Costa Rica, Parte Final: Campanario Is Not For Everyone!

You know an ecolodge is pretty hard-core when they tell you that right on their website. Then again, Campanario is not exactly an ecolodge. It’s a “biological station,” catering especially to student groups (middle school through grad school), but they will also take tourists ready for “off-the-grid Rain Forest adventure.” Like this:

Don’t worry–Son One checked it out with his flashlight first.

Since Son One worked as an intern here and brought us to visit six years ago, we knew Campanario would be the centerpiece of our tour once more. We found nothing changed, from the stunningly scenic beach…

Arrival = the boat backs in, and you splash ashore!

…the electricity-free cabins…

No going barefoot in the jungle!
Also, don’t forget your flashlight when you go back down to the main lodge for dinner!

You reach Campanario via an hour-plus boat ride out of the mangrove-filled mouth of the Sierpe River and along the base of the Osa Peninsula. A handful of other establishments connect via a public coastal trail, but essentially Campanario exists in a little bubble of wildness, adjacent to Costa Rica’s largest National Park, Corcovado. The spider monkeys were there to greet us on our arrival…

I really do need a zoom lens. ūüė¶

…a male curassow paraded for his mate behind our cabin…

(about the size of a small turkey)

…and a coati helped itself to palm fruit nearby. (Coatis are kind of the Costa Rican raccoon–except they have raccoons too, lucky them.)

Hey cutie.

Campanario has its own trail system–the place where, in 2015, we saw that tapir featured in my last post. They’re pretty rugged…

So many reasons to watch your step!

…and rubber, snakebite-proof boots are so strongly recommended that they have dozens of pairs to loan to guests.

Hot, but worth it.

It was wonderful to see Son One in his happiest of Happy Places.

After taking this photo, I stuck my head in that waterfall. Ahhhh…

Hiking into Corcovado N.P., visitors are required to have an official guide. Son One doesn’t have that credential (yet), so Campanario provided one of his old friends, former station manager Freiner, to guide us.

Freiner is the BEST.

Not only did Freiner lug a hefty scope on his shoulder during our multi-hour hike, he also let us take pictures through it. (He’s especially fond of trogons, he told me.)

Trogon, courtesy Freiner & his scope.

It was still Son One’s idea to go inside that tree root, though.

totally…safe…

I should pause a moment here, though, to make sure I’m not giving the wrong impression of Campanario. Yes, there’s electricity only in the kitchen of the main lodge. Wifi, are you kidding?! There is plumbing, but showers are…let’s just say refreshing. Dinner is eaten by candlelight. But the food! Campanario also boasts the best meals of any we ate in Costa Rica. “Just” basic Tico dinners, lunches and breakfasts like:

Todos los d√≠as: huevos, gallo pinto, pl√°tanos fritos, tortilla, queso fresco, frutas…

Even for our day hike, Flor (Freiner’s wife) packed us gallo pinto (rice & beans) along with our sandwiches!

I’m a new convert to rice & beans as trail lunch. (Note Freiner’s scope in the background. That thing was heavy!)

At one point in our long Corcovado hike, The Mate and our traveling buddy opted to head back, so Son One guided them, leaving me to realize my goal of chatting in Spanish with Freiner for the rest of the route back.

Cocodrillo gigante
cascada refrescante

I did notice, however, that my verb conjugation went all to hell as the heat & mileage caught up to me. Still, what a huge difference from six years ago, when I could only manage basic niceties! This time I got some of Freiner’s life story. Of course his English was better than my Spanish, but I’m not sure he would have opened up as much in English. Speaking the local tongue makes a statement of comradeship, I think.

Speaking of comradeship, we were especially lucky on this visit to have Campanario to ourselves! No big group of college kids as we’d hung out with last time–just us four, Freiner & his wife & cute little daughter, three other young local staff members, and Nancy, La Directora. Nancy treated us to a special sugar-cane pressing. We “had” to do the work…

crude but effective press

…but our reward was delicious cane juice, mixed with Cacique and served in special bowls with a starfruit garnish .

starfruit from the tree by our cabins

What a special, family feel that afternoon had!

