The House at The Bottom of The Jungle
Destroyed from two days of walking up and down Volcan Baru– the highest mountain top in Panama and our heaviest, most exhausting hiking challenge ever so far, we catch the bus to the Panama- Costa Rica border. The border is a hot, noisy, dusty place full of people crossing, vendors selling suspicious food in plastic bags and cheap souvenirs, barefoot beggars sleeping in the shadows, and a huge line of tractor-trailers waiting to be processed.
At the Exit Panama booth, the Panama officials want to charge us $50.00 per adult for overstaying our 6-month visa in Panama by 2 days- a total of $100 penalty. Totally unexpected! I explain, that our visa is not a 6-month free visa, but a 1-year special maritime visa for which we paid $100 each (the most expensive we ever paid), issued to people who arrive in Panama by sea, but they want proof that we have indeed arrived by boat. The proof is a small paper given to us by the customs in the island of Porvenir (San Blas), but we left it on the boat. So no proof… I then want a proof that such 50-dollar penalty for overstaying really exist. After 1 hour of waiting, I am presented with a small booklet, where under regulation I-don’t-know-what it says, that “aliens over 18 years of age who have overstayed their visa in Panama have to pay 50 US$ penalty”. I now beg them to call the officials in San Blas and confirm that we have arrived in Panama by boat in July and therefore our visa is a special one-year maritime visa and we haven’t overstayed, but they are already so pissed off, they won’t call. At the end, I go to the cashier to pay the penalty. The cashier is a huge fat gay dude and after finishing his fun chat with a friend on the cell phone, he slowly pulls out a box with some blank forms. I prepare the cash.
The other option would be for Ivo to take the bus back to Panama City (10-hour bus ride in one direction) and get the little papers from the boat proving we have arrived by sea. We feel ultra-stupid for leaving these important papers on the boat. This will cost $18 for the bus to Panama City one way and about $20 -30 for a hostel for Maya and me to sleep the night while waiting for Ivo. A total of over $60-70 and a lost day (we would also have to spend money for food for that lost day). Instead, we decide to pay the $100 penalty and keep going. Just as the fat dude starts filling-in the penalty form, I ask him again why don’t they call San Blas and confirm that we have arrived by boat. “Sure”- the dude says and calls them!
After another 2 hours of waiting and anticipating, the officials in San Blas confirm that we are OK with the maritime visa. We exit Panama after 4 hours at the border, no penalty! We walk over to the Costa Rica side. Getting in Costa Rica is super easy and fast. And free. We fill a small form, they scan our passports and we are in, no questions asked! Welcome to Costa Rica! At the line, a local couple returning from shopping in Panama, ask to use my pen. Sure. While waiting, we begin a small polite conversation; the usual questions: where are you from?; are you on vacation? ; is it your first time in Costa Rica, etc. At the end, we are welcome to jump in their car and they give us a lift all the way to Rio Claro, just 20 kilometers from our destination. We hitch another free ride on the back of a pick-up truck of the Red Cross, and just before sunset, spending zero dollars for transportation, we arrive in El Golfito.
Lying on a narrow strip of land between a bay with the same name and a line of high green hills, El Golfito (‘little gulf’) is a small port and fishermen town in the Puntarenas Province on the southern Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, near the border of Panama. Here, Stanimira and Angel are expecting us.
Stanimira and Angel
Stanimira and Angel are fellow Bulgarians, who contacted us through our blog as soon as they found out we will be visiting Costa Rica, and invited us to stay with them for a few days. Stanimira Deleva, born in 1988, has a degree in Biology and did her Masters in Ecology and Preserving Ecosystems from the University of Plovdiv. She is a biologist who specializes in cave bat and have been supported by the Rufford Small Grand Foundation to study the local bats and cave systems within the project “Protecting Unique Cave Systems in Costa Rica Using Bats as Flagship Taxa” in the Brunca region together with Angel Ivanov, her boyfriend, who is experienced in speleology, rock climbing, and all sorts of extreme sports, here to assist in the cave exploration. Find out more about their cave bats project and support the project by visiting and liking their Facebook page @ Brunca Bats Project and read more about their adventures and scientific cave explorations in their blog @ The Amateur Naturalist.
