Tag Archives: Osa Peninsula

The Osa Oh ****!s

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Here in Costa Rica, the scientists are dreamers, and most dreamers natural scientists with an instinctive grasp of the stuff that governs their days – meteorology, seismology, tropical ecology, and so on. All conversations in the Osa move back and forth between observation and imagination, and from objective to subjective without warning, the result, I think, of being ensnared in the rhythms of the natural world while having the time and intelligence to think. Park guards will reveal a deep-held belief in the guiding hand of a capricious higher power; cooks, captains, farmers, fishermen, bar staff will predict and explain the weather along with the behaviour of snakes, whales and pizotes using a fusion of facts and folklore without adding more weight to one or the other, or even seeming in any way conscious of a distinction. There are people who hold conversations like this on the London underground, but here it’s usually illuminating and charming, rather than extremely irritating.

I’ve been reading Reflections and Studies of a Biologist in the Jungles of Corcovado by Alvaro Wille Trejos, a national classic up there with Dan Janzen’s Costa Rican Natural History, and most books by Alexander Skutch. Ostensibly a biology text book, its main thrust is philosophical, eccentric, meandering and sentimental. It could only have been written by a Costa Rican – possibly only a Costa Rican who had spent a year waking up to noises in the night and lying awake until dawn. Dr Wille (who went on to write about yogis) ponders altruism and spirituality, along with man’s search for contentment, while identifying complex rainforest ecosystems and patterns of animal behaviour.

It’s a heady (airy) mix that I’d find totally unreadable if it wasn’t all presented as a boy’s own adventure story in which the self-deprecating Dr Wille, and his luckless research assistant, Enrique, find themselves tackling the complete set of Osa ‘Oh ****!’s from capsized boats, storms, fallen trees and collapsed tents, to close encounters with fer-de-lance, peccaries, jaguars and crocodiles. If he was writing it now he’d probably need to include a run-in with a droguero guarding a stash of coke on an isolated beach, but aside from that, he faces every possible misfortune with great cheer.

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Jungle Telegraph

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Around 9am every morning, a tractor towing a cart with a bench takes workers who have finished doing stuff with boats up the steep hill to the staff quarters at the back of the hotel for breakfast. I would lose about 5lbs a week, get lithe and trim, and see an incredible amount of birds if I made the effort to walk up every day, but I don’t want to. I reckon it’s fairly good exercise just walking down, so I hitch a ride. I’ve got a desk inside the manager’s office, loud with the sound of cicadas, radio communications and, usually between 10.30 and 11am, passing howler monkeys. I am, inevitably, on good terms with the bar staff across the way, so there’s some good chat, and after midday, the guides come in after their tours. Sometimes in the afternoon there is the sound of splashing and larking about from the pool which, as I sit sweating over the keyboard, pondering Guest Information, can be distracting. When it’s all too much, I head down to the forest pool with a book.

The telephone which used to connect us to the next bunch of people up the coast doesn’t work, and there is no mobile coverage, but there is a weak, and intermittent internet connection. Sometimes. When people get a whiff of that, they are pretty keen to use it. I’m aware that sitting at my desk in t-shirt and shorts firing off (hotel-related) emails to the San Jose HQ and researching a new secret squirrel project on my very own laptop, I must look like an internet-hogging guest. I feel the evil eye. Sometimes I’ve stepped away and come back to find someone using it, and been told I can come back in 30 minutes. I now wear the uniform shirt in the office by way of apology, explanation and protection.

There actually is a mobile signal over the hill and far away, along one of the trails to the farm at the back of the property. I’m considering the Big Hike – there’s nothing worse than getting voicemail – when Fanny, who lives out that way comes by. She’s brought me a bag of lemons and oranges, and is cooing over some picture on her cell phone. Turns out to be a big snake she just spotted, a fer-de-lance actually, which is in some ways the Scottish play of the rainforest world, i.e. an unmentionable. ‘Ah’ she says fondly. ‘A mi, me encantan’. I love them. Right. Well, I don’t. I decide my call can wait until tomorrow. Song of the day: Robert Johnson, Me and the Devil Blues.

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Costa Rica: Out of San Jose to the Osa

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The bare bones of this is that international flights arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica, slightly too late for the passengers that stumble blinking into the light  to pick up connecting flights out to the sticks. This might be a clever strategy. Being stuck and devoid of all alternative options is certainly the best reason I can think of for staying in San Jose itself. It is more transport hub and holding centre than holiday destination. Most tourists seem to think a day in this capital is enough, or more than enough, and are therefore not only willing but grateful to scramble onboard a plane the size of a fridge and fly over mountains to the Osa Peninsula, the Nicoya Peninsula, or to Tortuguero the following morning.

Actually downtown San Jose (mainly blocks of bargain shirt stores and dark bars criss-crossed at right angles by open drains and potholed roads) has spirit and ‘local flavour’. Local flavour tends to be something people think they want until they’ve got it, but in the case of San Jose it is a lot better than the alternative. For about a decade the city underwent half-hearted clean-ups and made some misguided attempts towards Westernisation, more specifically, Americanisation. The Guatemalan trouser vendors, the blowers of panpipes and ocarinas, and sellers of interesting, exotic tat were removed from outside the Teatro Nacional, some budget chain hotels appeared. But eventually, efforts to change the city failed, and, much like a cultivated plot in the tropics reverts to jungle, San Jose is now, once again, just what it is: shabby, raucous, malodorous, like a big old market, Latin and unapologetic.

Even when manoeuvring a pushchair out of the Coca Cola bus terminal, around drunks who’d fallen through the saloon doors and knocked themselves unconscious, I had a warm feeling for downtown San Jose – but I didn’t live in it. No sirree! I lived in the western suburbs, and kept moving west maintaining that distance there as the city spread like a disease until, eventually, I was over the hill and far away in Santa Ana, back then a dusty cowboy town, now a dusty town.

So anyway, it’s off to Santa Ana I go for my obligatory night before the flight to the Osa. I buy a packet of M&Ms, some shampoo and then, after some consideration, a local sim card. Thus prepared for several months in the jungle, I take a stroll and end up outside the gates of my old house. The drive is overgrown, the grass is waist high, and the house looks neglected. I can see where the guard goose used live. I stand there for a long time listening to the grackles in the dusty trees and trucks labouring up the hill, wishing, wishing, wishing to go back in time. Offering anything.

At the Sansa terminal the following morning, people wait for the flight with studied nonchalance as bollards and papers blow by in the Dec-Jan Central Valley winds. The plane lurches over the mountain backbone and traces the Pacific coast south over glittering tin roofs to the old palm oil town of Palmar Sur. From there it’s to Sierpe, which can loosely be described as a town, a great little place with a couple of barn-style stores selling papaya and motor oil, Don Jorge’s Las Vegas bar (and dock), a football pitch, and a green and steamy river in which crocodiles frolic and jump for chicken.

It’s roughly 40 minutes down river to the boca, the river mouth, and about the same again down the coast who where I’m dropped off, a journey that ends with wading ashore through hot water and, traditionally, a large rum and coke.

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