Everyone on camp has been incredibly kind, considerate and generous. Some of the best people you will ever meet are here! The days are mostly filled with animal survey’s which entail walking through various trails and looking for different animals. There are other various activities that you can organise through the staff that work here. One activity I had the joy of venturing on just a few days ago was a guided tour of Corcovado national park. It was a crazy enjoyable experience and I would recommend it to anybody who visits Costa Rica.
I woke up bleary eyed at 5:30 am tired from surveys the night before. I changed and picked up my bag and walked to the kitchen where I was greeted by three other volunteers who were busy preparing for the long day ahead in the kitchen. Anj, Loretta and Max were going to be my companions on this trip. I had made my lunch and packed the night before so my preparation entailed putting peanut butter on a banana and wolfing it down. We left camp and walked about half an hour to the end of the airstrip to a small coconut bar. Here is where we were meeting our guide Christian. Christian was a local and he knew people from camp so earlier that week he had been by to make us soup from a Machi-Machi fish that he caught. We waited for a handful of minutes before Christian arrived on his dirt bike. He handed out milkshakes that he kindly bought for all of us. Christian informed us how the tour was going to work. He explained that he might not be talking for a lot of the trip because he will be in his words “doing what I love most which is looking for animals”. The day before he had been leading a tour and he had found a puma so he also informed us that if we found a puma don’t make a lot of noise for obvious safety reasons. The no talking rule also applied to other animals we found so we wouldn’t scare them off. We acknowledged the rules and then before we knew it we were off. We crossed Rio Carate walked a short distance arriving at the ranger station where we signed in and then we were in Corcovado National Park!
At first we conversed with Christian and amongst ourselves while we walked. Often Christian would stop to identify and inform us of certain plants. For example he showed us wild mint and lime. The platanila plant could be used to survive if you had no water as you could squeeze it like a sponge to release moisture, the citronella plant is a natural mosquito repellent, the most amazing was papaya leaves if you consumed properly would boost your immune system and increase your red blood cell count by 100%. His knowledge of the area was impressive. He stopped at one point and told us that he was born about an hour horse ride away from the spot we were standing. This slowly turned into a pattern we walk for a short bit in silence then Christian would mention something then we would comment on it and continue walking. At one point though Christian stopped mentioning plants and we walked silently on the trail single file into the dense foliage that is Corcovado national park. It was peaceful none of us felt obligated to say anything and we were all focused on finding animals or eager for Christian to stop and point something out. We stopped to observe a few animals along the path: monkeys, toucans, coati and anteaters. Occasionally Christian would tell us to stay and he would leave the path as he had found tracks to investigate. It was interesting walking with him. It felt like we were walking with someone who had a sixth sense for animals. Once in a while he would stop then we would all stop in turn and he would slowly glance around the jungle while we waited in anticipation for him to alert of us of an animal that was close. One time he left to find a Tapir den that he knew was nearby. On the way to the tapir den he called us over and he told us to lift up a log. We followed through on his instruction to find a black and orange poison dart frog underneath. An animal none of us had seen before. At this point I could feel us all getting more excited to find something else entirely new. Little did we know that the tapir was nearby.
After more hiking through vines, over hills and across rivers Christian told us he thought there was a good chance that a tapir was nearby. He left us in a small clearing surrounded by trees that was near the beach. After waiting a few minutes in silence we saw Christian running back darting amongst the thin trees. We all looked at each other confused. Was he running from something? Was he just running back quickly to show us something he had found? He got back to us and said “let’s go”. Max very keen took off in a sprint in the direction Christian had come from. Christian had to get his attention and tell him “no no this way” indicating towards the trail. We all took off running after him. I had been told me what a tapir was but I had forgotten so my adrenaline was pumping while we ran behind Christian excited to find out what a tapir looked like. We ran just a short distance and turned out onto the beach to find a large creature about 30 feet away taking shade underneath a fallen tree that was slightly propped up by the incline of the beach. A tapir is a strange looking camel/horse animal. It was lying down but it still looked very large if it stood up its head would be where your shoulders are. Christian in a whisper gave us facts about the tapir and he took out his telescope that he was carrying on his back to get a better look. We all stood in awe of this creature for a good 30 minutes. We left the beach with our spirits high and walked back into the forest.
