Thursday, March 20, 2008

Los Chiles, the end of the earth

Los Chiles, or the end of the earth as it feels, is a little town close to the Nicaraguan border in central Costa Rica. You reach it by driving two hours thru pineapple and sugar cane plantations and nothing else. The town sits on the Rio Frio and it is the river gateway to San Carlos, Nicaragua. It´s a strange place and feels a little frontier-like. Lots of people just sitting around, waiting for something to happen it seems. Flat bottomed river boats arrive and depart depositing groups of people on shore while across the river, Howler Monkeys roar and swing amongst the tree tops. On arrival I tried to sign up for a river boat tour and almost ended up going to Nicaragua the wrong way, being that this is the terminus for the riverboat buses ferrying the people back and forth. There is a large policia presence here due to the immigration problem of poor Nicaraguans entering the country illegally. Apparantly 20% of Costa Rica´s population is made up of Nicaraguans, many of them illegals.

I am staying at the Rancho Tulipan Hotel, built by a dutch company who are involved in reforestation projects in the area planting and harvesting fast growing Teak and Acacia trees for export to China and India and other countries. They also employ a large percentage of the community for which the community seems quite thankful for. I learned all this by hanging out with Max and Paul, two dutch foresters who work on the plantations. We shared a lot of beer since tomorrow the Easter holiday starts and no more alcohol is allowed to be served until after the holiday. We talked about trees, environment and world affairs late into the night (10pm is late in Costa Rica and the bugs were out in force). We didn´t solve any of the worlds problems but we made good friends. I love these friendships made over beer.

I took the riverboat tour at 6 am the next morning (with a headache from the beer last night) and had the 30 passenger boat all to myself and my guide/driver and headed down river for a 3 hour excursion. The wildlife, especially the birdlife, is prolific and that is only what I can see. Numerous species are nocturnal or are hidden by the jungle vegetation. The skies are full of birds flitting and flying here and there, lizards crawl the banks and run across the water (the Jesus Christ lizard) and Caymans, small alligators, lurk lazily in the narrows and beneath tree trunks waiting for prey. The rain, which fell all night, continued unabated throughout the entire journey, sometimes drizzling and sometimes just dumping on us. Thank goodness the boat has

a roof a roof.

Coming around one bend in the river there was a large white thing in the mud on the river bank. I asked what it was- Cow the guide said. I thought that this was some kind of spanish word for a wild animal. It wasn´t. It was a cow and it was up to it´s neck in the soft riverbank mud. All that was showing was the top of it´s back and it´s head. It was in dire straits. A cow here is very valuable to the poor people so we had to get it out. My guide lassoed the horns and then tried to drag it out of the ooze with the boat. Fifteen minutes later and a lot of tugging it came free. I was sure we had killed it because the dragging would pull it´s head under the mud for long periods. We then dragged it alongside the boat (doing our best to drown it) to find a place for it to climb ashore. Our first effort resulted in it getting stuck again because it stopped to eat half way up the bank. Finally we found a place to land the dumb brute and after a lot of ass-smacking it made it to high ground. My reward for this rescue was a Fire Ant bite and a lot of mud all over me.

We continued up the river hoping that we would find no more cows in trouble. There were none. Tons of wildlife. The highlights of the trip included 3 of the 4 Costa Rican monkey species including White Faced Monkeys which were as curious about us as we were about them, a Wood Stork high in the tree tops, and a couple of Yellow Keeled Toucans which were surprising good flyers despite the fact that half there body weight was hanging from their faces, or so it seemed.

All good things have to come to an end and my guide soon announced that it was time to return to Los Chiles. Arriving back at the hotel I had a hotel breakfast $2 and some more really bad coffee. Then I headed back to Liberia. I took a back road through the Cano Negro Refuge. This was a dirt road, or what we would call a gravel road except that in Costa Rica they use boulders as gravel and the potholes would better be described as craters. Had fun though blasting along the road making big splashes ( it´s a guy thing). I must admit that after 2 hours of this I was dreaming of tarmac. Finally reached the end of the road and headed south on a real road. Got a little lost and, when asking for directions, was told to go back the way I came. I was sure it was staright ahead across the mountains so I went for it. As luck would have it I was right but it was another Costa Rican dirt road but I made it to Arenal and the highway home in good spirits.