals, especially August through September.

The May through November “green season” has higher rainfall totals, especially August through September.

 

To continue the travelogue, click here to go to Part 3:  http://ericschickler.com/2011/06/20/costa-ricas-osa-peninsula-part-3-iguana-lodge/

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© Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design

All photography, text and artwork seen here is copyright-protected and the exclusive property of Eric Schickler Photography, Communication & Design. No downloading, use, reproduction, manipulation, sale and/or distribution permitted without express written consent.