Free Camping in Osa Peninsula

Free Camping in Osa Peninsula

 

After spending our first three Costa Rica days in El Golfito visiting Stanimira and Angel and relaxing in the House at The Bottom of The Jungle, we prepare our backpacks and head for Puerto Jimenez- one of the main cities on Osa Peninsula and the gateway to Corcovado National Park. We get there by a small ferry that leaves every hour from El Golfito, costs $6 per person and the trip is about 40 minutes.

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El Golfito Ferry Port

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Maya waiting for the ferry

Puerto Jimenez turns out to be more of a small village with only one main paved street, full with hostels and tourist agencies offering guides and tours in Corcovado and the surrounding areas. As soon as we set foot on the main street, cars start stopping next to us offering taxi rides with hush voices. Illegal taxi rides, as these are not taxis but regular cars. It looks like every car in Puerto Jimenez is a taxi. At first, we refuse politely, then we refuse firmly, then we simply ignore them and just wish they would stop bothering us. We are here not to ride taxis or go on guided tours but to walk and to camp for free in the footsteps of two other Bulgarian adventurers before us- Tery and Ivan.

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Ivo and Maya in Puerto Jimenez. Main Street

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The typical local food consists of rice and beans and some extras around. A plate costs $6 in a local “soda” joint. Way too expensive for rice and beans…

Tery and Ivan are hitchhiking around the world and have been in hundreds of countries on most continents. Their adventures and misadventures are described in Terry’s blog Hitchhiking Around The World. Tery contacted us through our blog and we hoped to meet her and her friend somewhere in Central America, but the timing was not good and they were long gone by the time we got in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, we kept in touch and Tery gave us tons of good info and advice where to go, what to expect and how to enjoy some of the country’s natural wonders for free, which is our main objective. Thank you Tery!

The Greenest Country on Earth

Even though Costa Rica is small in territory (50 000 square kilometers), it is one of the most bio-diverse places on the planet with lush rainforests, tropical beaches and mountains, containing 4% of the total world animal species. Costa Rica enjoys the status of “The Greenest Country on Earth” and has the reputation of being eco-friendly, carbon neutral, using non-polluting hydroelectricity, and leaving one of the smallest ecological footprints in the world. This is because there is not much industry and the main income for the country is tourism.

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Green Costa Rica

All this is true and sounds very beautiful; we fell in love with the healthy green nature here, and the abundance of wildlife is truly overwhelming, but tourism being the main money-thing means that tourists are regarded as walking ATM machines, and we didn’t enjoy this at all. Unfortunately, “green” is all most Costa Ricans are about; the green of the dollar. Costa Rica, with its greedy National Park and Foreign Tourist policies has already become one extremely expensive tourist resort reserved for the rich and the privileged only. The backpacker of limited means who cannot afford to spend money for guides, for expensive Eco-lodge accommodations or illogical entrance fees, cannot survive long here and is not welcome. Nature in Costa Rica has been transformed into an expensive often private commodity and is being sold and prostituted to those who can afford it only. A bright example is Park Corcovado on the Osa Peninsula- one of the most bio-diverse spots on the planet with a variety of climates and ecosystems, ranging from lowland rainforests, to highland cloud forests, mangrove swamps, coastal marine, and beach habitats. But getting in Corcovado is complicated and ridiculously expensive. You can only enter the park if you have registered at least 1 month (31 days) in advance or more, and paid the fees by bank transfer. No cash or credit cards accepted. If you simply show up at the park’s entrance without a guide, with no registration, reservation and bank transfers in hand you will not enter, no matter what. The bank transfer itself costs between $30-60 and there are two separate transfers to be done- one for the entrance and accommodation fees and another for food reservation. Since November 2014, you can enter the park ONLY with a guide. A guide costs $80-90 per day. (Why only one year ago tourists had the option to enter the park without a guide, but today there is no longer such an option, I am asking, what changed?)

Corcovado Park fees:

Park Daily Use Fee: $15 (per person, per day)
Dorm sleeping per night: $8 (per person, per night)
Camping: $4 (per person, per night)
Breakfast: $20 (per person)
Lunch: $25 (per person)
Dinner: $25 (per person)
Guide: $90 (per day)
Bank transfer: $60

Here is a math problem for you to solve: How much it will cost a family of three to visit park Corcovado for three days, planning to camp for two nights and eat two or three meals per person per day?