The House At The Bottom of The Jungle
Stanimira and Angel have just arrived in Costa Rica a week before us and are renting a couple of rooms in a house in El Golfito. They made it possible for us to stay with them for a few days, just when the family living in the house was off on a trip to visit relatives. Perfect timing.
We are tired and destroyed from hiking Volcan Baru and then traveling all day and dealing with the border; we are dirty and hungry and our backpacks are killing us. At the end of the day, we meet these awesome young people who love Nature and Adventure as much as we do. After crossing the town and hiking for a few minutes on a narrow path among tall tropical trees along a stream, they bring us to the coolest house in Costa Rica- a big two-story lodge with a veranda and many rooms, which was once a hostel, built by a German guy years ago at the bottom of a deep lush jungle, between two rivers. Here is one of the wettest places in the world with the highest storied rainforest in Central America. We are surrounded by trees up to 45 meters tall, wet green vegetation, and tropical flowers.
In The House at The Bottom of The Jungle, we spend three days and nights resting and recuperating, washing our dirty clothes (which have hard time drying), and enjoying the company of Stanimira and Angel who are full of stories of wild cave explorations and incredible journeys around the world.
In the house, Maya falls in love with the cutest little cat in the world- Venus, who is so funny and lovable we all end up crazy about her. Now Maya wants a cat just like Venus.
Stanimira and Angle bring us to a small waterfall no one knows about, which is right behind the house, on the same property. A private waterfall with a succession of small pools- how cool is this!
Hike to the Hills
On the second day, rested and renewed, we hike to the top of the hills overlooking El Golfito. It’s a short easy hike, about 6-hours round trip, but nevertheless tiring in the intense tropical heat, with the most rewarding view at the top- the sparkling blue waters of the bay and the Osa Peninsula with its green soft hills in the distance.
On the way up, families of tiny squirrel monkeys who have invaded the jungles of this part of Costa Rica are keeping us company, jumping from branch to branch overhead. Chestnut-mandibled toucans with their large imposing beaks are also easy to spot, and a shy anteater creates a bit of a commotion in the bushes. Nature around El Golfito is healthy and abundant like nowhere else.
Learning About Bats
While hiking, Maya is learning about bats from Stanimira and how very special they are. Bats are the only mammal that have wings and can fly. There wings are actually hands with very thin skin. There are over 1000 different species of bats. Some use echolocation to navigate in the dark. There are fruit bats who eat fruits and fish-eating bats as well. Bats are important for the health of our ecosystem as they eat a lot of insects and pollinate some flowers. The biggest bats are the flying foxes with wingspan about 2 meters and the ugliest ones are the Wrinkle-faced Bat (Centurio senex), who look like extraterrestrials. But the most fascinating bats for Maya are the vampire bats who eat nothing but blood.
“These notorious bats sleep during the day in total darkness, suspended upside down from the roofs of caves. They typically gather in colonies of about 100 animals, but sometimes live in groups of 1,000 or more. In one year, a 100-bat colony can drink the blood of 25 cows. During the darkest part of the night, common vampire bats emerge to hunt. Sleeping cattle and horses are their usual victims, but they have been known to feed on people as well. The bats drink their victim’s blood for about 30 minutes. They don’t remove enough blood to harm their host, but their bites can cause nasty infections and disease. Vampire bats strike their victims from the ground. They land near their prey and approach it on all fours. The bats have few teeth because of their liquid diet, but those they have are razor sharp. Each bat has a heat sensor on its nose that points it toward a spot where warm blood is flowing just beneath its victim’s skin. After putting the bite on an animal, the vampire bat laps up the flowing blood with its tongue. Its saliva prevents the blood from clotting. The common vampire bat is found in the tropics of Mexico, Central America, and South America (source – National Geographic)”
In Costa Rica there are many species of bats, but on our little expedition, we were hoping to see the tent-making bats who make little tents under the palm leaves by bending them with their teeth. We found a few tents made by the bats but they were all empty. Later, Stanimira wrote to me: “They are everywhere! You just have to keep looking! After checking 30 tents, I finally found them!”
After these much needed days of rest in The House at The Bottom of The Jungle with Stanimira and Angel, we are ready to continue hiking and camping in one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet- the Osa Peninsula, while our new friends are getting ready to explore some known and unknown caves in Costa Rica looking for bats.
Thank you, friends, for your hospitality! We had the best time with you and we hope some day our paths will cross again!