Sunday, September 15, 2013

Peninsula de Osa

We’re now just finishing an amazing two weeks in the Peninsula de Osa.  Jutting out into the ocean from the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, this is truly the jungle.  It’s quite hard to get to; it’s the wettest spot on the Central American Pacific coast -- and, we’re here in the rainy season!  So, yes, we get rain pretty much every day, and sometimes it’s torrential.  Lauri and I agree that we’ve been in a couple of thunderstorms here that are the hardest rains we’ve ever seen.  However, it doesn’t rain all the time, and in fact we’ve grown to enjoy the rain and embrace it.

Embracing the rain...
There are about 5000 people in the entire peninsula, and about 1000 in the area where we’re staying (Drake Bay).  There is a road that one can take to get here, but in the rainy season it is discouraged, as the rivers you have to cross in your car are often swollen and impassible (there are no bridges).  The “easiest” way to get here is an hour water taxi ride from a town (Sierpe) about 30 miles away.  This water taxi itself starts down the Sierpe river, then winds its way through a tangled area of mangroves, with some of the waterways being barely large enough for the boat to squeeze through, and then out into the ocean for the last 5 miles or so.  These are not large boats, so even when the surf is not very rough, they launch up and crash down over the waves in a teeth-rattling adventure ride…  Jason especially loved it.

Crocodile on water taxi ride
Water taxi

The Osa is one of the most bio-diverse places on earth.  Excerpting from the excellent book “OSA, Where The Rainforest Meets The Sea” by Roy Troft and Trond Larsen, this small area of Costa Rica is home to over half the animal and plant species of the country.  And the United States, roughly 200 times the size of Costa Rica also has about half the number of species as all of Costa Rica.  So the number of species in this small area, a bit larger than metropolitan Los Angeles, is equivalent to the number of species in the entire United States!

The Peninsula seems well preserved, with the cornerstone being the Corcovado National Park.  There is still a lot of primary forest here, as well as recovered secondary forest.  This is testament to the government here reversing a poor decision about 40 years ago (encouraging settlers to go into the rainforest, cut it down and set up farms) and deciding 30 years ago to pay gold miners to leave.  We spent one day in the actual park and saw an incredible array of wildlife.

Chestnut Mandibled Toucan

Laughing Falcon

Golden Orb Spider

However, in reality, the jungle is everywhere.  The wildlife we have seen from our front porch certainly rivals what we saw in the park.  You can fix your gaze in any direction, stare for a few minutes, and see nature in action.  As I’m sitting on our front porch, my eye was drawn to a subtle movement on a slab of concrete.  It was some kind of stalking spider waiting on the ground and occasionally leaping onto some small unsuspecting bug for its breakfast.  I turned in a different direction, drawn by an almost unnatural burst of color.  Slinking by like a tiny parade float was a caterpillar called a Hairy Tarchon or Shag Carpet caterpillar.

Shag Carpet Caterpillar
Spider stalking...
On another morning, Lauri glanced out our side porch, and we were treated to 15 minutes of a spider monkey troupe swinging by.  The day before it was a small group of howler monkeys wandering through, punctuated by their deafening roars.  And there is a 3-toed sloth that is a regular, slow-motion visitor.

Spider monkey in the backyard
3-toed sloth visitor
The rainforest here literally meets the sea.  This makes for some jaw-dropping and mostly deserted beaches, unless you count the hermit crabs scurrying around, or the occasional scarlet macaws, vultures, or monkeys that appear overhead.  We went on a 45-minute hike a few days ago to Playa Cocalito, and had it all to ourselves for a lovely picnic and swim.

Jamie & Jason wandering on Playa Cocalito
And the sounds are at least as interesting as the sights.  We are starting to recognize more and more of them.  The bellow of the howler monkey, the delicate cooing of the toucan, the squawking of the magnificent macaws, the wild whooping sound some of the frogs make, and countless other animal sounds, combine into a free and ever-changing symphony available whenever one wants to listen.

We will certainly miss this place.

Sunset over Drake Bay

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