I calculate an amount of over $600, even though it is still not clear to me if a guide is needed for each day and if the guide fee is per person or for the group. And even if we haul on our backs all the food that we will eat for three days, we will still spend hundreds of dollars for just two nights camping in our own tent. Oh, and getting to the park’s entrance is another big $$$ story.

But there is an alternative, as Tery told us, and we are urging every traveler of limited means to follow in our footsteps and experience the nature around park Corcovado, which is essentially similar to the nature inside the park, and meet the animals, absolutely free! Here is what we did, a few months after Tery and Ivan have passed through these same places.

Map of Osa Peninsula Free Camping Sites

In The Footsteps of Tery and Ivan

From Puerto Jimenez, we start walking on a flat gravel road direction- Park Corcovado- some 40 kilometers away. It’s December- dry season, the sky is blue, the sun is shining. Temperature is over 40 degrees Celsius, the humidity is high. On both sides of the road there are fenced pastures where cows and horses are gazing in the company of small white egrets.

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The road from Puerto Jimenez to Corcovado

Here, we spot the Scarlet (Ara) Macaws for the first time and it’s a miracle! They are like large flowers in the green of the branches, or like an unreal kid’s painting against the blue of the sky- bright red birds decorated with yellow and blue feathers.

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Scarlet Macaws, Osa Peninsula

It’s noon and the thin shade of the few trees along the road is not helping much. After an hour, we hitchhike. There is not much traffic on this road but we get lucky pretty quickly and a guy from the United States who owns property here lets us ride in the back of his pickup truck for a while. Then a local couple picks us up (what a surprise!) and we get to our first destination way earlier than we expected.

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Playa Pan Dulce

18 kilometers from Puerto Jimenez, there is an exit from the main road leading to Matapalo. Just before Matapalo, we reach a beautiful beach invaded by tiny hermit crabs- Pan Dulce (Sweet Bread).

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Hermit crab

This is the place Tery was telling me about. This is our spot. And it’s truly phenomenal. We set our tent near the sand strip in a small coconut palm grove, away from the beach, as the tides here are so big, you can wake up floating in your tent towards Australia if you camp too near to the sea.

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At low tide, the receding waters of the Pacific Ocean reveal a floor of large flat rocks wet and shining under a spectacular pink-and-purple sunset. We walk around, we bathe in the sea, we eat our canned food while watching a couple of spider-monkeys eating the white flowers of the trees above us, and the red squirrels drilling holes in the coconuts, and the tiny hermit crabs scavenging bellow for whatever falls down from the trees. Howler monkeys are suffering in the distance; we sleep disturbed only by the sudden thud of coconuts falling next to our tent.

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In the morning, we watch the sunrise in the company of Scarlet Macaws.

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I actually don’t pay much attention to the sunrise, as I cannot stop taking pictures of the birds that let me get so close to them, I can almost touch them. Their presence, since we arrived on the peninsula, has been almost constant; they are so abundant here- almost like the seagulls in other parts of the world, yet we cannot get used to them and every time we see them, we celebrate. They say, there are more Scarlet Macaws on Osa Peninsula than in the rest of the world combined. I keep thinking how lucky we are to experience such moments together as a family. I observe Maya observing the parrots, and her eyes are shining, and my heart is melting. It seems unreal to me that Maya is watching macaws in Costa Rica…

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Scarlet Macaws
This brilliantly colored, medium-sized macaw is the only macaw found on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Macaws are the largest parrots in the Americas, and the Scarlet Macaw is distinct both in color and shape.
With strong wings, the scarlet macaw noisily flies high over the canopy. Their loud, resonant, boisterous calls can often be heard as they fly, but they are usually quiet while feeding. Pairs, trios, or small family groups are often seen, but these may sometimes merge into flocks of 25 or even 50 individuals at large roosts in tall trees or mangroves.
The Scarlet Macaw nests in large holes in tall living or dead trees; they do not dig these holes, but rely on finding cavities that are high off the ground and have vertical entrances. A macaw pair will lay 1-2 eggs per season in such a nest and raise them together. These macaws are serially monogamous, but they may change mates after several seasons.
In 1900, these parrots could still be seen in forests throughout Costa Rica; by 1950, however, due to habitat destruction, they were absent from the Caribbean slope except in the Northwest. They have also suffered from the pet trade; fortunately, today they are protected in every country in which they live. However, in Costa Rica, their populations still have been reduced by the destruction of their habitat. They are now constrained to the forests of the upper Golfo de Nicoya, such as in Palo Verde National Park, and the forests of the Osa Peninsula, such as at Corcovado National Park.
Source: Anywhere Costa Rica

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After breakfast- my favorite breakfast is fresh coconuts that fell last night, we start walking again.

