Corcovado 1/3 – Stone spheres and monkeys in paradise

Before spending the last few days of this journey with relatives in San Jose (the capital of Costa Rica, not the one in California), we had a few days left to visit one other place on the way there. The choice fell quickly and easily on the Osa peninsula, which has some of the most pristine tropical lowland rainforest on earth, most notably the Corcovado National Park, the biggest one in Costa Rica. It is home to more than 12 percent of the biodiversity in the Americas, and to 2.5 percent of the whole planet.

Apart from all the plants and animals, the peninsula is also home to the most weird remnants of a lost civilization: almost perfectly round stone spheres. We stopped by on the way at the biggest site of those spheres. It has some, which were brought here from elsewhere…

…and some in their original positions, left the way they have been found. Interestingly, they’re arranged in a geometric order / relationship to each other. Very little is known about the culture that created them, and it’s still unclear what their meaning or purpose was.

As they’re located in the midst of a banana plantation, we had the chance to also see equipment like those mini cable car lines, with which the bananas are transported from inside the plantation to the main collection points at its edges. All the plantations here were created about a hundred years ago by the infamous United Fruit Company, and while they were the first to bring some scientific attention to the spheres, they unfortunately also moved and removed many of them from their original positions, often damaging them in the process.

Moving on from the spheres, the road eventually ends in Sierpe. Technically it’s possible to go on from here by four wheel drive vehicle to our destination at Agujitas at Drake Bay, but no one actually does that, especially now during the most rainy time of the year. So there’s only boats then. Two per day. For 20 USD per person.

The ride is tough and rough, and takes about an hour. The first 40 minutes or so you’re just cruising on the crocodile-infested river between the mangroves, but when you reach the open sea it can get quite scary. Depending on weather, wind, waves and the tide, the little boat can have a really hard time and it’s constantly jumping and shaking.

On that last part on the open sea, we saw a hunchback whale not far from the boat (well, only the tail fin). That was quite the ‘wow’ moment. We also saw a flying fish, crossing several dozen meters in the air before diving into the waters again. Arriving in Agujitas, there’s no landing bridges, no pier or harbor, just beach, so everyone has to get their feet wet.

And then you’re there, and you realize it’s a bit like what many people imagine paradise to be like. The palm trees, the beaches, the crystal clear, blue shimmering waters, the warm temperatures, the beautiful nature, the feeling of being away from it all. That is until the first noisy motorbike drives by, you start sweating like crazy, and mosquitoes start biting you everywhere. 🙂

The crabs on the beach dig big holes.

And occasionally you find the shells of much bigger crustaceans too.

These vultures held a meeting at the beach. From the distance, you’d think you see some crows, but closer up they’re actually quite special, having this weird stuff at their necks and heads that makes them look a bit like nuns.

Bromelia-crazy Roman found another dead tree that is very much alive with lots of bromelias on it. 🙂

The electricity meters also seem to be growing out of the jungle.

Where most places have boring pigeons and sparrows, the most common birds here are those. Left is the male, right is the female. The red color on the male’s back is super intense, being in fact more of a highlighter pen’s orange red than just simple red. Whenever one of them flies by, which happens all the time, you’re like “oh, wow!” and just stop doing what you were doing for a moment.

Cicadas are everywhere here and they’re BIG, and stunningly beautiful.

Also everywhere are those big ass lizards, which can run really fast. Officially called ‘common basilisk’ in English, they’re also known as Jesus lizard for their ability to run on the surface of water for several meters.

One of the days, we did an extended hiking trip along the coast through the jungle, towards the actual Corcovado National Park. The park border is just a technicality though. The adjacent areas, all the way up to the town of Agujitas and beyond, are just as much part of the same continuous rainforest area, sharing the same wildlife and biodiversity.

Something you cannot avoid stepping over (or on) on the entire Osa peninsula is leaf cutter ants, whose ant trails are spanning the forest like motorways span the Netherlands. On this photo the trail goes vertical, all those ants transporting the leaves upwards.

A really odd plant growing between the trees here. I have no idea why it looks like this, or what’s nature’s idea behind this shape.

Also really interesting were these trees. Well, I’m not really sure if they’re actually trees or something closer to bamboo. In any case, they are covered with those really pointy spikes all pointing downwards, to keep animals from climbing up.

And suddenly an entire group of white-faced capuchin monkeys crossed our path. About 20 animals I would estimate, but it’s hard to say as they’re not exactly forming a queue and moving in a straight line, but are all over the place, both up in the trees and down on the ground.

This one came really close. The photo is not zoomed in, it was really just sitting there, like one meter away.

Those are the most common type of monkeys in Costa Rica, and they’re featured on the 5000 Colon note. In general, all the Costa Rican bank notes are very colorful with beautiful motives of the local fauna and flora.

Speaking of flora: nice!

I know you can’t see it, and you don’t have to believe me, but there were dolphins there. This is the best photo I could capture. Even for me, knowing where to look at, it’s difficult to see. Anyway, at least two of them were playing in the water, and once even jumped out in a perfect postcard-ready arc (which of course I missed with the camera).

So called ‘walking palm’ trees, with their mostly above ground stilt roots, look really fancy.

A ‘traveller’s palm’ with its perfectly shaped, somehow 2-dimensional growth.

I think I’ve never seen as many hermite crabs before. Both the beaches and the adjacent jungle areas are full of them. When you stand still for a moment, you can see them moving everywhere. And they come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.

Also quite common are termites with their typical sheltered paths along the tree trunks.

On the way south, we crossed several small streams, and one bigger one, as you can see on the photo. It’s not particularly deep, but the current is really strong, so you still have to be careful. Also, you can’t cross it like this during high tide, when all this sandy area is flooded, as the water is much deeper further back there in the woods.

Our final destination of the hike was San Josecito Beach. Normally rather secluded, we were surprised to find lots of boats and people there when we arrived. That is because all the diving and snorkeling tours to a nearby island come here for the lunch break, since landing on the protected island is not allowed.

Scarlet macaws are at least as common here as in the Pantanal. We had already seen many of them in town, but there were even more on the beaches. They’re plucking the fruits from these trees, cracking the hard nuts inside to eat the seeds.

The rest of the fruits are just discarded by dropping them on the floor. The fruits are big, and when I was looking around here, some of them, thrown down by the macaws from the top of the tree, hit me on the head. O.o

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