Jungle fever: Part One

When you decide to go tramping through what The National Geographic refers to as “the most biologically intense place on Earth” you have to expect  a few close encounters of a hairy, scary kind, large and small…And that’s just the mammals!

Some important facts/stats on Corcovado National Park (for the nerdier readers amongst you):

1. It is home to the largest and only tropical primary lowland rainforest in the world,  and is crammed full of endangered plant and animal species.

2. It has thirteen major ecosystems, over 140 different mammal species (pumas, jaguars, monkeys steal the show), 400 bird species (including the gorgeous, gregarious and monogamous scarlet macaws), 116 types of amphibian/reptile (yikes), 40 fish species (yum), over 500 species of tree, more than 100 varieties of butterfly, and at least 10,000 other creepy crawlies (including a few I sincerely wished were either endangered or extinct!)

3. The sheer abundance of life has a lot to do with the fact that Costa Rica is essentially part of the wildlife corridor that links North America and South America.

And here it is, on a map, close to the Panamanian border..

So, instead of the usual easter egg hunt this year, I went in search of rather less edible things…Deadly one-inch frogs, equally deadly one metre snakes (that are scared of the deadly one-inch frogs), howler monkeys, pumas, harpy eagles, peccaries, the aggressive teeth-knashing pig with white whiskers.. I found some, but not all of these, and many others that I never knew existed. By day I went in search of them, and by night, they came in search of me! (in fact, rarely spent a night alone..the jungle is a ‘friendly’ sort of place like that..)

But my trip was as much defined by characters of the human kind as it was by the animal kind.. I found my feet in a place called Puerto Jimenez, a lazy laid-back seaside town that serves as a good jumping off point for jungle adventures.. and whiled away an afternoon with Ireland’s equivalent of Crocodile Dundee, a smoking, drinking, wiry, wise and charming Irishman who has made the jungle his home for 15 years..I asked him why. He told me that he grew up in Trinidad wrestling caimans (crocs) and catching snakes, and thought he might just as well carry on and see how many other deadly encounters he could clock up.. including a competition with his best mate to see who could get the nastiest bite from the nastiest thing.. and not die!…(a more deadly – and daft – combination of Irish and Latin bravado you could not find..)

MIke with a couple of tiddlers

But the most satisfying part of his job, apart from cuddling cobras, was seeing the lights go on in kids eyes, watching them learn about, and get inspired by, the natural world. Increasingly schools from Europe and the US are getting students out of the classrooms and into the jungle before it, or its inhabitants disappear.. Hands up who had a science teacher with that sort of imagination.. I want to be a kid again!! (minus the homework perhaps)

My inspirational human encounter number two, was with Eduardo, poacher turned gamekeeper, living on the edge of the national park, with whom I was based for a few nights to conduct forays into the jungle.

Here he is standing in front of an interesting tree.

Eduardo and interesting tree (one of many)

Eduardo is one of those story tellers you can listen to for hours. His early life as a gold digger, his middle life as a poacher, and his current life as a creator and protector of something very special at the edge of the forest: a little gem of a spot he wants to make sustainable, in every sense. The classic national park dilemma. He, along with fellow ‘campesinos’ are not allowed to hunt, cut anything down or expand their farmland..yet neither are they incentivised to work with the forest rather than against it. They have few options: trade in the farm for a nice motorbike and drinking money in town, continue to scratch out a living with a few cows (that might get eaten by the pumas), or try to create a space for punters like me looking for a bit of an ‘eco-adventure’..  He tells me that sadly, the community eeking out a living on the edge of the forest has been decimated. The local school used to have 30 kids, it now has just 7. (All of them, aged anything from 6-16 come to school with machetes in hand and dogs at heel to protect them from pumas..can you think of a trip to school more exciting than that!?)

Those of you who know I Don’t Do Mornings, will be impressed. 6am start, ably and loudly accompanied by this….

Howler monkey doing what he knows best

..And these, in the almond tree next to my hut..

Scarlet Macaws, early birds and noisy..

Blessed with the most spectacular plumage, but cursed with the ugliest of cackles..(think crow with a sore throat).. Quite definitely nature’s way of saying ‘you can’t have it all..!’

And then, with the early mists rising off the forest, I’d sit down to a hearty helping of rice and beans, steam rising off the plate,  and be ready for jungle action by 7am!

And what a treasure trove.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

La Roja, 1 inch poison dart frog: man and monkey beware!

Negro-Verde: stunning, but deadly

Needless to say, I have a new-found respect for frogs. (and the second one has given me an idea for an interesting shirt!)

Part Two to follow shortly. Can’t keep you attention-deficit, time-poor types away from your busy lives too long…


One response to this post.

  1. Lovely Liza….but give me Cornwall any time, no killer frogs thank goodness! XX


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