Latin America, Travellers' Tales

Paradise on Earth – Days 4 – 6

Paradise on Earth – Days 4 to 8 – The Osa Peninsula

Continuing from her last post, Felicity’s adventure continues …

The airfield at Tortuguero was small. In-fact, blink and you missed it. There were only two members of staff (other than the pilots standing with the plane) who wore the hats of 10. Passport, Check-In, Customs, Anything to Declare… two guys. Needless to say there was no Duty-Free. We were handed hand-written tickets and made our way across the 4 metres of forecourt. Once onboard the 16 seater we were quickly in the air, and the views were outstanding. You could see how lush the colours and density of the canopy were across the land and the river courses winding through the hills down to the sea. We headed to San Jose for a stop off and then joined another Nature Air queue for departure to Puerto Jimenez – and of course there were more staff here at Juan Santamaria and we had a much further walk to the plane!

Flying over the Golfo Dulce was stunning, the sea isn’t as deep here so it glistened a mesmerising blue colour against the green trees surrounding. Once we arrived in Puerto Jimenez (after hearing we had a trainee pilot who was on loudspeaker listening to how many feet above sea level we were)… 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, touchdown. We arrived on a small airstrip with not too much around. Immediately after stepping from the plane ‘Alan’ wearing a ‘Playa Cativo Lodge’ t-shirt greeted us and took our bags to a nearby jeep. Our adventures in the Pacific had begun.

“Hello Paradise! Hello Playa Cativo!”

The jeep took us to the dock where we boarded a small speed boat and spent the next hour or so crossing the gulf. It was beautiful. Blue seas, blue skies, wind in the hair and along we bobbed. As we approached land once again it felt like we were arriving at Jurassic Park (just like in the film). We started to realise the rainforest here is also very dense and plentiful of colour.

Our lodge came into view and there stood a magnificent one piece, three story structure, rich in mahogany wood and no sign of neighbours for miles. It has its own bay and once we touched land we were greeted with fresh cool towels and a cocktail. Hello Paradise! Hello Playa Cativo! Alan took us into the open windowed structure along with our bags. He explained how things worked here.

The staff were here for us, whenever we needed them. No schedule, just when we wished to dine, they would be there to serve. The service was impeccable. They created a relaxed environment where it was encouraged to walk in bare foot so that you gave in to relax mode on holiday, which quite often people don’t. It was like having the comfort of being in your own home but with staff on hand at all times.

Our top floor suite (which we were upgraded to on arrival because it became available), was astonishing. Absolutely breathtaking. Like no where I’ve ever stayed. We had undisturbed panoramic views (no windows) around three sides of the Lodge – from the bay right around to the rainforest, with the sound of the sea and the birdsong surrounding you in this amazingly spacious room. A settee area to relax, desk area to catch up on the diary and table and chairs if you wanted chill out (and get your Domino skills up to scratch) and yet still ample room for the luxurious double bed. The bathroom too was magnificent – with double shower/wet room with a view right over the gulf looking out to the Osa Peninsula. Probably the best shower I’ve ever taken!

After exploring the lodge we had many options and the choice was ours; snorkelling, hiking, waterfall walking, bird watching, a trip to an animal sanctuary, trip to their working farm, relaxing by the pool, swimming in the sea, kayaking, paddle-boarding or just simply chilling with a book taking in the atmosphere with the warm glow of sunshine directly overhead and the odd Scarlet Macaw flying by. It was pure bliss, or ‘Pura Vida’ as they say.. Pure Life. Lizards scuttled by. Butterflies danced in the sun. Hummingbirds would share a moment and be gone the next. The sea waves gently broke the birdsong as a gentle reminder to go paddling every now and then. The water was warm and and palm trees stretched across the bay. Along the way was a picturesque pier which you could walk along to in the afternoons when the weather is a tad windier. If it gets too windy however it is not recommended to stay too long under the palms in case of falling coconuts!

“It was pure bliss, or ‘Pura Vida’ as they say.. Pure Life.”

“Costa Rica isn’t for the squeamish!”

