In San Jose we walked to the MUSOC bus station – a good half hour walk dragging luggage – and caught the 9.30am bus to San Isidro, a three hour journey with a fifteen minute break half way – very civilised. The journey was an ever uphill climb on winding roads until we reached a height of 3,318 metres – here the vegetation altered to stunted trees and marsh like grasses, and then we began the descent to San Isidro.
In San Isidro we walked to the local bus station – ten minutes – and waited for the 2.30pm bus to San Gerardo de Rivas. A supermarket was directly opposite the bus station so I did some basic shopping, buying more than I planned – which turned out to be a good strategy – and we enjoyed a delicious meal at a ‘soda’ in the bus terminal. ‘Sodas’ are little cafes or restaurants that generally have a set menu for lunch, with generous portions, and are very cost effective. Generally speaking, between A$6-8.
Our accomodation was an Airbnb property called Cold River Cabin, in Guadalupe. Guadalupe is a small village on the road to San Gerardo de Rivas. This is the last town – the bus ends here. It is a destination for hikers keen to climb Chirripó – it is the highest peak in Costa Rica, the summit reaching 3,820 metres. There are numerous accommodation options in this tiny town, but it caters mainly for overnight stays. Young folk overnighting before and after climbing Chirripó Mountain. The other accommodation options on offer are a few expensive private nature reserves. Some of these reserves charge US$220 per night. We didn’t want to be in amongst numerous people hiking up to Chirripó or a very busy hostel, thus our decision to stay approximately five kilometres down the road at Cold River Cabin.
Our host Wendy had provided detailed instructions on how to travel from San Jose to Guadalupe – extremely helpful. She even inquired as to whether we spoke Spanish – basically no, but we can understand a few words if spoken slowly. Locals certainly do not speak slowly…She sent us a message to say to the bus driver: ‘Queremos bajar en la ultima parada en Guadalupe cerca del mecanicio’. That is: ‘We want to get off at the last stop in Guadalupe near the mechanic’. Everything went according to plan – always a relief!
Tranquility! The sounds of insect and bird calls, as well as the thundering Chirripo River nearby was a delightful change from San Jose. Our rustic cabin, or a cabina as they are called here, was a home away from home. It is set on some land owned by one family. Two other houses were close by, but not close enough to be intrusive in any way. The land was used for general farming – vegetables, chickens, and a few cows in sheds and paddocks.
Above: Cold River Cabin
A balcony with stools – the best place to catch the afternoon breeze and birdwatch, a couch and two chairs to lounge around on, a kitchen with basic equipment, but manageable when travelling, and an upstairs and downstairs bathroom. The only negative was the unlined roof inside the cabin – sunny days are the order of the day here, and the heat pulsed through the iron roof draining us of energy. The afternoon inside temperature varied between 34-35 degrees Celsius each day. Windows on all sides of the cabin created good air flow. However, the balcony, for whatever strange reason had a lined roof, and accordingly, the temperate was cooler there. Cool evenings were the saving grace. The morning temperatures around 6am varied between 15 to 18 degrees. We bird watched from the balcony and along the river. Some of the species seen from the balcony were: Blue-diademed Motmot, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Palm Tanager, Speckled Tanager, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and in the distance, Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures. On a couple of evenings we were fortunate to hear a Tropical Screech Owl calling. Unfortunately not seen.
Above: typical vegetation by Chirripo River
Above: Chirripo River near Cold River Cabin
One morning we walked up the road to check out the local supermarket. There was a sign next to the supermarket with an arrow pointing to Barrio San Francisco. I thought to myself, this is a bit odd….Well, a few minutes later an American couple were introducing themselves to us. We quickly learned they had retired here and gained Costa Rican residency. To achieve residency you need to be able to prove you have an income of US$1,000 per month. They had lived abroad for approximately thirty years and totally rejected the idea of living in the United States as an option. She advised Costa Rica felt environmentally and ethically correct. They said there were at least twenty five couples in that particular area, more up the road in the next village Canaan. ‘American refugees’ – we have witnessed Americans retiring and living in other South American countries on other trips. On that subject, Wendy was also an American who had rejected her country.