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Mira having her favorite breakfast

This time, the terrain is no longer flat pastures but forested steep hills and it’s up-hill through the jungle for the next 10 kilometers, almost all the way to Rio Piro. The heat is intense; the humidity is 100%. This time, we have no luck hitchhiking. Only a few cars pass in the next 5 hours and none is interested in picking us up. But that’s fine. We came here to walk and be in the forest.

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The large blue morpho butterflies are another masterpiece of nature we cannot get used to, even though they are everywhere. We spot squirrel-monkeys and howler-monkeys and even an anteater up in a tree, using it’s tale as a hand to grab on branches while scratching the bark for termites.

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Anteater

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By noon, we reach a wide shallow river- Rio Piro. A narrow path through the forest just before the river leads us to another spectacular beach- the same one Terry and Ivan got hit by a tropical storm at and their tent almost floated away in the flooded river. They were here during rainy season. We are here in the beginning of dry season and instead of rain we experience the intense burning heat of the tropics. The beach is huge, absolutely deserted, and scorching hot. The only sign of humans here are the numerous sticks marking sea turtle nests.

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Piro Beach

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The waves are monstrous and violent, braking against the steep beach, and it is impossible to go in the water. We are tired but cannot sit in the shadow of the mangrove trees on the edge of the forest, because of some nasty ants that want to eat us, nor in the forest all covered with mud. And sitting on the beach would be suicidal; the sun will kill us for sure in less than five minutes. Even walking on the burning sand with no shoes on is impossible.

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Luckily, there is the river. Where the jungle ends and the sand dunes begin, a slow stream of crystal clear waters gently floats. We dump the tent and backpacks and jump in the cool fresh delicious waters of the river complete with a tree leaning over it for shade and a spectacular view.

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Ivo and Maya in Paradise

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This is the perfect spot- a piece of paradise just for us; our swimming pool, shower and laundry room. We spend here the rest of the day, cooling down, playing with the tiny fishes, relaxing, and washing our dirty clothes and bodies. Squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, eagles, herons and macaws come out again in the late afternoon, noisy and busy with their usual business.

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Spider-monkey

Squirrel-monkey

Squirrel-monkey

Howler-monkey

Howler-monkey

As the sun sets, the temperature drops and we can now go inside the tent, play some dominoes, have some more canned food, and sleep among sea turtle nests.

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Our tent. The Green House Effect is in effect…

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Insde the tent. Casino time.

And this is how we walked, camped and experienced the unique nature of Osa Peninsula, and saw all the animals you might see in park Corcovado without a guide, with no reservations, and absolutely free!

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In the next posts, you will find out how to enjoy some more of Costa Rica’s best nature destinations cheaply or for free.

 

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Hiking Volcan Baru

Hiking Volcan Baru

Ivo and Maya on top of Volcan Baru

Ivo and Maya on top of Volcan Baru

We wake up at 4:30 a.m. and, loaded with our huge backpacks, head for Volcan Baru- a dormant volcano and Panama’s highest peak rising at 3475m. Ivo’s backpack is as big and as heavy as a small chubby dead person who even in his desperate state of utter lifelessness hasn’t lost the ability to put on weight and grow slightly each day. We call him The Chinaman. Ivo hauls him on his back up and down mountains, in cities and villages, in jungles and across borders and we all hate him with passion. The Chinaman and the two other backpacks are our biggest enemies right now.

Maya and Ivo (and the Chinaman) hiking

Maya and Ivo (and the Chinaman) hiking

The town of Boquete is asleep. Those who told us that there is a bus to the trailhead at 5:00 a.m. must have been joking, as there is not a single car on the street; not a bus, not a soul, except for one crazy hobo singing a happy tune, telling us in Spanish that “the road is long”. Desperate, we walk up and down the empty town’s streets for a few minutes and just when we lose hope of getting to the park’s entrance on time, we spot a lone taxi. He takes us up to the trailhead for $7. It is still dark and the park’s office is still closed, which means we are on time, because we can walk right past the office building and begin the long hike without paying the entrance fee- $5 per person, charged only after 6:00 a.m.

