Things That Go Bump in the Night

25 03 2008

Posted by: Laura and Chris

Laura: I specifically asked if the tent came with a tarp when we rented it that morning in Puerto Jiménez that morning. Yet there we were in the middle of the Costa Rican RAINforest setting up a tent with no tarp. It didn´t make me feel any better that it was the dry season. It had rained once every day the past three days we had been on the Osa Peninsula. But we had just hiked 9.3 miles through the jungle, so we didn´t really have much of a choice.

If you´ve ever been camping with me, you would know that you recieve a packing checklist, an itenerary of the miles we will hike each day, the trails we will take, and the sites where we will camp. I have even reserved camp spots 6 months in advance. (I realize this is type of organization contrasts how I live the rest of my life).

However with a population of only 3000, the town of Puerto Jimínez did not provide all the supplies we needed to camp in the jungle for three days. For example, no one rented camp stoves or sold freeze dried camping food. The campsites where we could stay had no kitchen access, and camp fires were not allowed. So we bought canned tuna fish, Pork n Beans, peanut butter, and Snicker´s bars. If you have never been camping, no one takes canned food camping. Next time you go grocery shopping, put all your cans in a bag and carry them around for a while, you´ll figure out why freeze dried food is an amazing invention.

The camp site, situated next to the ranger station, did have a covered area with a picnic table and benches. We decided our neighboors wouldn´t mind if we set up our tent under the communal area since we didn´t have a tarp (and they didn´t speak English).

About an hour after we had gone to bed, I heard something walking next to our tent, to be more exact, I heard something pacing back and forth about five feet from our tent. Of course I asked Chris to go check out the noise. When he peered out of the tent into the dense foilage of the jungle, he saw a pair of eyes looking back. Then the flashlight died. So there we were in the middle of the jungle with canned food and no can opener, a tent but no tarp, a flashlight with a dead battery, and a pair of eyes staring at us.

We unanimously decided to move the tent. I would rather be rained on than eaten. I jiggled the flashlight batteries and figured we had a few more seconds of light. I shined it on the spot where the eyes had been and watched them move away.

Chris: ”Unanimous” is a relative word. I’d already had my pack stolen by a Bear in Yosemite and didn´t care for a repeat. A little later I tried to sneak back out with the faulty flashlight and see if I could catch another glimpse, but the moment had passed. The Jungle at night produces some crazy noises. There was a moment out there while totally alone, unable to see 5 ft in front of me, surrounded my blackness and dense Jungle, and aware that something was watching me, that I felt for the 1st and only time in my life what it feels like to be prey. Nothing was gonna eat me, so far there haven’t been any reported Jaguar or Puma killings of humans in the park. But it´s a hell of a feeling to be that blind and vulnerable, and so I did finally give it up and returned to the tent where I sweated for a few hours(Jungle+poorly ventilated tent=miserable sleeping).

Laura: The next day we continued our hike through the thickest part of the jungle. We walked for 11 miles and saw almost a hundred monkeys. Three different types of monkeys: Howler monkeys, Squirrel Monkeys, and Spider Monkeys. We saw a group of coati, a small animal that looks like a racoon, but has the tail of a lemur. Everyone else on the trail were Grad school students who kept asking us, ”Are you studying here very long?” When we explained that we were just on vacation, we got the same response every time: ”Wow, pretty off the beaten track for a vacation.”

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Chris: At times the jungle was so thick that we couldn´t see thirty feet into it. That night in our campsite, Laura woke up again to another noise, and had me investigate. Pretty much the standard practice with us it seems. Again I argued it was nothing, finally pointed the flashlight, and saw an endangered tapir. Laura gasped, ”It´s a Hippopatamus!” And while Hippo´s don´t exist on this Continent it did make for a running joke on the trip.

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The last day we were on the trail by 5:07am(Laura doesn´t mess around with the clock thing), the sun just starting to creep up. We had to cross a section 2 hours before low tide or else we´d get stuck, so we booked it along the beach for 2 hours. It´s a pretty amazing thing when dense jungle meets the Pacific Ocean. Walking pre-sunrise and alone–except for the random howling noises from within the Jungle, and the cat paw prints in the sand–we thought ”yea, this is the real deal.” More monkeys, and mammals, and birds that day as we moved from gorgeous beach to jungle, sometimes missing the trail markers along the way which is easy when the trails aren´t actually marked. Macaws are LOUD, but beautiful when flying.

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The other thing about the Jungle besides the big animals, are the big bugs. Leaf cutter ants lined the trails most the way and their mounds sometimes sprawled for over 10 meters. Another species of ants live on specific trees and agressively defend their home. They bite you, then turn around and sting the wound. Both of us almost walked face first into these freaky green spiders with heads that looked like skulls. The size of their webs were horrifying. Saw a beautiful blue dragonfly the size of my head staring at me from about 2 feet away from my face, seemingly saying ”What the hell are you doing here?” At one point Laura pointed and said ”Look at the pretty bird,” and I had to explain to her ”That’s wasn’t a bird, that was a butterfly.”

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It was an ardous day though. Carrying packs for miles across looslely packed sand in that heat was intense, and the longer we walked the less pretty it became. By the end of the trek we were totally spent, had to rest 30 minutes at La Leona ranger station before the final 1 hour beach walk. The $2 cokes waiting at the end was well worth it.

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We realize that by not being impressed with Costa Rica pretty much offends every Milsaps grad and summer exchange student who thinks it´s the coolest place on earth and laments about their National soccer team. It´s not that it’s not cool in parts, just that it’s: expensive, packed with Americans, and overhyped. You can see everything Costa Rica offers in Panama, Mexico, and the other C. America countries. This website has a pretty spot on explanation. BUT, there are incredible things to see, and Corcovado tops that list. It was a tough hike, probably the toughest we´ve ever done considering the weight of our packs, lack of any kind of map, heat, muddy trails, loose sand, etc. 32 miles over 3 days, and in retrospect it can be done much easier if you come prepared. But it was every bit worth it, and we saw more wildlife there than in the whole of Central America. Imagine being in a zoo, except the cages are open and the animals are staring at you.

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One response

27 03 2008
Nicola

It sounds like what you guys really needed was a machete. Everyone in the movies trapes through the jungle swinging their machetes, and they never seem to have problems running into skull-headed spiders . . .

But, I do miss camping with you guys! I should have given you my oh-so-cool headlamp to take with you.

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