First legs

OK, here’s the short of the long of the past several days: We left San Jose on a tourist bus driven by Reinier with our luggage strapped onto the roof and covered with a tarp, and cruised into the cloud forest, at 2400 m. We stayed at a small “hotel,” which was pretty rustic and not very well cared for (we didn’t have enough blankets or a space heater, though the temperature plummets at night). We hiked their trails and saw lots of a quetzals (I think I have at least one respectable photo), but not much else. I got a photo of a nightjar, but then accidentally deleted it later (!). Our night hike there was strenuous and we didn’t see much, but it was a good initiation for the students (we got theme xpecting to do hard work, so that haven’t complained a whole lot).  The forest at this place was heavily disturbed and had some oaks, but also a lot of large Podocarpus trees (a gymnosperm). I hadn’t seen Podocarpus trees before (or didn’t know it) and at a glance they look like redwoods, but not nearly as tall and have smooth bark (instead of having deep vertical furrows).
When we left the Albergue de Quetzales, we drove south along the  Inter-American Highway, first climbing nearly 1000m while passing through elfin forest into paramo. We stopped at the summit of Cerro de la Muerte to hike through the shrubby paramo. Everyone enjoyed it and we got some nice vistas into clouds on the Pacific side (I’ve been there before and had better views, but it’s still impressive). Our route dropped us quickly from the Talamancas on the western slopes into San Isidro, a grungy tropical town with a large church and a few misguided tourists, and finally into Palmar Norte and Sierpe, on the river that leads into the Pacific. We arrived later than expected, so we had to grab a quick bite at a restaurant before we screamed down the mangrove-lined Sierpe river and out on the Pacific to Drake Bay.  We unloaded the boats on the beach at Drake Bay, only to load them back onto a bus for the short 20-minute ride inland to the Corcovado Eco Lodge.
[Bryn didn’t write anything about the Corcovado Eco Lodge until 18 February—the narrative from the 17th just skips to the day they left it.]
We had a late breakfast (8am) with our estimated departure time of 9am. It’s always later that expected when you’re trying to coordinate 19 undergrads. And especially when you’re trying to coordinate 19 undergrads in Latin America.  But we got off around 9:30. We drove a Blue Bird short school bus (white and red, unfortunately) from Los Planes (the official town where the Corcovado Eco Lodge is) across the peninsula to Palmar Sur, up and down two small mountain ranges and winding through agricultural valleys with lots of cattle. The roads are lined with cashews (in flower and some in fruit right now) and mangoes (not in flower or fruit…:-( ), among other, lesser plants.  The dirt roads are extremely dry and dust flies everywhere. We inhaled a lot of particulates and diesel fuel.
When we reached La Palma (2.5 hours later), we reconnected with our bus driver from San Jose, reloaded the touring bus with our luggage, and set off on the hour ride to Puerto Jimenez on the coast of the gulf. Along the way we learned that our driver had arranged for us to change vehicles again in Puerto Jimenez, for the last 45 minutes to the station. Of course, this isn’t what had been planned beforehand, but such is life when you’re traveling in Latin America. Negotiation ensued (luckily, we have two native Spanish speakers in our crew and then the station director appeared), and after the dust settled (we have inferred that the complicated nature of this arrangement was largely a consequence of machismo — saving face by out intrepid driver from San Jose who didn’t want to take his bus on the potentially damaging road to the field station) we had two hours to kill in the tiny gulf town. Guido, the station director, brought the four instructors to a marisqueria (seafood restaurant) right on the promenade along a picturesque bay overlooking anchored fishing and sailing boats and the hazy, forested southern Talamancas framing the ocean on the horizon as far as you could see, north and south. I ate ceviche (good, but not remarkable) and a taco with chicken, and downed two cold beers. Then we stocked upon essentials (beer, Coke for our rum, snacks, and Cipro), loaded into the new truck (a small commercial delivery truck converted into a passenger taxi with benches along the sides and a canvas covering) and finally got to our destination.
We’re a 20 minute walk from the beach, surrounded by excellent primary forest and a handful of rich landowners (probably mostly from the U.S.), and have satellite internet access and beer. The facilities are excellent. Everyone has a bed with a mosquito net, though the rooms sleep at least four in two bunk beds, which will make for some less-than-private accommodations.  Oh yeah, we saw two coatimundis on the way here (pisote in Spanish, apparently, which seems odd because its not like coatimundi is an English word!).
I’ll have to take up the rest later, as now it’s dinnertime. The next installment will include anecdotes of some amazing animals sighting! (whales!!!)