Maya and Mira at the beginning of the trail to Volcn Baru

Maya and Mira at the beginning of the trail to Volcn Baru

We walk under the heavy weight of our backpacks loaded with sleeping bags and rolled matts, jackets and clothes for hot and cold weather, cereal bars and canned food for two days, water bottles and photo cameras- all the stuff we will need in the next one month while visiting Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where we are heading after Panama. Most of the heaviest stuff and the tent make up The Chinaman- about 30 kg. Maya’s pack is 7 kg, mine- 15 kg. Soon, our legs begin to hurt and the higher we go the harder it gets. We are not used to high altitudes and huge backpacks.

Hiking with heavy packs

Hiking with heavy packs

If we had no backpacks, the walk from Boquete to the summit would be much easier and painless, even pleasant, on a wide rocky road accessible by 4×4 all the way to the top, passing by mountainous forests, green pastures and rocky hills, so beautiful we forget about the pain of the long walk and pause often to admire Nature’s charms. Large trees dominate the lower slopes, giving way to smaller plants, bushes, scrub and alpine wildflowers as we go higher. It is uphill most of the way for 12km, not very steep, starting at around 1600m with 1900m elevation gain.

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We stop to rest frequently. At noon, we eat lunch on a huge rock in the middle of the road thinking how difficult it would be for those 4WD cars to pass through here. But they do. They suffer and roar and struggle, but those Toyotas somehow miraculously do get to the top and back in one piece (half of the time).

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Lunch on the rock

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Normally, it should take 6 to 8 hours to get to the campground area, which is just before the summit. But we barely make it in 10 hours, completely destroyed, and pitch the tent under a large roofed shelter, half burned and rotten, surrounded by low moss-covered trees. It’s just before sunset- fog and light rain- and at 3200m altitude, it’s freezing cold. We “sleep” with our hats and NorthFace jackets on inside the sleeping bags. It is incredible that just a few hours ago and at 1900 meters lower altitude it was hot tropical summer. Many people start climbing in the warm weather unprepared for the freezing temperatures. One person has died of hypothermia on top of Baru in 1995. Besides cold, it is also uncomfortable, and our legs hurt so much from the long heavy walk it’s hard to sleep. Rather, we wait for the night to end in a series of short nightmares.

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The place we slept the first night

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It’s freezing cold

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Around 4:00 a.m. we hear a group of people passing near the tent. They flash lights at us and this is a sign it is time to get up and go one and a half more kilometers steep uphill to the summit. These guys have started the hike from Boquete around midnight, walking all night in order to get to the summit before daybreak and watch the glorious sight of the sun rising over the clouds below and the sky turn from black to purple to blue, orange and pink. It is said that in clear day you can see both oceans from the top- the Atlantic to the east and the Pacific to the west, but we are not lucky that day. As we climb the last kilometer and a half wrapped in our winter jackets and hats, a strong cold wind brings clouds and rain.

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On top of Baru there are some large unromantic installations and cellphone, internet, TV and radio towers emitting constant buzzing sounds. The group of early hikers are freezing huddled next to one of the buildings’ walls; one guy is in shorts and his legs are white-blue. He starts looking for wood to make fire. We are observing him thinking that for the first time in our lives we will see a person dying of hypothermia in front of our eyes, when Jaime shows up and invites us all inside the warm cozy ranger’s station. Jaime is the summit and installations’ guard from Panama’s National Police Force. He is stationed alone on top of Baru spending 15 days per month away from his family in a small room, on top of Panama. He is a great guy and invites us for coffee and hot chocolate.

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On top of Baru

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Ivo on top of Baru

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Mira, Maya and ivo on top of Baru

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At the station, we found out that we could have slept there for free (instead of the tent a few meters below) if we had walked 30 more minutes the previous day….It’s an emergency shelter, and the guard stationed there is super welcoming and a very nice person. He loves guests!

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The Nomadiks with Jaime

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Jaime Alberto stationed on guard duty on top of Volcan Baru

We go back down after spending some time at the summit watching the sun rising underneath a thick blanket of clouds and the clouds become gold, purple and pink; we pack the tent and bring everything back up, as the trail to the other side of Baru towards the town of Volcan starts right at the peak. We decide to take this unpopular, shorter but much harder and steeper path on the western side of the volcano instead of walking back down on the eastern flank to Boquete (a medium- difficult hike), and very soon we regret this decision, but it’s too late.