Lodge in the background. Foreground: all the rest of us revelers. (The young lads kept trying to sneak more Cacique.)

When it came time to leave…I didn’t want to. Three days of flashlights at night, rubber boots, warnings about prowling pumas and fer-de-lances on the trails, cold showers, no wifi…and it really felt like Paradise. Son One’s deep affection for the place seeped into me, big-time.

Waiting for the boat to take us back to civilization. Do we hafta?

One more thrilling boat ride, back to Sierpe, and from there our journey just kept going, as Son One drove us all the way back to San Jose for our required COVID test, our scramble to re-book a cancelled flight, our red-eye to JFK and even longer flight back to Seattle…all those delights of modern travel that I refuse to complain about because it was such a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful gift of a trip.

And now I have a new happy place too.

If most of this description leaves you thinking “No thanks!”, I don’t blame you one bit. But if Campanario excites you–as an individual or an educator–I encourage you to be in touch.

Even more, if the thought of tailoring your OWN Costa Rican adventure–maybe without rubber boots?–excites you, please enjoy this shameless plug of Liana Travels!

Costa Rica, Part Dos: Not in Kansas Anymore

This was actually my third time in Costa Rica. The Mate and I visited Son One when he was first working there six years ago. Then there was the time my zoologist dad took me deep into the jungle for an Organization of Tropical States conference when I was sixteen (I was too scared of the rainforest to walk alone–correctly, as it turned out, because the assembled biologists later discovered an extremely venomous fer-de-lance viper on the trail).

But it’s still a shock to realize how DIFFERENT Nature is there. Oh, it looks inviting as all get-out, from above.

Up near the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where usually, Son One told us, you don’t see anything but cloud.

But get in close, and it’s red in tooth and claw–even the plants. Like this ficus, or Strangler Fig, enthusiastically murdering its host tree.

Whatever you do, don’t imagine this process sped up.

In the jungle, it’s everyone for itself. Even a lowly fencepost becomes a host.

Kind of cute, unless you’re the one who has to keep replacing the fenceposts.

And don’t even get me started on the army ants. (Not pictured: army ants. You’re welcome.)

Because Son One is a classic naturalist, which is to say nuts about dangerous critters, he was REALLY hoping for a sighting of either a puma or a fer-de-lance–preferably both. We struck out on both, this trip, although we did score some stunningly large paw prints, and this official Pile o’ Puma Poop on the trail:

…You’re welcome?

Son One did manage to find one fer-de-lance (terciopelo, in Spanish, which means velvet–has anyone actually stroked that snake??), but he hasn’t sent me the photo yet, so here’s one from our last visit:

And this is why we hike in rubber boots.

But of course, of COURSE, Costa Rica is way more than things that want to kill you. It’s also a splendid riot of sound and scent and color. Like this motmot which welcomed us on our first afternoon:

¬°Hola amigo!

And of course, of COURSE…monkeys. Since Son One’s specialty is taking people far from the madding crowd, we had an entire troupe of Capuchins to ourselves. (Here’s where I decided I need to invest in a zoom lens for my phone, but you get the idea.)

Son One, who speaks fluent Capuchin, warned us not to stand underneath. They like to pee on your head.

This thrilling wildlife encounter was somewhat undermined when we stopped for coffee at a place which puts out fruit for the birds…which the monkeys, of course, gorge on.

“Hey, I’m done with my banana. You gonna finish that muffin?”

As we headed back down toward the lowlands on a road whose steepness I couldn’t possibly capture with my phone, this tree caught me eye. The locals call it “Gringo Tree” because it looks like a white person with bad sunburn. But this particular one looked like E.T.

Phone home.

I‘m not saying North American Nature doesn’t have weird stuff. Just not THIS weird. Or wonderful. See you in the lowlands for Part 3!

Costa Rica, Part 1: ¬°Que Sorpresa!

