Monday, July 11, 2011

Pura vida: Drake Bay (part 3)

After a week on the Caribbean coast, and a stop along la Ruta de los Santos, it was time to head south to the Osa Peninsula! Gary, the owner of El Toucanet, took us to a bus stop on the highway, driving past fruit orchards and coffee farms. We saw incredible mountain vistas on the bus ride to San Isidro, the biggest town and transportation hub in the area. When we arrived, I was told the bus for Palmar Sur left from another bus station, and a "taxi" driver offered to take us to there. His car turned out to be a dilapidated vehicle with doors that did not close all the way. Lesson learned: Ask to see the taxi before accepting a ride. The next bus stop was just a few blocks away, and we found out we had just missed the bus. The taxi driver then offered to catch the bus for us, and since the next bus wasn't for at least two hours and we wanted to catch the last boat to Drake Bay that afternoon, we hesitantly agreed. He sped up on the highway, his door rattling in the wind...but he did catch up to the bus...traveling within Costa Rica is always an adventure!

From Palmar Sur, we took a relatively uneventful taxi ride to Sierpe, passing many palm oil plantations...then waited for the afternoon boat at Las Vegas Restaurant, where there was live music, a hopping bar, plus a convenience store, souvenir shop, travel agency, and boat dock. The restaurant was filled with local residents enjoying the Sunday afternoon. We had drinks on the patio, watching boats, driftwood, and a crocodile go down the river...until finally the boat for Drake Bay arrived. We spotted several crocodiles as we went went down the (calm) river...and then we reached the Pacific Ocean. What a ride! The boat captain maneuvered around the waves and rocks, and I was afraid of capsizing, even though I knew they traveled the route daily. Eventually we arrived at Drake Bay, where we had to get off the boat at the beach! No boat dock!

Boats at Drake Bay

Several scarlet macaws flew overhead when we arrived at Finca Maresia, where we were staying. It was a great welcome. During our stay we saw several of them feeding in the trees at Finca Maresia. Unfortunately I couldn't get a good photo with my little camera. They are beautiful birds, especially in flight, but very noisy. Squawk squawk!

Finca Maresia

Scarlet macaw

Finca Maresia is a lovely place to stay, even though it is up the hill from the beach. Our bungalow had a modern open-air shower, and two hammocks on the deck (no arguing over who gets the hammock!), where we spent the afternoons relaxing and listening to the sounds of the forest...we saw blue-gray tanagers, Cherrie's tanagers, and other birds...the grounds are planted with beautiful flowers and trees where macaws, toucans, and other birds feed, and the owner Juan takes great care of his guests. We enjoyed communal four-course dinners with other travelers each night...yum...Juan also pointed out a red-eyed tree frog in a tree before dinner on our first night.

Bungalow #1

Hammock time

Heliconia flowers

The next morning we took another wild boat ride to Sirena station in Corcovado National Park. Our guide Roy spotted many birds and animals, and set up the spotting scope for us to get a closer look. This striped owl was in the trees near the landing strip at Sirena station. I saw it turn its head all the way around, so neat!

Striped owl

At that start of our hike, Roy pointed out tapir tracks on the beach (huge!)...I really wanted to see a tapir...then we met a couple on the beach, who had seen a tapir feeding on the trail! We didn't see the tapir on the trail, I thought we had missed our opportunity...but later we saw it resting in a pond just a few meters away from the beach. Apparently they like to rest in muddy ponds to cool off during the day.


We also saw all four species of monkeys found in Costa Rica. The squirrel monkey is the smallest of the four. It makes a squirrely sound and does not have a prehensile tail. Also they move really fast, we saw huge green grasshoppers fly out of the trees...Roy said squirrel monkeys love to eat took us quite awhile before we were able to see the squirrel monkeys. (On the last day of our trip, we got a closer look at some squirrel monkeys on the road to Cabo Matapalo, but they were too quick to photograph.)

Squirrel monkey eating

The white-faced capuchin is the most aggressive of the four monkey species in Costa Rica.

White-faced capuchin

We ate lunch by the river, and we were looking at a crocodile on the other side, when Carlos, one of the guides, pointed out an anteater in the tree above us! Guess it was looking for termites in the tree...we had lunch with an anteater!


We wore rubber boots from Finca Maresia, which I am glad we did since we had to cross several rivers during the hike.