Now it was on our minds. It was hard not to think about it. The puma... Christian had found it the day before surely it was still nearby. The trail exited into a large beach with large crashing waves. Christian found a comfortable looking palm tree that was almost in a perfect hammock shape to lie on. The rest of us all sat on a group of rocks along the beach and ate our lunch while we had casual conversation amongst ourselves. Around us were a million hermit crabs crawling around us. There were so many of them it looked like all the sand on the beach was moving. After lunch we all wandered around the beach. I found a tree that was falling over that was parallel to the sand. I sat there for a while to rest my feet. I got lost in my head pondering what all my friends and family were doing at home while I was watching the tide come in. My attention eventually diverted back to Anj, Loreta and Christian who were sitting together and chatting on the rocks where we had eaten our lunch. Christian glanced at me and gave me a grin that spelled trouble. While Anj and Loreta giggled Christian proceeded to fill max’s backpack with hermit crabs. I laughed to myself as I scanned my eyes around to try to find Max. I found him wandering around amongst a small cluster of trees completely oblivious to the fact that his bag was now a little heavier from a handful of crustaceans.
We were now on our way back to the entrance of the park, back the way we came. This time we were walking along the beach. We passed an old rusted ship that had been washed ashore and was stuck on the rocks. This was no longer a guided tour through Corcovado national park. Now this was a mission to find the puma. We assumed the same pattern as before. We walked in silence and intermittently we were interrupted by Christian who would share some more invaluable knowledge. Corcovado actually in the 1930’s was all farm land. Farmers cleared all the forest and so dotted around the park were different signs of civilisation. There were rusty machinery parts, an old cemetery and even the remains of a concrete house. Christian was constantly checking his phone which was how all the rangers used to communicate amongst themselves to alert each other of animals. Suddenly Christian exclaimed that another ranger had spotted the puma. It looked like Christian was then trying to frantically call the ranger as he was bringing his phone to his ear every few seconds. After about 10 to 15 minutes Christian glanced at his phone and looking at us and stated “I know where the puma is”. I was in the front of the group and I turned my head to tell everyone the news. I could tell all of us were giddy with excitement. Christian began walking really quickly and we all followed behind. At one point we stopped to let Christian leave to find more signs of the puma. We were standing around for maybe a few minutes when we heard someone cry out from the back of the group. Me Anj and Loreta turned to find max holding his backpack in front of him shocked to find hermit crabs crawling out of his backpack. We all found this hilarious and had trouble trying not to laugh to hard. Christian came back after we had managed to suppress our laughter and we continued on. We passed by other tour groups and various animals we had already seen. We didn’t care though we were set on our quest for the puma. It was funny this was the time we should have been the quietest but from the nerves we kept knocking into trees and tripping over roots. I even clumsly knocked my lens cap off my camera four feet in front of me. Eventually we got to where Christian thought the puma was. It was up a small hill where on the top there were stone walls that formed a corridor. Much like a puma we slunk around the area searching but found nothing. Another tour caught up with us. The guide from that group and Christian worked together wandering around looking for any sign of the big cat. Eventually they came back and had to give us the bad news. “Sorry guys no puma.”
We ventured back to the rangers station discouraged and disappointed. Christian on the way conversed with us. He explained that he was pretty sure the puma had been in the area but for some reason it left. He had found tracks but there was plenty of monkeys in the trees which he said meant there was no puma nearby. If a puma was nearby there would be no monkeys in any of the trees. They are all way too scared of a puma. When we got back to the rangers station we filled our water bottles while we did this Christian talked with another ranger. Apparently the puma was around but a group of 13 had got too close and scared the puma away. We meandered back to the coconut bar where we started our journey about 10 hours earlier. We all bought a coconut that was cut open for us right on the spot. They were ridiculously cold and refreshing. We thanked Christian for the tour paid him said our goodbyes and then we stumbled our way back to camp.
After hearing about why the puma was scared off I realized I was glad we didn’t see the puma. I remembered why I was here, for wildlife conservation. I was here to help animals. Not to spook them. The puma was probably having a fantastic day. Stalking animals and taking shade in trees. It didn’t deserve to be bothered like it did. Even without the puma the day was nothing short of astonishing from walking through the beautiful scenery, finding the poison dart frog, finding the tapir and generally just having a wonderful time with the three volunteers that I went with. It was a long day but at the end of it I was in utter awe of Corcovado national park.