The quest took place in the Osa Peninsula, a jungle region sprouting off the south west of Costa Rica’s slender frame. Cindy and I arrived in gateway town Puerto Jimenez; getting here took two buses from coastal surfer town Uvita, a 3 hour stop at a petrol station (where we ate some kind of cold roadside fish soup), and a many hours sweating it out with the locals on their bumpy bus routes.
However, when National Geographic dubs a place as ‘the most biologically diverse place on earth’, you know it’s going to be worth it.
The hostel was Celvante Jungle Hostel, 5 kays out of town, surrounded by rich, green jungle, drowned out by the string instruments of insects and throating squawking of birdlife. No bedroom walls, just mosquito nets. A large, relaxed common room brought travellers together over communal dinner as pet cats hunted psychotic, dive-bombing cicadas. The cicadas were crazy, yes, but in the jungle I knew there was even more lucrative wildlife to be seen…
We were met at the bus station by two young Americans in a beat-up Isuzu 4WD, Kyle and Brian, who ran the hostel. From our experience in Asia, it was instinctive to ignore the hustlers, but we decided to try this one out. (Within minutes of arriving, we spotted squirrel monkeys lazing in the trees above the dorms, arms and legs dangling lazily. A few days later, we saw a toucan next to our room.)
The trail – a half day hike to a fresh water river – carved through the private property of Michael, a neighbour of the Jungle Hostel with a large slice on jungle on his land. Cindy and I were also with Gil, an Israeli backpacker. Michael thunked his machete blade into an enormous tree trunk and a thin white milk dribbled out. Latex rubber. Michael was our guide today and he knew his stuff.
Worker ants dutifully ferried sliced portions of leaves across scented trails into their nest, as the leaf-cutters with their powerful jaws and enormous, bloated heads passed by. An uncouth production line of awkward dancing greens and staccato ants of orange, but organized as any army.
To show us, a hard stamp on the ground with Michael’s boot alerted soldiers, which poured out from the nest with boxing gloves up, challenging.
Michael rifled through a layer of jungle floor decomposition and produced a Golfo Duce poison dart frog, warily but plainly displaying his warning labels; a pair of bright orange stripes racing up a glistening black body. The message made clear, it hopped away.
In the river we swam and searched for animals, and whilst we photographed a large frog hiding underwater, Michael had caught a turtle the size of a bread plate with his hands, it’s deep yellow shell and scales bespeckled with green. It snapped and protested as we posed for photos, before releasing it.
Another family of squirrel monkeys sorted fruit high above, chattering noisily as they ate the premium produce and discarded the rest carelessly to the foliage 25m below with a uncouth crash. We were close; we could hear the parrots declaring their proximity with harsh, throaty squawks.
Perched in the jungle’s highest tree, bathing in the afternoon glow was the object of our search – the scarlet macaw, a huge native parrot with a white facial mask, long body and tail of brilliant red, wings dashed with yellow and blue.
Celvante Jungle Hostel…highly reccommended!