Hikers in rubber boots

After another wild boat ride back to Drake Bay, it was hammock time. After dinner, we went on the night tour with Tracie "the bug lady" and her husband Gianfranco. He pointed out and described the amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and even a couple of bird nests. We saw a smokey jungle frog, gladiator tree frog, marine toad, common rain frogs, sleeping anole lizards, a four eyed oppossum, and a sloth moving high up in the trees. Oh, and a long purple snake transitioning from juvenile (red) to adult (black). I don't remember the name. Gianfranco said, "This snake will probably freak out when I pick it up," and it did. It is a venomous snake, but not aggressive, and doesn't bite in defense, only when eating other snakes, including the fer-de-lance. (I am terrified of them and thankfully did not see any fer-de-lances during the entire trip.) Instead the snake-eating snake gives off a musky smell in defense, which was barely detectable. I actually touched it! The skin felt surprisingly soft and dry.

Tracie described the insects and arachnids. We saw beetles mating, orb spiders spinning webs, a tarantula, and trap door spiders, which are amazing. Tracie opened three different trap doors on a moss-covered hillside...they are very well-hidden! After a few seconds, the spider closed the trap door and held it shut so it could not be opened again. Incredible.

We also saw a tailless whip scorpion, which Tracie thought I should put on my face. I was not so sure. Dan thought so too, even though he did not put it on his face. The scorpion felt pokey. I was a very good sport.

What's that on your face?

Despite this scorpion-on-the-face incident, I highly recommend the night tour...very interesting and informative.

The next day we hiked down to the beach in Drake Bay, then through the forest along the coast to Playa las Caletas where I went for a swim, and Dan looked for seashells. Kira, the dog at Finca Maresia, lead us down the muddy trail to the beach. The dog from Banzaii, the restaurant next door, came along too. Then a cute cattle dog mix from another hotel, Aguila de Osa, also joined us (not pictured, as he was barking at the waves). It was nice having three dogs with us on the walk though the forest along the beach.

Playa las Caletas

We considered continuing on the coastal trail, but it started to rain so we turned back. That night was the storm of the century in Drake Bay! Not only did rain pour all night long, there was nonstop thunder and lightning. It was so loud, we barely slept at all. The thunder sounded so close to us that Dan was convinced the main building at Finca Maresia was hit by lightning. Luckily it was still there the next morning. We went down to the beach after breakfast, and the bay was brown with silt. The river, which was clear the previous day on our hike, was silty too. Even so, we decided to kayak up the river a bit and out on the bay briefly. We saw a crocodile on the shore, a bare-throated tiger heron, several kingfishers fly by, and many Jesus Christ lizards running on the water. It was very peaceful. Other than the croc. Dan wanted to paddle closer to the crocodile, but I said NO. The crocodile opened its mouth for a long time. (A guide later told us they do it to warm up in the sun.) When we paddled back, it jumped into the water verrry close to us...eeks!

Drake Bay after the storm

Suspension bridge

Croc zoom

Open-mouthed crocodile

The high school in the village was destroyed by the storm, and there was a mudslide on the road to the airport. We were flying out the next day, so I was feeling concerned about how we would get there. Not to worry. Juan worked it out with Franklin, taxi driver extraordinaire. He drove the car on the beach at low tide just beyond the spot of the mudslide. We walked along the beach to the car, while he and his son carried our luggage. Then they drove us to the airport. Talk about service! I was impressed by how the village residents live with and work around what nature may bring.

Beach route to airport

The Drake Bay airport was empty, just us and another family waiting for the plane. A sign was posted at the airport, but sadly, it was all untrue. I would have gladly had a cold drink, typical snack, and souvenir from the area during our wait for the flight. Perhaps these services are only provided in high season. (We were there during the "green season," aka rainy season.)

Drake Bay airport

New airport terminal of Drake

Aerodromo Drake

Eventually, a young man appeared out of nowhere to check our passports, weigh our luggage, and wheel it to the plane. (NatureAir has weight restrictions for luggage.) It was my first flight on a small plane. I was nervous, but luckily the flight from Drake Bay to Puerto Jimenez was only 14 minutes. And it was a smooth flight.

Small plane #1


We had a lovely time in Drake Bay, and our last stop was on the other side of the Osa Peninsula...Cabo Matapalo!


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