Our Airbnb host Wendy didn’t think it was possible to travel from Guadalupe to Drake Bay in one day. Well, with John’s wonderful research we proved that to be incorrect. The alarm was set for 4.30am, and we caught the first bus bound to San Isidro at 5.45am. Arrived in San Isidro with half an hour to spare for the 7am bus to Palma Norte. Early on in the journey an elderly lady boarded the bus wearing a T-shirt with English words: ‘I hate mornings’. I had a chuckle to myself and wondered if she spoke English or knew what her T-shirt meant. Along the way we saw numerous acreages of pineapples – interesting to note that intact areas of vegetation surrounded these pineapple fields. It certainly appeared to not be a policy of vast land clearing and cropping. At lower altitudes the pineapples gave way to bananas and then coconuts. The coconut plantations reminded us of palm oil plantations in Indonesia, however on a smaller scale – let’s face it, you can only capture a very small overview when on a bus. Arrived in Palma Norte at 9.30am and immediately caught a taxi to Sierpe, about a fifteen minute drive away. We waited at Sierpe for the public ferry in a large restaurant cum waiting area until 11.30am. The food and shade were welcome.
The ferry journey, really a very large speed boat, was approximately an hour. We initially travelled down the river and through the mangrove estuary. Lush vegetation graced the hills behind the mangroves. Then into Drake Bay. The Lonely Planet describes Drake Bay as one of Costa Rica’s most isolated destinations; the journey as ‘exhilarating’ when the boat captains pilot their boats through the tidal currents. I found this section of the trip extremely bumpy when we crashed up and over the waves…We expected there to be a jetty at Drake Bay – not the case. We took off our boots, hopped over the side of the boat into the water as warm as a tepid bath, and carried our luggage ashore. Palm trees and other lush vegetation lined the coffee coloured sandy beach. Magnificent Frigate Birds and Black Vultures circled overhead, and a flock of six or more screeching Scarlet Macaws flew by. Welcome to Agujitas, the small once sleepy town of Drake Bay.
Above: Scarlet Macaw. We saw, and heard them every day.
We had not booked any accommodation. As it turns out, we arrived at the hottest time of the day in the hottest month. It was really, really stinking hot (and I underscore the words stinking hot) and we dragged our bags up a dusty dirt road stopping at a few places without finding a room. By the time we reached the town centre of Agujitas at the top of the hill I was ready to settle for any room that had a fan. Jade Mar Bungalows had no bungalows available, but we settled for a room with shared facilities for US$25 a night. Paid for two nights. As we were tired, hot and bothered we felt it was a bit grungy, but the heat and exhaustion had coloured our attitude. Worried about noise from fellow travellers we decided to look elsewhere and trudged half a kilometre out of town to see Drake Bay Paradise Lodge (DBPL) bungalows.
Above: Drake Bay main street – the centre of town.
Above: commonly used local transport – quad bikes.
Staff at DBPL are certainly not used to ‘walk-ins’, and there was a lot of argy-bargy about the price and numerous phone calls as John could have booked a special deal on booking.com and the staff member seemed not to believe us until we showed him the actual booking we were going to make rather than dealing directly and giving them cash. They finally relented and gave us a minor discount to better the booking.com price. The final price was A$44.75 per night. We booked four nights, but were not able to see inside the bungalow as they were all occupied. As in typical manner here, it turned out to not have a lined ceiling – that is, the ceiling is the iron cladding. Same as at Cold River Cabins mentioned in an earlier blog.
