This week, at the slight risk of seeming lazy, I decided to re-post my most popular all-time blog post circa July 2012. Enjoy!
National Park in Costa Rica is located on the Osa Peninsula in
southwestern Costa Rica. It is a gem that I was most fortunate to
discover in the early 80s, less than ten years after it was first
established. National Geographic has called it “the most biologically
intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity.”
trip to Corcovado meant three weeks of sleeping on rocks, dancing
around deadly snakes, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and
listening to howling monkeys every night. By the end of each day my
colleagues and I were roasted and rank. About as close to paradise as
one could get.
I headed up a film crew that was part of
a group of photojournalists invited by the Costa Rican government to
explore the park and (hopefully) write or create television programs
The lessons began the first day of our
arrival. It was a wonderful group of journalists, magazine editors,
writers and one eccentric professor from out east. This is before the
Internet. Our focus was on film, photos and note taking to capture the
true beauty of the country and its park. There were two women in the
group who (it quickly became apparent) could hold their own with the
men. We were all young (relatively speaking) and eager to explore town
San Jose is the capitol of Costa Rica and a
bustling economic driver for the country. We were anxious to see what
it had to offer. But first we had to tackle three weeks in the jungle.
chose cut offs and a t-shirt instead of the more jungle attire of cargo
pants, long sleeve shirt and boots. I was cooler in the jungle and
didn’t look like a field hand from the Coachella Valley. I also figured
‘what the heck.’ A snake can bite through pants as easily as it can
directly to skin. If I was going to get bit, long pants wouldn’t be much
of a help.
Time is What You call It
were supposed to fly into the park that next morning. We got to the
small airport early and piled up our gear for three weeks of jungle
camping. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.
I didn’t understand back then was American time vs. South American
time. Foolish me thought that 9:00am meant 9:00am or maybe a few minutes
late. Actually in Central and South American countries 9:00am means
never before the allotted hour, of course and perhaps up to: 45 minutes
or longer after the appointed time. And in their world that was
My frustration must have been apparent
because one of our trip leaders pulled me aside and informed me that the
pilots would arrive when they felt like it. He said that I’d better get
used to that attitude or else I would be the one getting frustrated for
no reason at all. I took a deep breath and toned it down from A to B to
C. Very mellow from then on.
Our fly-in was simple
enough. We flew into the park at treetop level. Then dropped below the
tree line onto a narrow strip of grass that had been cut out of the
jungle. Our pilots were like cowboys. They loved scaring the heck out of
Anglo tourists with their macho landings. Some planes hadn’t made it
down safely in the past. Quite a sight as we taxied by.
Don’t complain about the Accommodations
base camp consisted of a park rancher’s station and separate bunkhouse
carved out of the surrounding jungle. The bunkhouse was full so we opted
to sleep on the ground nearby. In retrospect it was the right decision.
After a couple of days we all adjusted to the hard ground, the howling
of monkeys, sounds of strange animals nearby and the constant drone of
insects all night long. It became our white noise and certainly beat the
thunderous snoring rolling out of the bunkhouse each night.
Know Your Neighbors
There are three simple rules for hiking in the jungle.
terrain is seldom flat. That only happens in Tarzan movies. It’s hilly,
rugged and laced with jungle vines that can send you sprawling down a
slope in nothing flat. Caution is the word.
Secondly, watch out for spider monkeys. They love to pee on you as you pass by underneath.
The third rule is also pretty simple. Watch where you step or be prepared to die.
step over a log or object on the ground. Never lean up against a tree.
Always step on top of the log then step over to the other side. Look at
the tree first before you lean against it or sit next to it.
were many species of venomous snakes in the park. The Fer-de-Lance and
Bushmaster were tops in their game. One bite…thirty minutes…hello,
heaven. Even the poison dart frog could do you in.
a snake can hear your footfalls a long distance away and will move away
from that sound. Theoretically, the snake is more scared of you than
you are of it. But ‘theoretically’ doesn’t really help if a snake bites
you. Then you have theoretically twenty to thirty minutes before you
die. Unless you have snake serum that you can inject into the puncture
Our guide was a wonderful, always
cheerful park ranger whose grasp of the English language always left us
with the question: ‘what did he say’ or ‘did he really say that’ or ‘Ok,
the first day of a long hike, I casually asked our guide if he had
snake bite serum with him after he described the numerous poison snakes
that abounded in Corcovado. He said no, he’d left it back at base camp, a
four-hour hike away. I guess when your time comes, it comes. We all
walked a little more gingerly back to camp that day. And made sure he
had it with him every time we went out after that.
Haste saves Toes and other Body Parts
everyday, we’d have to ford some river or inlet to the sea. Always at
low tide since the currents were so strong at high tide that it was very
easy to get swept out to sea no matter how strong a swimmer you might
there was the matter of the Bull sharks, American crocodiles, and
spectacled caiman that liked to swim up those rivers from the ocean. Our
guide would watch carefully for any sign of our unwelcome visitors.
Then with a wave, we’d roll up our pants (usually didn’t matter) and
begin wading across the river or inlet. Looking down for any sign of a
snapper usually didn’t matter. The water was brown with churning sand
and silt. It was a guessing game if any one of us would be toast that
day. Or the next. Often times after crossing the inlet someone would
spot a fin or smudge on the water. Damn, made it again.
