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Corcovado National Park: San Pedrillo

Destination: Drake Bay

Our tour left at 7:00 a.m. in a covered boat aimed at San Pedrillo, the closer of the two Corcovado ranger stations most easily accessed from Drake Bay. A small wooden building partially enclosing a number of camping tents, and a few picnic tables sat on a patch of grass just off the beach.

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Tony, our guide, supplied fresh beach towels and chilled waters for us to take on the first leg of the hike. He informed our party that Corcovado is thought to contain 2.5% of the earth's animal species -- much like the Amazon Rainforest, but without anacondas (which we were happy to hear). The park is home to at least 367 species of birds, 140 mammals, 71 reptiles, 46 amphibians, and 40 freshwater fish. This list includes four types of venomous snake, all four species of monkey found in Costa Rica, and about 40 jaguars -- a critically endangered cat.

We followed the beach to the left, and spotted a family of scarlet macaws playing in a large beach almond tree. Tony explained that scarlet macaws are special for three reasons: they mate for life, they live to be about 80 years old, and they are the only birds that speak English -- because they squawk something that sounds remarkably like "whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?" The call is almost enough to make a person's ears bleed, and it is hard to believe that a creature of such indescribable beauty can produce such a hideous sound.

Walking through the jungle, we passed by many of Corcovado's 600 species of trees, including ancient strangler figs. One member of the group, a Hawaiian arborist named Kevin, shared his own interesting facts about the rainforest (I was thrilled to learn that he was also a freelance tree specialist for the popular television show LOST).

He informed us that "the soil is very moist here, and as a result the trees need buttress roots for support. Roots grow out as well as down, reaching as far as they need to in order to gain stability."

Many roots had convoluted and bizarre shapes, including one that was flat and thin, appearing somewhat like a human-sized coin half buried in the ground. According to Kevin, this freakish root must be due to some sort of environmental stress, like wind or gravity.

Our guide explained that most of the trees we were observing were over 500 years old. Due to advanced age, over 85% are completely hollowed out, creating what he referred to as "a five star hotel for bats." Farther along the path, he pointed out a well-hidden fer-de-lance snake, by far the most venomous serpent in the area. If it were to bite an unfortunate visitor on a vein they would die almost instantaneously -- the fatal neurotoxins would be carried directly to the heart and throughout the body.

We reached the San Pedrillo waterfall at about 11:00 a.m., carefully hiking uphill and over a slippery river crossing. The water was cold and refreshing, and after a dip we took a shortcut back to the ranger station to appease our growling stomachs. Tony set up a delicious spread of fresh bread, pulled chicken, tortillas, beans, and salad fixings. For dessert we feasted on chocolate bars that tasted like Samoas Girl Scout Cookies, accompanied by fresh fruit.

By 2:00 p.m. we had safely returned to the hotel's dock. Since the sun was still shining, I decided to take a trail to a nearby beach. The muddy walkway from Aguila de Osa to Playa Cocalito probably should have only taken about 10-15 minutes -- it appeared much easier to travel on my hand-drawn map -- but seemed much longer without shoes. Crossing over a wobbly suspension bridge, I walked 15 minutes farther until the road finally ended. Here, I was greeted by a troop of rowdy white-faced monkeys.

After snapping several photos from the path, I began to quietly slip toward the beach as two seemingly demonic monkeys approached me from the side. One had a single white tooth protruding from a bloody split lip; he was decidedly a monkey Mafioso. The other appeared to be his goon, backing him up from the trail's sideline. It became clear from their menacing gestures that they were attempting to scare me away from something, probably a newborn. It worked.

I remained calm and faked confidence, and luckily they did not fulfill their threat. I later learned that when people smile and show their teeth, as I did while taking photos, members of the animal kingdom may take it as a sign of aggression. This is probably what provoked Cocalito's thug monkeys. Blinded by my desire for nice photographs, I had stepped into the territory of wild, unpredictable animals.

After my wild monkey encounter, I enjoyed an hour on my own private beach. Just before dark, I returned to Aguila de Osa to enjoy a hot shower, use the Internet, and bare my teeth at nothing more menacing than my mirror.

Corcovado National Park: San Pedrillo in Pictures

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