Would you put this in your mouth?

Alien egg? Tree gall? Exotic cocoon?

How ’bout now?

EWWWWW.

If these images gross you out, you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the kind of Costa Rica tour The Mate and I just went on, led by Son One, as a beta-test of his budding ecotour company, Liana Travels. Some of what we did required…let’s just say…trust. But in every way, our trust was repaid. Like putting that weird glop in my mouth, which just happens to be passionfruit, and just happens to taste…

…magnificent.

Tangy, sweet, magical–ok, still a weird mix of gloppy and crunchy, but that flavor! Later, when we saw passionflower vines in bloom, I fell even more in love.

Encantada

So I decided that passionfruit was a pretty good metaphor for Liana Travels. Go ahead, take a bite. First comes the surprise, then the reward.

Some of those surprises, I have to admit, were NOT pleasant, but those had to do with travel during COVID, not with Son One’s planning. Example #1: Upon arrival at San Jose airport, we stood in the Immigration line for 2 and a quarter HOURS, because there were only four clerks processing many airplanes’ worth of travelers. (I was certain we were catching COVID every moment we stood there. We didn’t.) Example #2: While waiting for our required test results to exit the country, our flight was cancelled. But the stress of those surprises was made up for by watching Son One’s calm, competent responses.

Nuestro guia

In upcoming posts, I’ll give a more conventional travelogue. But as an intro, here are two more surprises. #1, have you heard of the famous invasive Cane Toads of Australia? Turns out they were imported from Central America! I hadn’t known that, and found the information as fascinating as the huge toads are ugly.

also nocturnal

And #2, how about this flower? Here it is closed up:

…ohhhhkay…

And here it is open. I asked Son One its name. His answer: “They call it Butthole Flower.”

Well alrighty then.

Watch this space for more on our off-the-beaten-path Costa Rican adventures. ¬°Puravida!

“Plan” is a Four-Letter Word. “Hope” is a Monkey.

It‘s become such a standard answer for The Mate and me, we’ve created our own cliche.

Friend: So, got any travel plans for 2022?

Us: We don’t use that word anymore. We hope to travel to Costa Rica soon…

i.e., this place

Or:

Friend: You guys planning on doing your famous Road Trip again this year?

Us: We don’t use that word. We hope we get to do our road trip, starting in February…

I think you get the point. Since 2020, those of us who still lived under the illusion that we had some control over our destiny discovered just how illusory that idea was. Now it’s hard to believe I ever believed it.

Take Costa Rica. Since Son One kicked off his ecotour company, Liana Travels, The Mate & I, plus a friend, have been signed up to **ahem** help our son “beta test” his touring guide chops.

I mean…somebody’s gotta do it. Those Scarlet Macaws can’t watch themselves, right?

But here we are, two weeks before departure, and it still feels about 50/50 that the trip will be postponed. COVID’s messing with the world in so many ways: threatening illness, threatening flights, threatening quarantine, threatening threatening threatening. For the next 2 weeks, The Mate and I will pack, yes–but we’re going about it like little leaf-cutter ants, nose to the ground, not with our usual pre-trip excitement.

Zoom in on the trail. You’ll see ’em.

I like to think I’m doing a pretty good job of staying even-keel right now. I tell myself, Hey, even if you do get to go to Costa Rica, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a tapir, right? So think of the trip itself as that tapir. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not.

Weird example, I know–but I wanted to use my tapir picture.

Plans are tapirs–rare & elusive, bound to break your heart if you expect them. But hope? Hope’s a monkey. As in: if you go to Costa Rica, you will see one…or two…or three…possibly more. So go ahead and hope for monkeys!

Just, no matter what, don’t PLAN for monkeys. If you do, given the way the world’s been working, they’re likely to show up like this:

You called?

So, will the Wings go to Costa Rica? Hope so; still not planning on it. Yes, I’ll pack. But it’s good to know the place will be there, somewhere in this crazy world, even if I’m not there to see it…this time.

Hope so.