I’m not a Nudist
wasn’t a fear of stepping on glass, or sitting on a steel chair or
swimming across a pond full of snapping turtles, I just never pictured
myself a nudist. Grant it, skin is skin is skin. And there’s a plethora
of ‘Oh, my gosh’ on the Internet if you’re interested that sort of
thing. I’m not. I just never pictured myself, sans. clothes, among other
when we came upon that backwater pool, in the middle of the jungle,
five hours into our hike, taking off our clothes for a dip seemed
surprisingly logical, rational and very appealing. I can’t remember who
suggested it first. Probably the eccentric one. He always had great
men took off their clothes first…boring. Then the women…no Brazilian
trims there. One kept her panties on for a short while but then decided
‘what the heck, everything was visible anyway.’ Suddenly I felt very
foolish hiding behind my sunglasses. It had quickly became apparent that
the soothing coolness of the water, that magical pond in the middle of
the jungle, and the lively banter going on was more interesting than
body parts seen or imagined. And after a few glances, seriously, who
true that clothes make a woman sexy. Take those away and what you’re
left with is… Ok, pass the lemonade. Maybe that’s the secret nudists
have discovered; that after the clothes come off, your attention is
drawn to more substantial and interesting things. Who knew? It took a
cool pond in the middle of a Costa Rican rainforest to teach me one of
life’s great lessons.
Seemed Logical at the Time
end of our gallivanting in that backwater pool came with an
announcement from the eccentric one. It seemed that he had a rubber raft
in his backpack and was looking for someone to float with him down the
river to the sea, approximately four miles away. Strangely enough he got
no takers. We just stood there, putting on our clothes, wondering if he
was really serious.
Undaunted by the silent stares he
got, the eccentric one tossed his clothes bag into his backpack, gave
the pack to someone else and proceeded to inflate his rubber raft. Then
with his hat and flip-flops on, he began floating away. We all looked in
astonishment as his snow-white ass got smaller and smaller in the
distance. Then it was gone all together.
it all seemed perfectly logical at the time. I think we just
collectively shook our shoulders, agreed that the eccentric one would
find that a normal thing to do (floating down an unknown river in the
middle of the jungle, in the nude), and wondered if or when we’d ever
see him again. I know it’s stupid, dumb and illogical but I still wonder
what it would have been like if I’d taken him up on his offer.
showed up that evening, hat, torn flip-flops, and beet red ass. Then
over warm beer, he regaled us with stories of the sights and sounds that
greeted and then followed him down the river all the way to the sea.
Nectar of the Gods
started a habit in Costa Rica that I’ve continued ever since. And
supposedly it’s good for your health. We were God-knows how far into one
of our early hikes when I saw a lemon tree in a clearing. Even though
my canteen was full of tepid, warm water, a couple of squirts of lemon
make all the difference in the world.
Know Who is Living Upstairs
the second night back in town, one of the group (probably the eccentric
one) said he’d found a quaint bar in town. They had American beer, the
women there were all beautiful, and they played American rock and roll
every evening. Sounded like a great opportunity to check out the local
pub scene and mix it up with the locals. After three weeks with the
monkeys, that sounded pretty good to me.
surprised that the pub wasn’t in the commercial part of town. Instead it
was a little further out of town in what looked like a huge plantation
house. There were lots of cars parked outside and loud music was coming
Upon entering, we saw a huge bar,
beautiful women dancing with the locals and beer taps that spelling out
our favorite liquid refreshments. The women were all smiles and their
clothes (or lack of) weren’t hard to look at either. We grabbed several
tables to put to-gether and ordered the first of several rounds.
was struck by the beautiful women all around me. These had to be some
of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. Costa Rican women don’t have
any of the Mayan influence that women in a number of Central and South
American countries do. Their skin has a light brown or chocolate tone,
beautiful dark hair and facial features that would rival even the most
glamorous of Paris models. They’re also very well proportioned. They
were stunning and very friendly.
Several came up and
asked some of us for a dance. Fortunately my introvert nature kicked in
and I demurred. Several of our group jumped at the opportunity to take
their turn on the dance floor. When they finished, the girls would ask
for a drink to which these guys happily obliged. Being an introvert and
cheap didn’t hurt me that evening.
In other words, no one had a clue.
was only when the eccentric one began talking to one of the locals that
we realized where we were. Out of place and on the edge.
formed us that there was a whorehouse upstairs and these beautiful
women were really working professionals. Turns out the women were all
amorous with intent (relatively speaking) expensive (in their currency)
and aiming to turn a quick profit (oh, that explains their charm).
also explained why the dances weren’t free. We just thought we were
helping the local economy. I hadn’t checked prices but I’m assuming that
slow dances were the most expensive and lively rock and roll with no
body parts touching were the least expensive.
also turned that our quaint happy bar was in reality a Wild West saloon.
And there were gunslingers about. We suddenly became the tenderfoot
tourists venturing into unfamiliar territory. And those guys in tight
jeans and bulging t-shirts weren’t just a couple of locals from a
football team. It may have been a pleasant enough place but we weren’t
in Texas anymore.
Try explaining that back home. “Yes dear, I went to a whorehouse for the beer and conversation.” Research, my tush!
story ends peacefully enough. We finished our drinks, smiled at the
locals…a lot and got the hell out of there. Even the eccentric one
decided to defer his interest in the local culture for another drink
back in town.
A Speck of Time
isn’t my forte. Yet while I was trudging through the jungle I realized
what a chance of a lifetime it really was. So I tried to soak up as much
of the atmosphere as I could. That included the stifling heat,
humidity, insects, poisonous snakes, sharks in the rivers, strange
sounds day and night, sleeping on rocks, listening to the barking of the
Howling Monkeys, eating cold meals and drinking warm beer.
Howling Monkeys, which sound like a dog barking, were the chorus that
lulled me to sleep most evenings. That and the daily five to ten mile
Three weeks in Corcovado produced many wonderful
experiences and great memories with some fascinating folks. I should be
so lucky to hear those Howling Monkeys ever again.