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The walk down on the western flank is rated : “Muy dificil” (very difficult) going almost vertically down some unstable lava flows. Click on the image to enlarge.

The hike from the top of Baru to the town of Volcan is rated ‘very difficult’. More difficult than this would be rock climbing, and going down proves to be much harder and more dangerous than going up. Here, the volcano shows its true character. The trail follows old crumbling lava flows, huge burned boulders and extremely steep cliffs. Our heavy backpacks throw us off balance and act like sails; we are constantly “jibing” when strong puffs coming from behind push us. Yet, our biggest problem is no longer the weight of the packs but the terrain which here is not just difficult, but extremely dangerous. Ivo and Maya are much faster, but I am terrified as one wrong move here can be fatal, and sometimes it takes me forever to make even one step. Instead of covering the entire 7 km of the trail in about 3-4 hours, we cover one kilometer in 3 hours, starting at 10:00 a.m., after spending some time drinking coffee and hot chocolate and chatting with Jaime. By the time we are down from the rocky slopes and into the jungles of the lowlands, it is already late afternoon.

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In the jungle, it doesn’t get better. The path is still steep downhill and we have to jump down muddy narrow crevices and fallen trees. It has been eight hours of nightmare; my knees are shaking by now and I cannot make another step. I’m done. Ivo, with The Chinaman on his back, takes my backpack too and keeps walking like a leaf-cutter ant with almost double the load, bitching. We are by now completely miserable and just want the ordeal to be over. But the trail keeps going on and on and soon it’s dark. Night finds us in the middle of a tropical forest, exhausted, dehydrated (we finished the water around noon) and far away from civilization. We keep walking with small headlights in the darkness, thinking about snakes, jaguars and other monsters.

In this kind of extreme situations, one’s true character emerges. It turns out, I am a quitter. I just want to stop walking and sleep. I tell Ivo and Maya to leave me in the forest with my backpack and sleeping bag; I cannot continue; I’m not afraid of the jungle; I’ll find them tomorrow in the village. Ivo is a survivor, a stubborn mule with limitless strength and the exact opposite of a quitter. With the two heavy backpacks he keeps going even though he is also completely exhausted and won’t leave me alone in the jungle. He is helping me as much as possible even tough at this point in time and space, we hate each other with passion. Maya is ahead of the two of us and her true character turns out to be one of a hero. She walks without complaining and tries to cheer us up, telling us “We are almost there; don’t give up; I see the end (even though she doesn’t), we are almost out of the jungle; we can make it; come on!”

Around 8:00 p.m. we are out of the jungle, walking on a wide leveled path covered with thick tall grass. Here, we pitch the tent on the side of the path over a grassy patch and sleep. The wind is violent that night, coming down from the mountain, the tent bends and tries to fly away like a kite, but we don’t care. Thirsty and hungry, we sleep.

The next morning, we awake renewed at the bottom of a beautiful valley- a sea of purple meadows, spiky trees and enormous cacti surrounded by black hills. Thin rain clouds are slowly nearing from the north and with the sun low above the eastern horizon we walk again, under a rainbow. We discover that the end of the trail is just 100 m away from our campsite but it is not the end of the road. From here, we have to walk a few more kilometers on a black road to the first village- Paso Ancho. Luckily, a local woman dropping off tourists heading to Baru gives us a lift on her way back. And this journey is over.

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Our campsite the second night

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Mira pointing at the summit. On the right side of her finger is the trail from Boquete rater ‘medium difficult’ and on the left side of her finger is the trail to Paso Ancho rated ‘very difficult’- vertical down!

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First people we meet after our descent! These guys in the pickup truck are going to climb Baru from the very difficult western flank…. They have no idea what’s ahead of them… and are super exited

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Ivo and Maya walking hand in hand under a rainbow.

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The first house we see as we walk down toward the village. We go there to ask for water.

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At the ranch, we are greeted by indigenous Guayami kids

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Their mother comes out to see us too.

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She has the most beautiful smile in the world….

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After unloading the hikers, the pickup truck picks us up on the way back and saves us a lot of walking to the village of Paso Ancho.

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The Nomadiks with the woman who gave us a ride. The journey is over!

