Well, after exploring the city of San Jose and being derailed from our plan to head to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side, we needed to decide what to see in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a natural gem with incredible wildlife, mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, jungle, the works. However, all of this comes with a price. Compared to its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica is easily the most expensive and even visiting national parks is a big cost to backpackers. We found ourselves saying “Man, I wish we could afford to see the waterfalls…” Kind of sad, but true.
Anyway, our research for finding a new place to do some work exchange has changed the route to the Caribbean side of Panama with two options. We’ll see which one pans out…
Because we now intended to stay on the north side of Panama, we decided to check out the Osa Peninsula on the Pacific side of Costa Rica which contains Corcovado National Park. We left our hostel in San Jose early and walked to the bus station across town. With three minutes to spare, we grabbed tickets to Golfito, Costa Rica for $14, about an 8 hour ride.
When we arrived in Golfito, we knew we would have to take a boat across the peninsula to Puerto Jimenez. Our research alluded to a ferry that would take about a half hour to cross. When we arrived in Golfito, the bus driver let us out at the dock and we grabbed our bags and walked towards it in the rain. The man working the information booth pointed out a small fishing boat and instructed us to take it to get to Puerto Jimenez. We boarded the boat with about 10 other locals, put on some trash bag ponchos, and headed towards Puerto Jimenez.
We quickly realized that the rain was the least of our concerns with staying dry. The water was choppy and with each wave, another gust of water splashed into the boat. Most of the passengers and our captain shared smiles and laughter at the mildly hilarious situation. We were drenched upon arriving in Puerto Jimenez, but our spirits were high.
The instructions we read to find Bello Horizonte Jungle Hostel told us locate Cafe Monka and wait for the daily shuttle to take us to the hostel which was out of town. We found the cafe quite easily, grabbed some coffee, food, and cash, and the shuttle was right on time. We were greeted in a warm fashion and ten minutes later we were at the hostel. We were asked upon arrival if we were interested in visiting Corcovado National Park, and, of course, we were. After hearing the costs associated with the park (upwards of $170 for 2 nights, 3 days each), however, we decided to decline and proceeded to check into the hostel for 2 nights. (We even got lucky that they were doing a special for $10 / night each as opposed to the regular $14/ night each. Score!)
We had very little food with us and decided to change into rain gear with the intent of walking to town. Luckily, the owners were about to head there so they gave us a ride to the grocery (and liquor) store to stock up. We grabbed some items and returned to the hostel. We made a snack and chatted with a couple girls from Spain that were heading to Corcovado in the morning as well as a couple from Quebec. We played War with a deck of cards and went to bed early in our private jungle cabana.
We woke early to the sound of howler monkeys (named that for a reason!) and countless singing birds. Our view overlooking the jungle canopy was beyond words. “Yes, please!” were my first words upon waking. Oh, yay! I witnessed my first toucan friend. Witnessing them flying is quite comedic as their beaks severely change their balance. (More like Tou-can’t take my picture.)
We made breakfast and had coffee and spent the day reading and relaxing in hammocks while we viewed the jungle activity. We made the forty minute walking trek into town to use the internet, have ice cream, and a beer. While in town, we saw a pack of wild scarlet mccaws. What a treat! We ended the night with rum drinks and dinner and let the jungle sing us to sleep.
The next day was quite similar. Breakfast, read, relax, hammocks, town. We decided to spend one more night (our third) and made plans to leave early the next morning for Panama. When we came back from town, we decided to put on our rain gear and take the jungle trail from the hostel down to the creek. The hostel owners, Peter and Luchy, gave us rain boots to wear and walking sticks. We were told the trail took about an hour and a half going slow. We were also informed that the trail makes a loop from the hostel back to the property owner’s cabin. When we took off, we had about 2 hours of daylight left which would be plenty of time to make the loop before absolute darkness.
We made our way down the path and spotted a fork in the trail. One sign said “Sendero del Valle” and pointed into the jungle. Behind the fork was a tree with man made ladder rungs nailed to it. We couldn’t resist the climb, so we took turns climbing to a branch seat and enjoying the view of the jungle that melted into the ocean at the horizon point.
We decided to continue down to the creek and not take the Sendero del Valle trail. Into the jungle we went, climbing down handmade mud steps which eventually opened up at the bottom to the creek. We began to follow it downstream. We came to a point where the water was quite deep and had to crawl across a fallen tree to pass to the other side. Soon, we found a trail that led up and we began to climb up and up upon rocks and creek bed. Up and up and up. At points, we wondered if the path was correct but there always seemed to be another rock to climb, another foothold, another root to walk across. Up and up and up we went now by the light of my flashlight. We kept walking. 2 hours had passed and the territory seemed very unfamiliar. At points we were scaling rock walls while holding onto tree roots, flashlight in mouth.
