Thursday, June 27, 2013

To See the Sloths


If you didn’t know, one of my goals in this Central American trip was to see a sloth. I had studied them back in 3rd grade and loved them. Yeah, they are slow, smelly creatures, but they seemed like an underdog that no one wanted. Which made them prime territory to become a favorite of mine. As I started to plot our way back north, I realized I hadn’t made much allowance for seeing any sloths. Costa Rica seemed to be the major place to see them. Although, I knew Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio had sloths, I was loath to go there because of the throngs of tourists that seem to make the place an amusement park (or so I had heard and read); it didn’t sound like a place either Jonathan or I would enjoy. I thought maybe Parque Nacional Corcovado might also have sloths, but it is a difficult park to enter. When we stopped in Santiago to help Linda and Aron, I asked Linda about the specifics of going to Corcovado. She made it sound pretty easy and that we could do a day trip. So, when we crossed the border into Costa Rica, I asked Jonathan about whether he was ok with driving a bit farther today. It was only 2 more hours (we had only been on the road for 1-2 hours already) to Puerto Jiménez. He was OK with it, so I made my decision. We would go to Parque Nacional Corcovado, one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world.

The road to Puerto Jiménez was (almost) completely paved, albeit curvy through the mountains. We arrived in time for lunch. I guess before I get too far into this, I should explain a bit more of my wants, desires, and expectations on this sloth search into Corcovado. When most people go to Corcovado, they drive south of Puerto Jiménez to Carate and then hike 12 km to Sirena Ranger station where they stay at least one night and then return the way they come. I did not want to do this. First, Jonathan and I enjoy sleeping in the van, don’t have tent gear with us, and sleeping in dorms is not desirable. Second, the road to Carate from Puerto Jiménez is a bumpy dirt road that consists of river crossings that may or may not be shallow. When I volunteer Chuck to take such roads, we often end up with something broken or damaged. So my thought was to enter the park from the east side near Puerto Jiménez, for example at Los Patos ranger station, hike for the morning, then return to the vehicle and get out of Dodge.


After a break for lunch, we started hunting for a tour guide and/or the park information center to figure out how to accomplish my aforementioned goals. On the main strip as we walked down the road, all the tour guides were closed for lunch. So we asked a local how to find the park info center. At first they weren’t sure what I was talking about, then they discussed it and pointed us towards the beach. I figured they didn’t have a clue, but driving through town would possibly help us located. So we started following their instructions. The beach side road wasn’t any good, so we turned back around. When we did, we saw a sign that said the park info center was 1 km ahead. We continued to follow the signs, but they didn’t have a sign for the actual building and we couldn’t find it. I thought maybe we should try for another tour office for which I saw signs. This place actually had someone there, but they didn’t do tours to Corcovado. They did recommend us to a place in town, we had been there, but they had been closed. He said they should open soon. I also asked him if there were any camping options in town. There were. Back near the ferry port, there is a little blue house owned by Adonis and he allows camping on his property. Well, at least we had some camping options lined up.

It was now closer to 2:00pm, so we went back to the main road to see if tour places there were open yet. The recommended location (OSA Wild) was still closed, would be until 2:30. So we walked across the street to another tour place. When we talked to him about a guide, he said that it would be an all day adventure starting at 6am, with a 2 hour colectivo ride there, 4 hours of hiking and 2 hours back. Not something to which we were really looking to commit. Jonathan thought it would be good to try the information center for the park to see if we could get more “unbiased” information. Armed with a map this time, we tried to locate the info center for the 3rd or fourth time. I found the appropriate block and figured a large unmarked complex might be our best bet. I went inside, saw a sign for “Turismo” and entered. Apparently that was the place. The lady at the desk was apparently busy with whatever she was doing and not eager to assist me. When I tried to talk to her about what my options were for a day trip into Corcovado, she started filling out paperwork instead of talking with me. Then she wanted to know where I wanted to go. I tried to explain that I only wanted to do a day trip and she tried to direct me to Carate again. I thought Los Patos might be a good option. She said if I wanted to go to Los Patos I needed a local guide, which I could find in town. She printed me out a bill and told me that I needed to take it to the bank in town to pay and then return. Oh joy, another trip through town!

Before we went and paid for park admission, I thought we had better figure out if we could get a guide. So went one more time to the OSA Wild store. It was finally open. He was willing to set me up with a guide, but explained that if I wanted to see wildlife, particularly sloths, the best location was between Carate and Sirena, exactly where I didn’t want to go. He didn’t think Los Patos would be a good idea. Faced with this information, I realized that visiting Corcovado was probably not a good way to realize my goals. So, we gave up the idea and went back to the van. After a bit of re-evaluation, we decided to relocate further up the coast Parque Nacional Marino Ballena to camp with the intention of visiting the dreaded Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio in the morning. Thus, we added about another 1.5 hours of driving to Jonathan’s already full day of driving, but at least we didn’t have to pay to camp that night.

That night, I thought I would take a stroll along the beach and see if I could spot any nesting turtles. This time around, the crabs were out in full force. I could hear them moving just out of sight in the shadows. When I stepped up to the driftwood barrier to cross to the beach, the crabs started moving. I stopped to let them stop moving before I proceeded, but in the process one went directly over my foot. *Shudder* It freaked me out enough to abort my mission and go back to the shower I was supposed to be taking, hoping no more crabs would make their way to me.


As we got closer to Manuel Antonio, I knew we were going to be in over our heads, drowning in a sea of tourists. It was gringo-ville and tourist-oriented. Very much a place we try to avoid in normal circumstances. When we found parking, it cost ₡3000 ($6) to park, regardless of how long we would be there. That enough was to start making Jonathan aggravated. I thought we would have to leave right there. Fortunately he was accommodating enough to proceed so I would have my chance to see a sloth. We paid our $10 per person fee, and walked toward the park. At the entrance, I asked the guy taking the tickets where I would be most likely to see a sloth, he said this was the main trail and it should work.

Now, normally, swarms of people and guides are obnoxious, but this time it did have an advantage. We were able to skip the hiring of a guide and simply take advantage of those who had. The guys would have their large scopes out and pointed at the animal. We could come up and look in the general direction and find it or ask someone and be told at what we were looking. That worked fairly well for us. After the ever-present howler monkeys, the first animal we spotted using this method was the sloth!  We were only about 100 meters into the park. Jonathan says, “Well, you have seen your sloth, I guess we can go back now!”  Technically, yes, but we paid for the park, might was well as walk it. There was some interesting animals on the way.



According to a guide, this is a venomous pit viper.

DSC04460 These guys were playing around the trail. Interestingly, my camera recognized the monkey’s face.


Afterwards, we decided to grab some lunch and see if we could snag some WiFi. We were trying to meet up with Juan and Stephanie on Thursday and needed to email them. We ended up at a cool place called “El Avión.” They didn’t have WiFi, but the place across the street did that we could steal.

DSC04489The restaurant was designed around a 1954 Fairchild C-123, originally purchased by the US government in the ’80s for the Nicaraguan Contras, but it never made it out of its hangar in San José because of the ensuing Iran-Contra scandal that embroiled Oliver North and his cohorts in the US government.

DSC04495 The Chicken Rice was tasty and we had Tres Leches cake for dessert.

Eventually, we would our way back up the long and twisty road to Paraíso del Quetzal for the night and enjoyed the cool mountain (3000m) nights.

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