One of the main reasons for visiting this region was to access Cloudbridge Nature Reserve (CNR). The eBird site indicates 329 species have been recorded there. It covers 283 hectares on the side of Chirripó Mountain and is a private property devoted to creating bio links’s with ongoing reforestation and preservation. Volunteer opportunities abound, and we met a delightful young English woman who came for two months and has so far stayed for six months. CNR has also been purchasing unproductive farming land and revegetating those areas. CNR offers onsite self contained accommodation and I would have loved to stay there. Unfortunately the logistics were extremely difficult with limited supplies available at the San Gerardo de Rivas supermarket – you need to self cater – and the difficulty of organising a taxi to drive the three kilometres to CNR. Probably not impossible if you spoke decent Spanish…
John read a birder’s report saying he saw eighty species on a walk up to Cloudbridge, so we thought we’d try the walk there first. The bus stop was almost out the front of Cold River Cabin. We caught the 6.15am bus – it passes through some little villages on the way to San Gerardo de Rivas, arriving around 6.30am.. We then walked the three kilometres up to Cloudbridge arriving at 10.45. That’s four and three quarter hours. That may sound like a long time, but there were contributing factors to the amount of time taken. Firstly, bird watchers do not walk fast, generally speaking. Some sections of the road were a very steep incline, we stopped for a second packed breakfast, and when a bird wave happened we were in a frenzy attempting to focus on one bird and identify it, sometimes not successfully. Plus the hot weather…and the novelty of seeing six pack horses with their owners exiting Chirripó National Park. One of the CNR volunteers told us the pack horses are the only way to get rubbish out from the base lodge, and to take goods in. It is 14.5 kilometres from the entrance gate to the base lodge – this trek is done daily. Those men are certainly managing their quota of 10,000 steps per day!
John had hoped to see an American Dipper, but I wasn’t holding my breath. These amazing little birds walk under water…Anyway, at the second bridge we saw two of them flitting in and out of the water and perching on rocks. A big tick! I can assure you we did not see eighty species, but we saw lots of beauties that morning including Acorn Woodpeckers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Grey-headed Chachalacas, Black and White Warblers (a very cute little bird), Brown Jays, White -throated Mountaingems (a variety of hummingbird), Silver-throated Tanagers, and lots, lots more.
Above: Acorn Woodpecker
On the return trip we stopped at a delightful little cafe for a late morning tea break around 11.30 – I badly required a ‘sit-down’. Stunning views across the valley and into the distant mountains; Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures soaring in front of our eyes. Sometimes we would see only the bird’s shadow move across the ground. Acorn Woodpeckers and various Hummingbirds were gracing the bird feeder and numerous spectacular butterflies were out and about. We missed the 1pm bus so had lunch at the hotel, and caught the 4pm bus back to Guadalupe.
Above: interesting unknown insect on steps at the San Gerardo de Rivas hotel
Above: this unusual building stored raw coffee beans. We saw the shutes open (half way down the photo), and all the beans fell into the back of a truck.
We required a day of rest following our walk up to Cloudbridge. The next day Wendy was able to organise for a local to pick us up at 6am and drive us all the way to Cloudbridge. This delightful young man spoke fluent English and certainly had a storey to tell. He had left Costa Rica ten years ago and went to Canada with his brother in search of work. After a few years his brother said he could no longer cope with the cold, and they had heard on the grapevine that money was better in the USA. They were smuggled into the USA by train. He said they expected to be travelling in the train, as one does, but to his amazement, when they arrived at the station, the smugglers somehow managed to get them under the train for the one hour journey. The smugglers travelled in the train and organised their successful exit. Well, he lived to tell the story and now has a wife and a four and a half year old daughter.
We arrived at Cloudbridge at 6.15am – it was cold and the birds were not active until at least 7.00 to 7.30am. The only noise was the thunderous roar of the river through the narrow gorge below. And the crashing roar of the waterfalls…We sat and waited for a bit of ‘bird action’ and were rewarded with a sighting of a Northern Emerald Toucanet. Then, I heard some rustling in the leaves – a group of five Spotted Wood Quails. They took no notice of us, and scratched around in the leaf litter for ages. The majority of the Cloudbridge trails are extremely steep, so we meandered along one of the easier trails and up into cloud forest vegetation. It is often far more difficult to see birds in dense intact forest, and this unfortunately was our Cloudbridge experience. When we returned to the main gate we noticed some lucky people had seen a Quetzal – maybe we will be in luck somewhere else. Here is a photo of the ‘Bano Rustico’ (rustic toilet) along one of CNR trails:
Above: the ‘open air’ toilet on the trail at Cloudbridge – aptly called ‘bano rustico’
The winding road to San Gerardo de Rivas is generally narrow, and there is no footpath. We always felt safe walking along the roads as drivers here don’t seem to have that wild ‘machismo’ streak sometimes seen especially in Asian countries. Everywhere we have been, locals are extremely friendly. Drivers generally wave to us, and walkers always greet us with ‘Hola’, or ‘Buenos Dias’, or whatever the appropriate greeting is for the time of the day.
Above: locals having a chat
Our next destination is Bahia Drake on the Osa Peninsula – an isolated mecca for nature watchers on the west coast of Costa Rica.