As the shadows lengthened, a male tapir crossed the strip of grass in front of La Sirena Ranger Station. His determined air was softened by his constant testing of the air, his flexible snout snaking this way and that, nostrils flaring. A bit later, we sat down at trestle tables outside the kitchen. As we ate in the open air, a pair of cat-eyed snakes slithered through the dining area; Ines was right there, inspecting their irregular red-brown spots, making comparisons with the several other specimens she’s seen on the Osa. Dinner was world class, of course, since we’d hauled the spaghetti Joy had prepared from scratch the night before, so we had quite a decent meal.
As an aside, it must be said that our life in Drake Bay (as it does at home) involved a great deal of food preparation on Joy’s part; the Cecropia house was not exactly the cook-and-house-cleaner experience I promised her. Still, Joy’s cooking is one of the great and consistent blessings of my life, and so I was glad to skip the $25 meals Sirena’s comedor had to offer and tuck in to Joy’s spag, and to make sure we all thanked her for preparing it the night before.
After dinner, as a blue dusk deepened, we sorted out our sleeping arrangements… two spots in the covered patio’s far corner, wedged in with some 20 other campers. Joy opted for a tent, shared with Oscar, thinking that she’d prefer the stifling heat to the bugs Ines and I would have to contend with, sleeping al fresco. Really though, since April is still the transición between dry and rainy seasons, the biting bugs were scarce. Still, it was hard to ignore the snores, tossing, and turning of all our neighbors, Ines was quickly on the train to sleepytown. I lay awake, sweating on the squeaking air mattress, watching the Pyrophorus beetles winking orange and green and bouncing, trapped in the rafters. Sometime around midnight, a breeze blew up from the ocean half a kilometer down the airstrip, cooling my skin enough to send me to sleep.
Next morning was leisurely. My guide, Neyer Castro, needed to meet with another guide who was out on a pre-dawn hike. I was content, and am always content to linger over coffee(s). Anyway, feeding the kids breakfast is generally understood to be my task, while Joy sleeps in. So Oscar, Ines, and I wolfed down oatmeal and watched a pair of crested guans lead their chick skwawking back and forth across the airfield. Oscar scampered out into the field barefoot, while I trailed along behind, reminding him about Eurydice tripping through the meadow…
As we prepared to leave, Neyer was scratching his head over my footwear choice, worn Timberlands with a popped seam. Of course all the locals wear high rubber boots, and with good reason as we’ll see later on. But anyway, I waved off his concerns… 22 kilometers with a mere 500 meter elevation gain, carrying only 2 liters of water and some apples? Ah, I could do it in flips (and have – ask me about the last leg of the John Muir Trail sometime); I may be, mmm, on the corpulent side, but I am a very experienced hiker. As well, at the last minute, two young women asked to join us… They were bailing out early from a two-night stay in La Sirena; apparently the bunk house was even more stifling than the camping area, or maybe Sirena just wasn’t their style. It is a powerfully beautiful place, but it is not, and is not even close to being, a hotel.
Hugging the kids one last time, and promising to see them back at our house under the Cecropias that evening, I headed into the forest opposite the station about 7:30 am. I was too busy processing having interlopers on my hike to realize I’d passed into the shadow of giant garlic trees and nutmegs without turning for a last wave to Ines… of course I heard about this lapse later, as Ines expresses her displeasure at such snubs in the most dramatic (and loud) terms. But, as I said, I was grumpy over sharing the trail, and it took a few minutes to shed that irritation and truly enter the forest. It’s a bad habit, this looking in on and evaluating experiences as they are happening; really, such moments are waves to be ridden and listened to as they crash around you and tumble you. After a few minutes I fell to the rear, and just relished the deep green as my eyes roved around the understory. We immediately encountered a chestnut mandibled toucan, an agouti, a white-whiskered puffbird, and various, sparkling insects, but I was still fuming about all the extra human feet on my trail, and still mentally apologizing to Ines.
In any case I was brought fully into the moment by a beautiful, fresh puma print, smack in the middle of the trail. I stooped, dropping to my knees in the mud before this bit of Blake-style True Cross. Then we heard the puma calling, a low, rhythmic huffing… likely no more than 50 meters away. But this animal had crossed the trail, and was not coming back. Again, I fell into my habit and stepped outside myself, disappointed that this was likely as close as I was going to get to a cat today.
But a trogon’s slow staccato call drew me back to the understory I had (since the one I wanted wouldn’t manifest). I crept over as close as I could, the same rapture washing over me again, the missed puma forgotten. It was a black-throated trogon, a species I’d seen several times before, and I even had a decent photograph, taken from the back patio of the Cecropia house. In fact, I’d already seen and photographed all the trogons that can be found in the Osa… still, the bird nerd is not easily satisfied, and so another dozen frames were snapped – my hope in an imminent call from Natural Geographic springing eternal.
We moved on in silence through the flatlands around La Sirena, skirting Laguna Corcovado. The forest here was secondary, as much of the region was farm- or grazing-land only a few decades ago. I say flatlands, but really the trail often followed little ridges above stream-beds, dipping down occasionally into rills and creeks. There are many huge trees, but the understory is pretty dense, feeding on sunlight that filters down through the relatively open canopy. Many of these trees bear a great quantity of fruit… and the forest floor is littered with husks and seeds many species, the leavings of a dozen different feasts. We hiked along under a rain of half-eaten little green figs dropping down from a troop of spider monkeys cruising along above us. “You smell it?” Neyer asked… monkey shit. I leaned back to capture them with the 300mm, but the rainforest offers many challenges to the hack photographer… usually it’s the low light and dense foliage that gets me, but in that moment, with the spiders swinging nimbly along in low branches not 5 meters away, it was heavy humidity fogging up my lens that lost me that picture. In this case, the spider monkey was the only one of the Osa’s four monkey species that I didn’t have a picture of, more’s the pity.
A couple miles in, I emerged at the top of a high bank, blinking in the bright light of the open, looking down at the Río Pavo. This river is pure Osa, with a truly mammoth tree reaching across high above from one side, another giant spanning from the opposite bank, and deadfalls criss-crossing at stream-level, their wrong, toppled angles softened by winding fingers of liana. A troop of howlers worked the trees, always looking for more fruit, following a circular path through the canopy above the river, their motion like an other wind rustling and heaving the leaves. Basilisks, on the other hand, forgoing trees alive or dead, went skipping across the river leaving the tiniest, rippling wake. Kingfishers were streaking up and down the bank, defying my camera, skeining a knee-deep stream alive with tiny, flitting fish. After a handful of nuts, I clambered down the bank to stand for awhile mid-stream. As if I too could lay down roots there, standing or falling as time saw fit, but never leaving.
Here ends part one of the mesotransect, since I’m well over my 1000 word limit…. Tune in next week for part two: tamanduas, fer-de-lances, and manikins, oh my!