 

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Camping in Tayrona

Tayrona

Тайрона, Ел Кабо

Tayrona, El Cabo

As we approached the shore sailing to Colombia I felt the familiar burnt smell of dry old land.  I inhaled deeply, tasting with much pleasure and for the first time in my life the bitter dust of the New World. What cities, what people, what nature is expecting us? I couldn’t wait to get to know the country carrying Columbus’s name, the narrow busy streets of Santa Marta, the museums and cathedrals of Bogota, the hot native village of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the waterfalls in the Sierra Nevada, the architecture of Cartagena, the wild beaches and the monkeys in Tayrona. One month is not enough to see all Colombia has to offer to the dusty traveler, even a year will probably not do. We didn’t have a minute to spare.

Парк Тайрона

Park Tayrona

We came back from Bogota to Santa Marta late in the evening and the very next day we got up around 6 a.m., packed three backpacks with a tent, sleeping bags, food for three people for three days and lots of water, and we took of for Tayrona. We still had three more paid days in the expensive marina and decided to take advantage of the fact that the boat is safe. We went camping in one of the most beautiful and bio-diverse areas in South America.

Парк Тайрона, плаж Аресифе

Park Tayrona, Arrecife Beach

From the marina we walked to el mercado (about 10-15 min) and there we hoped on a bus to Park Tayrona (6 000 pesos= $2.50 per person), and after about 30 minutes we were there. Entrance fee for adults is 35 000 pesos or about $15, which is a lot for Colombia and 20 000 pesos or about $8 for students and kids. This entrance fee is valid for any period of time, so if you stay longer it’s more worth it. There were a few more backpackers who came at the same time we did and they took a small bus (3 000 pesos= $1.20) from the entrance of the park to the end of the road, deeper in Tayrona- the last place accessible by car. Maya and I also started for the bus, but Ivo stopped us.

– No bus! We are walking!

– It’s just a dollar and it will save us at least an hour of walking in the heat, don’t be ridiculous, everyone will think we are crazy!- I tried to argue but in vain; Ivo values each dollar and if he can save it- he does!

Пеша из гората с тежки раници

Maya and Ivo walking with heavy backpacks

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We started walking and the tourists loaded in the little bus watched us probably thinking we are crazy, as they passed us down the road. The humidity was intense and soon we were drenched in sweat. We walked with our heads down under the weight of the packs surrounded by thick jungle. Maya was carrying all the clothes and two bottles of water, I was hauling heavy canned food and two more water bottles, and Ivo was loaded up with the tent and the sleeping bags, plus two more bottles.

Синя пеперуда Морф- мъртва край пътя

Blue morph butterfly we found dead on the side of the road

Suddenly we heard the familiar roar we first heard about two years ago up the Polochik River in Guatemala- the Howler Monkeys. Their deep menacing bellows make me shiver every time. It is as if a sick angry monster is vomiting, Maya said. These are the loudest dwellers of the jungle and their infernal cries which can be heard from miles away are meant to warn intruders off their territory. We kept going with eyes wide open, listening, while the roars got louder and soon the family of howlers were directly above us! There is not more magical than returning the stare of a wild animal,, even if it is an unfriendly angry stare of the black howler monkey.

Черни ревящи маймуни

Black Howler Monkeys, Colombia

A bit further down the road we heard other more gentle, more discrete voices and we saw in the trees all around us the tiny cute titi-monkeys, like kittens with hair like Einstein. Unlike the howler monkeys found throughout Central and South America, these cotton-top tamarin or titi monkeys can be seen only in the northeast part of Colombia (or pretty much only in Tayrona) and nowhere else in the world. They are in the list of critically endangered species. We have never imagined or hoped to see and hear them in the wild, even to photograph them from a few feet!

Маймуна-тити

Titi-monkey, Colombia

The little Einsteins seemed worried and were jumping nervously left and right in the trees, stopping briefly, giving as an angry look and making shrill sounds like when you are trying to clear the food stuck in your teeth. They were jumping around us but did not go away, always keeping an eye on us. I would stay with them. Forever. How can one leave behind these adorable elusive little guys if they are not the ones to leave first?

Тити

Titi monkey

We kept going.

-Who is crazy now? We or the bus people who didn’t see a single monkey, I bet!- said Ivo.

Тити

Titi

And he was right. If we hadn’t started on foot, heat or no heat, we wouldn’t see the black howlers nor the titis, nor  a big red spider, nor a blue morph butterfly dead by the side of the road, probably killed by the bus… Only when walking the road awards you rewards.

