Adventures in Costa Rica, Part 1
It had been my childhood dream to hike the rainforest. I played out-of-doors and imaged life in teepees and on newly discovered land, pretending what it would be like as an explorer to debark on the shore of an unknown continent, with forest wild and dense. We knew this winter would be a long one, and so when Nico asked, “Where are we going for vacation?” meaning some Caribbean island, I suggest Costa Rica. It was warm beneath the equatorial sun, thick with tropical jungles and rainforest, cultured with coffee plantations, hot springs, active volcanoes and inexpensive, once you got there. We spent an icy gray afternoon at the UES Barnes & Nobel, trolling though the travel section, considering the subject of St. Lucia but really looking into Costa Rica.
The country is considerably large for a week’s worth of time, outlined by both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans off center in Central America. The thing to do seemed to be to fly into San Jose (roughly 10 hours of travel time, if you considered leaving from my midtown apartment in the city, to JFK in Brooklyn, to Panama City where we connected to San Jose) and from there rent a car and travel towards the Arenal Volcano and surrounding regions. There surrounding are rain forests, cloud forests flanked with suspension bridges, and relaxing hot springs. Central to the country, it wouldn’t be near the beach, but that wasn’t exactly the purpose of going.
My boyfriend, who is outdoorsy, an eagle scout, somewhat obsessive, got hooked on the Corcovado National Park. Remotely located on the southwestern Osa Peninsula, Corcovado Park is renowned for it’s nearly untouched natural forest, impenetrable except for certain trails that may be accessed only with the supervision of a professional guide. Nico was so concerned with “being off the beaten path” that he wouldn’t consider any other option. Swamped with work, I didn’t have the time or the space in my head to plan a vacation, let alone research another nation. He basically planned our entire trip: he read, cover-to-cover, two Costa Rica travel books, wrote to resorts, lodges, travel coordinators and the internet. We would go to Corcovado like there was no where else.
Corcovado is outside of Carate, a small coastal town. Fourteen hours: three flights, a two hour taxi ride, a tour around the well selected Finca Exotica eco lodge and finally: our very own bed in the jungle. But we would have a single meal in an open air restaurant that seemed like heaven, before getting up again, at 6am, to fly from Carate into the heart of the Corcovado jungle, on a toy plane whose landing strip was an old drug smuggler’s base. And then there, we would camp in Nico’s tent (treated in high-potetency bug repellant) on a platform in the Sirena Ranger Station, possibly the worst thing I could ever be asked to do in my life.
My boyfriend chartered a private plane to take us into the middle of the jungle. I would have arrived here any other way—the views into the park were spectacular (I sat up front beside the pilot), but being there was a challenge. Once we set up the tent, we changed into pants and our guide took us around through the trails surrounding the station. We saw all four species of monkeys indigenious to the rainforest, a sloth, tapirs, spiders, lizards, countless birds, an anteater, a pack of wild pigs, animals I can’t even name. Being directly beneath the low branch traveled by capuchin monkeys and their young was curious and exciting, as was being only a few feet from tapir and baby, feeding on foliage. Our guide, Stephen, was incredible. He could hear, see and smell animals cloaked in the vicinity, navigated trails without hesitation, and carried a swarovski telescope through which he took excellent pictures.
Nico had arranged for our meals at the ranger station—an overpriced plate of rice and beans, potatoes, (there was also meat) and a salad which we didn’t have. We ate in the communal dining room with our guide before returning to the porch. It was finally cool enough to relax. The lights remain on for two hours after dark—until about 8pm. Before this, there’s a mad rush to the showers and sinks. I refused to shower. How could one become clean in a place so filthy? Banana spiders waited in the center of gigantic webs between sinks, filth, grime and mold clung to nearly everything, the stench of piss permeating the air. I peed only out of absolute necessity, wearing a headlamp in bare feet.
On the front porch, we made out plan. It seemed unreasonable to get up at 4am and begin hiking, but I can’t remember why. Breakfast—although we’d paid for breakfast, it wasn’t possible to have anything made for us early. Our guide managed to procure peanut butter, jelly and bread from the cook, and we had snacks to help get us through. We bought bottled water, too much to carry. Agreeing to go at 5, I worked my way back into our tent, which had been nearly alone on the platform when we’d set it up, but was now flanked on either side, wall to wall, with other tourists. Hell. There was—unbelievably—a family with young children; their mother hummed lullabies all night. Most went to sleep at around the same time—there is nothing to do in a jungle at night except this—and we were among the early risers who whispered and decamped with their headlamps on low.
We would be hiking for seven hours.
to be continued…
My NYC BFF Macarena planned my birthday party at our favorite of favorite restaurants: the restaurant. We had dinner just the girls in a huge table in the back, before the staff finished their shift. They joined in. We had drinks afterwards, at the bar. The lights dimmed. Macarena came into the dining room with a cake, Nico arriving just in time to join the Happy Birthday chorus. It was chocolate strawberry suspension delicious, Al had driven Macarena through Brooklyn to get that cake. We had so much fun, and it was then two days til 29.
The morning of my birthday, Nicholas came over with packaged wrapped in black and white dots from the Bloomingdales counter. I couldn’t believe it. I could not believe that inside the smallest box, which I’d opened first, was the pearl capped, silver cable bangle by David Yurman, a replica of the one I’d worn on my wrist the day we met. I’d lost it on our first date (it had been a gift from my parents; I wore it always). And now there it was, the same but new, and shining around my wrist. I beamed with delight. The best boyfriend ever. And the second package? A vintage copy of Through the Looking Glass, a clue to a post-birthday-Brooklyn-adventure.
We brunched with Macarena & Al at my favorite brunch place in Flatiron, Petite Abeille, with espressos and waffles. Afterwards, Nico and I relaxed and wandered through the used bookshops and cafés in Soho, where I bought used paperbacks before champagne at the bar at Balthazar. Our plan was for dinner at the bar at Minetta Tavern, our next move. The evening concluded with cocktails at the Raines Law Room. New York magic for Birthday 29.