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The wild Caribbean in Costa Rica

Friday, July 11, 2014


Guadalupe Piccioni

Huge crabs make their way unsteadily but sedately along the streets of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, at the same speed as the people. In simple huts, the local craftsmen display their wares beside the sea. From the restaurants comes the aroma of coconut and the coconut milk that rice n’ beans is being cooked in. Bob Marley’s voice rouses the suntanned bodies, and the empty hammocks sway to and fro in the sea breeze.

The legendary Stanford Bar, in the heart of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, provides a grandstand view of the surfers in action. The first American surf lovers came to this Caribbean village with its black and indigenous population 30 years ago, along with a few hippies. The village, which is near the border with Panama, still retains that ‘flower power’ atmosphere.

The Floating House
I am standing at the base of a sixty-meter tall medlar tree. Juan, the guide who has accompanied me along a path that snakes into the jungle, makes a sign. I look up, and see a platform that surrounds the trunk, high up. “That’s the little house you’ll be privileged to enjoy the jungle from”, he says, adding “from somewhere nobody usually gets to”. I use ropes to climb the tree, and at a height of 25 meters, enter the house. Built without a single nail or screw that would harm the 300-year-old tree, the house has two floors and rests on a 60 m2 platform, suspended from the branches by means of steel cables coated in oilskin.

This house made Slovak engineer Peter Garcar’s dream come true: to prove that a living tree is worth more than a dead one. From anywhere inside it I have a 360° view over the Gandoca-Manzanillo National

Wildlife Sanctuary, in the heart of a tropical rainforest. On the horizon is the Caribbean Sea, with coral reefs beneath its waves.

Thanks to a solar panel, at night the “floating” house is like a glow worm or firefly that shines out in the vastness of the forest.

As I settle down for the night, croaks, buzzing and moving branches lull me to sleep. At dawn, I will witness the world awakening from the jungle canopy, amid creepers, lianas, bromeliads, monkeys and birds.

Deep in the Jungle
After spending the night among the leafy branches of the trees, I set off into the depths of the jungle, this time on foot. On the way to the beach, the guide puts his hand on my shoulder and whispers, “there’s an oropel (poisonous snake) one meter from your left foot”. At the same time, I hear a loud screech from the branches and see a monkey doing risky pirouettes at the top of a tree. “It’s a spider monkey”, Joe tells me. “His prehensile tail makes him a great juggler”.

And on the beach, the scenery changes. The coast is home to coconut palms and sea grapes. Out at sea I can see a boat. “That’s Rafa’s”, says Joe, “taking a group to go snorkeling at Punta Mona”.

The Perfect Beach
I begin the next day with a rice n’ beans at Lidia’s Place. I get on my bike and leave the village on the path that runs along the coast.

I pedal as far as Punta Uva Beach, and what I see is sublime: a semi-deserted beach separated from Playa Grande by a vast, natural wall of stone. The turquoise water and white sand lead to a dense forest of almond trees and palms. There aren’t many of us there, but we all go into the sea at the same time: two with snorkeling equipment, one in a kayak, and me to swim in the warm, calm water.

Afterwards, I relax in the shade of a sea grape, contemplating the sea. Three meters away, a family of white-faced monkeys is feasting on fallen coconuts. I realize how fortunate I am: there is no human noise
here that is capable of silencing the sounds of nature in all its true splendor, heavenly beaches merge into never-ending forests and the sea boasts coral reefs, while beautiful rivers disgorge their fresh water into the ocean. “This is the life!”, as the Ticos say.

From San José to Puerto Viejo
A four-hour journey by bus. On the way, enormous reptiles basking in the sun on the banks of crystal clear rivers can be seen, along with vast banana, coconut palm and coffee plantations.

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