01 Jan Corcovado: Costa Rica’s Final Frontier
We had hiked for seven hours, miles from any passable road, the trail, the only way in or out. A morning spent drifting between deserted beaches and smothering jungle canopy. One leaving us exposed to the merciless tropical sun and the other to stifling humidity. Though caked in sand and sweat, it was impossible to not be overcome by the sheer remoteness of our location. A lost world, a last pocket of resistance holding out against the ever encroaching hand of man, Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park is the very essence of the vanishing wilderness. Corcovado National Park is an opportunity to see the world at its most primal. It was this isolation and the utter immersion in a world that does not know mankind’s interference that lead my wife and me to Corcovado.
Located on Costa Rica’s secluded Osa Peninsula in the southwest of the country, the park is the jewel in Costa Rica’s impressive national park system. A fingerling of natural wonder jutting out into the Pacific, it is the most preserved lowland tropical rainforest on the Pacific coast of the Americas. National Geographic once labelled Corcovado as the “most bio-diverse place on Earth.” The park does not disappoint. The forest is bursting with life and one cannot help avoid seeing the wide array of species that call the park home. One could spend a lifetime wandering through the canopy and never discover all the park’s secrets. We had a mere five days. Still enough time to realize the sheer capacity of nature to flourish when left unchecked.
Time spent in Corcovado provides encounters with wildlife one may have never thought possible. Life surrounds you and each turn on the trail brings new anticipation of what may lie ahead. The sound of every rustling branch, every broken twig, every crushed leaf, has the potential to herald a new creature. For us, that potential was realized a few hours into our hike. There are several hiking trails that lead towards the ranger station at La Sirena. We took the La Leona hike, a nine hour trek along the coast. As we entered a section of trail that curved into the forest, we heard a great commotion in the underbrush. Out of the foliage came a tamandua, a tree dwelling anteater. It crossed the path right in front of us and, paying us no heed, climbed a tree in search of food and a nap. For 30 minutes, we sat and watched the tamandua scramble around the tree, eventually finding a resting spot on a palm frawn. Our proximity to the animal was remarkable and since it had had so few experiences with people it did not view us a threat. It was not the last time viewing wildlife this closely. Corcovado’s remarkable level of preservation has made it a safe haven for several highly endangered species; none more so than the Baird’s Tapir.
This docile giant’s only refuge on the continent is Corcovado. On the trails leading from La Sirena, the tapirs are your constant companions. At daybreak it is common for tapirs to cross the river which bisects the park to graze on the opposing bank. To witness these unique creatures, one must set out before first light. The rainforest is still at its blackest through much of the hike, blanketing us in the stillness of the jungle night. Once we reached the river, we waited until the sound rustling undergrowth broke the silence. With the rising sun as their backdrop two male tapirs emerged from the forest. Lumbering across the sand, they entered the river and swam across. It may have only taken three minutes, but knowing that this event and these magnificent creatures cannot be witnessed anywhere else on Earth, leaves you with a complete sense of awe.
And even when not out in the open, the forest provides constant reminders of its inhabitants. Freshly made footprints traverse the wet sand. The shrill call of howler monkeys echoes through the trees and the songs of birds ubiquitous. The nights at La Sirena are the most sublime in this sense, as you sit on the station’s porch listening to the chorus of chirps, croaks, and calls emanating from the blackness. One realizes that inquisitive eyes stare down from the trees; eyes that may see the traveler but remain unseen to you. It shows the wondrous adaptably of life and serves as a reminder that you are but a visitor in this place and not its master.
About the Author: My name is Bill Hoversen. I am a history teacher from Chicago, Illinois. I began travelling intensively after spending a summer teaching in Vietnam. I currently live and work in Budapest, Hungary.
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