We decided to walk to the waterfall and went clambering over the terrain, up high and down low over the valley and found the waterfall in a picturesque setting with high foliage. A lovely place to pop along to for some peace. Along the route back we carefully stepped over tree routes and dodged ant hills when suddenly I had both feet on the ground and the ground rumbled beneath me. An aftershock of an Earthquake had reached us from Nicaragua and it was the most surreal thing to know how powerful and how far these tremors can fetch. Once we were back to the Lodge it was time to relax in the pool and put our feet up for five minutes.

One afternoon I chose to take the walk to the farm which was particularly engaging. My guide and staff at hand ‘Gustavo’ talked about the growth process of the rainforest explaining the formation of the Primary and Secondary and how the understory plays an essential role of the continuing of the bio-structure in a functional way for all to share. What fascinated me the most was the Leaf Cutter Ants and their trails made all over the understory, clearing obvious paths for them to bring forth leaf cuttings to take into the nest to stop moisture and help to develop their underground network of living space. Gustavo also explained the different ants and their job-roles. Those who clear paths, those who carry and those who fight off parasites from attacking the knees of the working ants. So much activity filled the forest, and all have their own part to play in the upkeep for  harmonic living.

I also learnt about plants growing half way up trees since there is so much water run off from the canopy, anything will grow pretty well up the tree. However, this can pose a big threat to the existing tree as the new tree or plant will send roots out and grow with gravity and once they find the forest floor can plant themselves and use the existing tree to grow around, resulting in the first tree starving of nutrients. Once we arrived at the farm I could see how economically and ozone-friendly they were. Functioning without import meant it was protecting the area, making it free from emissions and created sustainability for the guests and staff. We found tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, melons, pigs and chickens and more. Gustavo was a young guide but he already had the ongoing passion and knowledge ready to share with first come jungle goers. We found a variety of wildlife across our walk including White-Nosed Coati, Howler Monkeys, Peccary, Agouti, Great Curassow, Cherries Tanager, Bairds Trogon, Chestnut-Crested Toucan, Turkey Vultures, White-Headed Caracara, Ruddy Ground Doves, a mixture of Flycatchers, Honeycreeper and Bananaquits among others.

One evening at Playa Cativo we congregated with the other guests – two British Couples and a UK travel agent who had popped by for one night. Gustavo had planned us a night hike so we could finally find out which creatures were keeping us up at night! With wellingtons, cameras and torches at the ready we started off at 6pm – after total darkness settled in with no light to spoil our view. Noise instantly surrounded us. Frogs, crickets, birds and other insects I didn’t have a sound bank for. We spotted a green tree frog almost instantly followed by several toads – some of which we were instructed were poisonous. We continued around the parameter of the land and were told to keep our eyes out for snakes! Because we were missing our vision it almost heightened our senses into sound and smell. As we delved deeper we kept finding more and more… it truly is on your doorstep, nature just surrounds you here. We found crabs on leaves, spiders, grasshoppers the size of my hand.

The Leaf Cutters dare I say were tucked up safely in their underground shelter as their paths lay dormant in the night. We found frogs galore, the smallest ones in fact made the loudest noise which almost distracted us from the marvel which lay calmly in the bush behind us – none other than the Red Eyed Tree Frog. Yes! One happy photographer! We didn’t expect to find much more but at last minute out popped the giant Red Eyed Bullfrog like he wanted to steal the show. We were almost back to the lodge when suddenly we discovered a snake resting on the leaves beside us. The walk certainly wasn’t for the faint hearted! Then again, Costa Rica isn’t for the squeamish! Its an adventure for those seeking it, and what you put in you’ll get out. We headed back in to the comfort of the Lodge and sat down as one table for dinner so we could enjoy chatting about our new exciting experience.

Read the next instalment of Felicity’s Costa Rica adventure.

We had an enchanting stay at Playa Cativo. The cuisine was impeccable and served when you were ready, not the other way round. It was rich in taste and was cooked with all the fresh produce from the farm. The buttery garlic chicken was to die for and the white chocolate cheesecake was pure bliss. I couldn’t give them enough credit for their culinary skills here.