Маймуна-тити

Titi-monkey, Colombia

More than one hour had passed when we got to the end of the road, the place where the foot-path begins. The rest of the backpackers were long gone, and once again they didn’t have to walk, as from here on people usually rent horses for less than $20 per person. We could also rent horses, they even offered us a discount, bt Ivo just pointed to his feet and didn’t have to say anything…

Кон под наем

Horse for rent

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Two more hours passed. we were walking in something like a canyon formed by the horse traffic in the soft sandy ground, across grey boulders, fallen trees and the winding paths of the leafcutter ants.

Каньон

Sandy canyon

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Мравки листорезачи

Leafcutter ants

Мравки-листорезачи

Leafcutter ants

Noon passed. The heat was unforgiving even in the shade of the jungle. We were dripping with sweat- big droplets were flowing down forming streams on faces and arms. Soon our clothes were completely damp. Good thing we hod lots of water to keep us hydrated.

Мая

Maya

зеленина

green

We met another kind of monkeys who were busy taking down dead palm leafs, dropping them on the ground next to us, and picking the bugs found at the base.They too were screaming at us. Ivo and Maya tried to communicate with them and very successfully if you ask me; I hope we didn’t offend them…

Маймуна

Monkeys

Besides these unexpected meetings with monkeys we also stumbled upon a small indigenous settlement, a place where the rental horses don’t go, of course. Our curiosity led us to a small hidden footpath away from the main road.

Индианско село

indigenous settlement, Tayrona

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Suddenly- two hens digging in the ground for bugs, not paying attention to us. Farther- a fireplace and clothes set to dry on some big bowlders. A few round and one square mud and wood houses with cylindrical thatched roofs. An indigenous guy sleeping in a hammock in the shade! From one of the houses came out a young girl in a white robe and two little kids who were watching us with curiosity and suspicion. Just standing there looking at us, saying nothing, ready to get back in the hut.

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Индианци от племето Когуи

Indigenous people in Tayrona

We were not supposed to be there and we didn’t want to disturb the secrets of this enchanted place. Quickly we returned to the main trail. By then we were so stunned by so many unexpected sudden encounters with wild animals and people that we wouldn’t be surprised if a jaguar, a dinosaur or an extraterrestrial jumped out of the forest in front of us.

Мария- от племето Когуи. Вървеше в гората успоредно на пътеката и излезе, когато я извиках с думите: Чоколате? С нея имаше още едно дете, което не посмя да излезе от гората. Мария обеща да раздели шоколада със сестричката си.

Maria was walking in the forest parallel to our trail and came out when I called her with the words: Chocolate? There was another shy kid with her who didn’t come out of the forest. Maria promised to share the chocolate we gave her with her sister.

Finally we got to a clearing with a few tents and hammocks, This is the first of a few camping sites in Tayrona. We rested for while in the restaurants sharing an expensive coke, and we walked around the Arrecife Beach deserted, as swimming here is forbidden because of the hundreds drowned in the strong currents and big waves of this part of the coast.

Първи къмпинг

First camping site

Душове

Showers

Мая в ресторантчето

Maya in the camping restaurant

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We continued on to another beach, La Piscina (the Swimming pool) – a lagoon surrounded by reefs breaking the waves, perfect and safe for swimming. Here we took one-two hour break cooling down in the pleasant waters of the Caribbean Sea. There is nothing more refreshing after a long hike in the heat and dust than the sea. Here we also started meeting the others Tayrona visitors.

плаж Ла Писина

La Piscina Beach

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хубава гледка...

Nice view

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Брадорасло

Seaweed

Around 3 p.m. we put back on our sweaty clothes, socks and heavy shoes and refreshed but exhausted from too much walking with big backpacks we continued on. After half an hour through a coconut palm forest we got to our final destination- El Cabo.

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Кокосова гора. Тук видяхме най-много кокосои орехи не едно място

Miles of beautiful coconut forrest

Мира и Мая

Mira and Maya

Tayrona is a national park with 12 thousand hectares of pristine territory in the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, with 3 thousand hectares of the most bio-diverse wild coastal zone in the Americas. With many deserted sandy beaches, beautiful Caribbean waters, tropical jungles and rainforests home of thousands of animal and bird species, this is one of the wildest most stunning corners of South America.

Мая и Иво

Maya and Ivo

And El Cabo is the crown’s jewel.