When we finally stopped climbing, we took the grassy path surrounded by jungle trees. Looking up, all you could see was the jungle canopy, and we didn’t have a clue which direction we were walking. The unsettling feeling of being lost began to sink in. We continued walking down the path but, eventually, there was no path to follow. Shit. I think we’re lost in the jungle.
We spoke those words we wish we didn’t have to say. I think we’re lost. I don’t know where to go next.
Ok. I decided to sit on a large tree root to clear my head and think straight.
Suddenly, I felt stinging all down my arm and leg. My flashlight showed big, black ants crawling all up and down one side of my body. So big I initially thought they were spiders. Claudia helped pat me down and calm me down. Ok. Let’s think. (Standing!)
Inventory… flashlight (beginning to dim), headlamp (also dimming), phone with 3% battery and no service, a lighter, half a donut, 2 walking sticks, rain gear and boots, and an umbrella. An umbrella? What a joke.
Basic Survival 101 began to kick in. Ok. We need water and we know where to find it. Down. We agreed that if we could find a water source, we would be fine. So, we found a path down a different creek bed and went down and down and down. We followed the rocks, shimmied down mossy tree trunks, and climbed down rock ladder rungs. And alas, we found the creek again. Was it the same creek? Was it different?
“Remember the stairs?” Claudia jokingly reminded me.
Well, we found water. Fresh water. It was raining. The water was safe, and we drank from it. We followed the water for awhile and realized the flashlight was dimming. We knew our best bet for finding “out” was to wait until dawn. Well, let’s find a place to rest for the night. At about 9 pm, 4 hours after we had begun- we found a rock shelf along the creek with a fallen dead tree that created a seat. We scaled the area for bugs and who knows what other creatures and parked it.
There was nothing left to do at this point but wait. After four hours of up and down, we concluded, we couldn’t be much further than 5 km away from the hostel. We also noted that all rivers lead to the ocean and that was at absolute maximum 10 km away. The sun would give us light and also direction, the ocean was east of our hostel as well. Aside from snakes and big mammals (both shy of the rain), our survival was not at risk. Our heads were on our shoulders, and there was nothing to do but wait.
We watched the moon briefly as it was shrouded by jungle canopy. Then, the dark set it. Without question, it was the darkest dark I’ve experienced. At the darkest points, I couldn’t see my boots. The inside of my eyelids and my vision of the world were the same. The idea of sleeping was another joke.
An eternity passed.
Oh. I can see my boots.
I can see the creek.
I can see the area around me.
At 5:15, we began to walk again. About 20 minutes passed until we heard…
We were found. Sweet. That was easier than we thought. The wonderful people at Bello Horizonte Jungle Hostel had been worried sick about us all night. They had filed a missing persons report. They had enlisted the help of friends when we didn’t return that evening. We walked up the steps we dreamed about, which were within 20 minutes walk of our resting place, and were greeted with hugs, coffee, and breakfast. We were soon dubbed “Jungle Survivors.”
Whew. What a day…night…
Let’s stay another, shall we?
We showered and slept until about 2 in the afternoon. After, we did little again except read, relax, and enjoy the jungle view. We saw squirrel monkeys at play for at least a half hour… 30 of them?
That night, we slept like rocks…not on rocks…
The next day we spent helping Peter in the workshop. While…lost…we wished there were signs marking the trail. So, we helped make them! I painted a “Sendero del Valle” sign close to Peter’s cabin.There was a loop in the trails but only when you retraced your path up the manmade staircase and through Sendero del Valle. Now, that path is marked from both sides.
We also thought it was necessary to mark the creek’s entrance and stair exit. Claudia painted a beautiful sign to do just that.
We hiked down the path to hang it and hope future guests can benefit 😉
We also helped Peter frame and ready a new advertisement for the hostel and business we had grown to love.
After a day of work, we walked to town (ok, hitched halfway through) and grabbed lunch and some groceries. We caught the shuttle back to the hostel from Cafe Monka, where we started. On the way back, Alan noticed an Ilian Ilian and stopped to pick it. Ilian Ilian is the primary floral fragrance in Chanel 5.
It was time to actually travel in the morning. The rest of the evening we spent enjoying the jungle canopy and all it had to offer. We even were able to see a sloth “Osa Perezosa” lounging in the trees.
In the morning, we again woke to monkeys playing in the jungle. Alan, part of the hostel family, asked if we wanted to see the crocodiles before we caught the ferry. Um, yes!
Well, adios Puerto Jimenez. What a beautiful, crazy, amazing adventure we had.
By the way, ask me about Bello Horizonte Jungle Hostel. It’s affordable, beautiful, and the owners make you feel like family. There are so many volunteer opportunities here too. Escape reality, and find yourself in the jungle. I’d be happy to answer your questions!