Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
Our adventure in the jungle of Costa Rica
We spent our first two days in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica at a luxury hotel. We toured a volcano and a coffee plantation.
Our third day of the tour, we took a long bus ride, interrupted only by our stop at a Butterfly Pavilion. As we rode along the bumpy dirt road our tour guide gave us an idea of what was to come in the next few days.
"We are leaving our beautiful hotel and will have more rustic accommodations in jungle. Our cabins, don't have windows, they only have screens".
He continues, "Last time I conducted this tour a woman came to me at dinner and said there was a snake in her room. I went to her room and found a boa constrictor" and he chuckles. "But, think of it as an adventure".
"What jungle?" I perked to attention. "The tour description said we were going to the rainforest, maybe it said something about "jungle foliage". ("No windows--only screens--boa constrictors???")
Suddenly, I felt like Private Benjamin in this scene from the movie:
Judy Benjamin: I think they sent me to the wrong place.
Capt. Lewis: Uh-huh.
Judy Benjamin: See, I did join the army, but I joined a *different* army. I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms.
We board river boat to take us to the park
The only way to get to our lodge is by boat or small plane as there are no roads through the Tortuguero National Park.
I hear someone at the front of the boat mention "Heart of Darkness" as we sail into the jungle. I read that book 40 years ago, I don't remember it as a happy book.
We ride down the river and the boat guide tells us the river goes to the Atlantic Ocean and it is brackish water. There are manatees, sharks, barracudas and crocodiles in the water.
Note to self: Keep hands inside the boat.
Observe all the sensible hats in the boat photo above - All the seasoned travelers knew what kind of hat to bring
On days when we cruised down canals in the jungle, there was no canopy on the boat to better enable us to see the wildlife. A wide brimmed hat with a chin strap is really needed for protection against the sun an heat.
I brought a baseball cap; it didn't work. It kept blowing off when the boat got moving at a fast clip. That, and the baseball cap made my head sweat.
We continue on to the lodge
On the way we spot a spider monkey hanging by it's tail overhead. I am now excited about being in the jungle.
I am really pleased when we dock at the Laguna Lodge. The dock is huge and covered and houses many river boats. The lodge is beautifully landscaped and we can see a beautiful wooden roofed restaurant ahead (no sides, open air). Okay, it's not as desolate as I was picturing.
We walk toward the main building to get our room assignment and I see the other people in our group stopping for a photo opportunity. They are photographing a beautiful spider web with a huge 2 inch (5 mm) spider in it. I can easily see his 4 sets of beady eyes, in two rows and gasp, "What a large spider!" I hear a group "No". "There are spiders here the size of dinner plates".
Holy arachnophobia! ( I'm a city girl. I was raised in the Bronx.) "Help".
Spiders are not my favorite living creature - To me the move so fast, and they just look hairy
Oh, did I mention that on the road to the boat, we passed banana plantations. We were told that our tour company no longer takes the visitors to banana plantations as the vegetable at the base of the trees harbors poisonous spiders and snakes.
Yes, there are several varieties of poisonous snakes and spiders in Costa Rica.
How do feel about spiders?
I am pleasantly surprised at our cabin
We obtained our room key and walk along paved paths (I am happy to say). The area is beautifully landscaped with native flowers, such as the colorful parrot flower.
Our room reminds me of a lodge in the Adirondacks (upstate New York). The buildings each have six units joined by a front porch. Inside the room is completely made of beautiful wood, except for the bathroom which is tiled.
There is no glass in the windows, just very thick metal screening. And inside there were wood shutters that could be closed to block out the elements. (Extra protection against monkeys and boa constrictors). As this is an eco tourism sight, there are only two small lights in the room; no air conditioning but a small antiquated fan mounted on top of some shelves.
For the two nights and days we stayed here, I am happy to say, the staff was constantly raking around the shrubs and sweeping the paths,keeping it free of debris. Hence, there was almost no place for critters to hide near our room, save a few salamanders.
That afternoon we cruised to the Green Turtle Research Station where there was a lot of information on how the sea turtles nearly became extinct; but are coming back now that they are protected. Our lodge was about one city block from the Atlantic nesting ground for green sea turtles. However it was April when we visited, and nesting season is late July through October.
Tortuguero National Park - Named for the Turtles or Tortoises (Tortuga)
The next day, we took a both a morning and afternoon cruise down the river, spotting wildlife as we looked into the jungle. Absolutely beautiful. We saw sloths, spider monkeys, white throated capuchins, and so many birds.
Our river boat guide told us that as a boy he and everyone else in the village of Tortuguero hunted the sea turtles for food and also to sell their shells. They also hunted ocelot and jaguar to sell their pelts for cash so that they could buy goods to survive.
I won't go into the whole story here, but a naturalist, Dr. Archie Carr, convinced them all that they could earn a better living with eco tourism and the hunting stopped and the wildlife preserve was set up. The almost extinct animals are coming back. The local residents have all obtained jobs in the lodges and as tour guides. Their standard of living has gone up.
Tortuguero National Park - Wildlife Along The Rivers And CanalsClick thumbnail to view full-size
We cruised under a branch, and an iguana pooped on the woman behind me - The tour guide told her this was good luck
T'is I that is the lucky one. I boarded the boat sooner than she, and got the seat in front of her, rather than her seat
Some advice -- there are some things I would have done differently
As our luggage was being transported to the lodge by boat, we were only allowed to bring a small bag with us for our 2 night stay at Tortuguero National Park. Our main luggage stayed on the tour bus.
It is very important to pack sensibly and bring the right things with you.
- As I mentioned above, a wide brimmed hat that ties firmly under your chin is essential. Sunglasses make it hard to look into the jungle and see the wildlife. A wide brimmed hat shades your head enough so you don't need sunglasses.
- We were told to bring binoculars and a camera. I found it awkward trying to find the wildlife in the binoculars and then trying to find it in the camera from a moving boat. If I took a trip like this again, I would invest in a better camera with a good telephoto lens and just use that.
- Our trip packet suggested that we bring travel pants, the kind that you can zip off the legs and make them into shorts. I did not have time to purchase them. They would have been exactly right for a trip in a hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit/38 degrees Celsius) humid environment.
- The humid weather made me want to change my clothes often, but our clothes were not drying. I would invest in some serious travel clothing and underwear that could be rinsed out and dried quickly.
- Talcum powder. Oh how I wanted powder so I could slip into my clothes and shoes easily.
- Plastic bags. The lodge had a beautiful swimming pool and thus I had a wet bathing suit which did not dry. Luckily, I did find a plastic bag to pack it in to put in my small suitcase when leaving the lodge.
- Due to the heat, my feet swelled up big time. I brought sturdy rubber soled (for the boat) walking shoes with Velcro closures. Not only could I not fit even thin socks on, but the shoes were so tight, the Velcro closures kept popping open. Bring shoes that are especially big on you, don't bring any snug shoes. (Sandals are not recommended for walking in the jungle due to poisonous snakes and spiders, nor into the town of Tortuguero where there are unpaved muddy roads and no sidewalks.)
- Bring a motion sickness medicine if you think you will need it. I did bring Bonine for motion sickness in case the plane hit turbulence and for the boat. After the first river cruise, I did take it for the others. The boat moves slowly over the river, but when another boat goes by the wake from the boat, rocks the boat from side to side. After a while, it did get to me.
© 2013 Ellen Gregory