But Jade Mar turned out not to be the grungy first impression. Staff were extremely helpful. I will digress and discuss their helpfulness. One staff member, Luis, was exceptionally helpful and made phone calls on our behalf and even sent an email in Spanish to our preferred next destination, El Copal. Turned out to not be possible as only tour groups go there during very limited times of the year. The daughter of Jade Mar’s owners was born in Agujita and she is now thirty-three years old. She recounted that Agujitas did not have electricity connected until she was eighteen years old. Before then, the family was able to watch one hour of television per day courtesy of a battery and a solar panel. We also discussed ownership of the larger more expensive resorts. She advised all but one resort were foreign owned – yet another example of profits going offshore. Locals employed in such resorts can expect to earn approximately US$600 per month, and perhaps collect some tips along the way. Jade Mar was immaculately clean, the balcony had superb views into tall trees and the sea in the distance, we could have used the shared kitchen, and our co-residents were certainly not noisy – always our greatest fear. Mind you, the room had two fans and this assisted in drowning out any noise. It was just unfortunate all their bungalows were full when we arrived. Scarlet Macaws and numerous other species frequented the trees in front of the balcony. As well as this impressive Green Iguana:
Most people visit this remote isolated Osa Peninsular to visit Corcovado National Park, or to go scuba diving. We did neither. I was feeling guilty about the fact that we had travelled so far and had not made arrangements after a few days to visit the National Park. Accordingly I read the Lonely Planet section about the National Park. You need to take a boat to the park, and by the time you arrive most animals have disappeared for the day. Neither of us could image even attempting a trek at high speed with a young cohort intent on seeing animals. Bird watching pace would not have been catered for. The cost for a seven hour visit was either US$85-90 per person depending upon the exact destination. An overnight stay was US$375 per person. I felt very much reassured we had made the correct decision, and accordingly we decided to do other tours – a night tour, and a birdwatching tour. I will discuss the tours later.
We arrived at Drake Bay Paradise Lodge and within minutes a troop of Capuchin Monkeys, also known as White-Faced Monkeys came leaping onto our bungalow roof and crashing into the trees – it was the only time we saw them. Most mornings a few Yellow-throated Toucans sat high in the tallest trees and made a hell of a racket during sunrise.
Above: Capuchin monkey.
Above: our bungalow at Drake Bay Paradise Lodge.
Above: the Lesson’s Motmot that frequented a tree in front of our balcony – unfortunately this photo only partially captured the beautiful long tail feathers.
During our six night stay we did a lot of walking around the small town of Agujitas starting early in the morning in an impossible attempt to beat the heat.
Above: hibiscus avenue.
Mind you, 25 degrees at 6am is beginning to feel cool! The town and surrounding areas are hilly with dusty dirt roads. Locals get very tired of the powder fine dust – we have seen them hosing the road, hosing plants, sweeping the front of their shops and so on.
Above: local sign.
Costa Rica is ever so rich in animal and plant diversity. The iridescent Blue Morpho butterflies are a sight to be seen – their wingspan is between 12.7-15.5cm – and they just suddenly dance in front of you and then disappear. Striped ‘Jesus’ lizards run across water…One morning when out walking we heard a loud howling and I went into ‘flight or fight mode’ thinking a wild boar was about to come racing out the jungle. A troop of Howler monkeys swung through the trees above us. A little further on a tiny ‘helicopter’ hovered in front of us – it turned out to be a black/grey damsel fly with lacy black/grey wings with yellow spots on the end of each wing. All we could see were yellow spots going round and round – simply remarkable. I later googled this, and yes, there is such a thing as a ‘helicopter damselfly’.
The night tour at Rio Agujitas Farm was fascinating. A whole new world opened up…We were given gumboots and spent most of the time wading up and down a shallow stream. We saw two types of non-venomous snakes; sleeping birds; cane toads; different frog species – one extremely tiny and you could see through its body; tadpoles; fish; small blue crayfish; tarantulas; orb spiders and even ‘fishing spiders’. We had seen leaf-cutter ants in long generally singular rows during the daytime carrying their freshly cut leaves back to the nest. Well, at night time the ants formed ‘rivers of ants’ – that is, there were rows and rows of ants, four or five abreast, or even more, carrying freshly cut leaves back to the nest. We were very careful to not stand on them. The nest entrance was surrounded by old discarded leaves that no longer served the purpose of creating mould. Luis explained these leaves were wonderful compost in the jungle.
Above: leaf cutter ants during the daytime – those little green ‘blobs’ are pieces of a leaf the ants have cut.
Above: discarded leaves at the entrance of a leaf cutter’s nest.
Our bird watching tour was with a female guide – the first female bird guide we have encountered – yet again a remarkable experience. I won’t detail all the birds seen, but the highlights were Baird’s Trogon, Red-capped Manikins – unfortunately only a split second glimpse, and Orange-collared Manikins. We were fortunate to be beside their lek. These remarkable little birds are able to push their wings backwards and make a clicking noise using their spine. It sounded like fire crackers, or the crackling of fire burning dry leaves.
Above: a Gartered Torgon seen on one of our morning walks – we were very excited to see this bird.
Above: boarding the ferry to Sierpe – note the coffee coloured sand.
Our next destination is San Jose for a couple of nights, then Orosi – it will be cooler there!