Ел Кабо

El Cabo

Къмпинг Ел Кабо

Camping in El Cabo, Tayrona

– We build here!- said Ivo and the two with Maya started setting up the tent, while I had the the task to document the events with my camera.

Мая и Иво опъват палатката

Maya and Ivo setting up the tent

Мая и Иво горди

Maya and Ivo proud tent-builders

Мая се чекне в палатката

Maya in the tent

Мая оправя спалните чували

Maya unpacking

Only three more backpacker-couples had brought their own tents. Everyone else, some 30-40 visitors from around the world, mostly Germans and Australians, instead rented a tent or a hammock. The “coolest” spot to rent a hammock was the small open shack on the rocks surrounded by the sea- Tayrona’s most popular landmark.

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Ел Кабо, Тайрона

El Cabo, Tayrona. This is “the coolest” spot to rent a hammock

To rent a tent is about $15 per person per night, a hammock is about $10 and we, even though we brought our own tent, had to pay around $6 per person (Maya- free) for the privilege to set the tent up in El Cabo.

Нашата палатка нощем

Our tent at night

And even though we didn’t like the fact that we had to pay yet again, it was worth it. In Tayrona we lived the most beautiful, the most happy, the most perfect days in our lives.

Иво и Мая край огъня

Ivo and Maya by the fire

Мая хапва равиоли от консерва

Maya eating ravioli from a can

Мая с маршмелоу

Maya with marshmallow

Къмпингът се събужда

The camping is waking up

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Мая и Мира готови за поход високо в планината до Ел Пуеблито (половин ден)

Maya and Mira ready for another hike up in the mountains to El Pueblito

Иво помага на Мая през канарите

Ivo helping Maya

Мая

Maya

Мира и Мая

Mira and Maya

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Иво обича да бере диви портокали

Ivo likes wild oranges

Черно колибри

a black hummingbird

Мира и Мая обичат да прегръщат големи дървета

Mira and Maya like hugging trees

Пуеблито е малко изоставено индианско селце (не живеят индианци), където туристите от Тайрона могат да се разходят и да видят къщите на индианците. До тук се стига за 2-3 часа стръмно изкачване- труден терен с канари през цялото време; вертикално катерене.

Pueblito is a small uninhabited site of an old indigenous settlement in Tayrona. The hike there is steep, hard and takes about 3 hours.

Пуеблито

El Pueblito, Tayrona

Номадите в Тайрона

The Nomadiks in El Pueblito

обратно на плажа

back at the beach

Иво си почива след дълъг изморителен поход до Пуеблито

Ivo resting on the beach after the hike to El Pueblito

Мая прави пясъчен октопод

Maya making a sand octopus

Иво реже кокоси

Ivo opening a coconut

Мая пие кокоси

Maya

Червена катерица в палмите

A red squirrel

 

Мравки-листорезачки

Leafcutter ants

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Залез. Втора вечер

Sunset. Second night in Tayrona

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Още една рядка птица

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Тайрона, Ел Кабо

El Cabo, Tayrona

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Easter Beach Camping in Aruba

Easter Camping in Aruba

or Los Locos Felices (The Happy Crazies)

by Mira Nencheva

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Palm Beach, Aruba

We sailed to Aruba in the middle of March and dropped anchor in front of Palm Beach, Aruba’s most popular white sand beach with tall palm trees and a strip of big sparkling hotels all lined up along the west coast, facing the Caribbean Sea and the spectacular sunsets. Radisson, Holiday Inn, Marriott’s, Global Suite, The Ritz, and the all-inclusive Riu Palace- the Caribbean Taj Mahal. With marble floors and crystal chandeliers, infinity swimming pools, artificial waterfalls and tropical gardens, restaurants surrounded by goldfish ponds with black swans, beach bars and every comfort and luxury the tourist might dream for, these resorts offer the ultimate beach experience for somewhere between 200 and 500 dollars per person per night. Maybe even more.

Hotel Riu, Aruba

Hotel Riu Palace, Aruba

Aruba is a world famous vacation destination for the rich and tourism is the country’s main industry. It is “Heaven on Earth” for those who can afford it…

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But imagine if you can fly to Aruba and pitch a tent on the beach, next to Marriott’s Resort, at a very low cost. Wouldn’t that be something! If you are a backpacker or a student, or anyone with limited financial means traveling on a budget and you still want to enjoy the same island, the same beach, and the same sun and sea as the rich and the privileged, why not camping for a week or two in Aruba? You just have to time it well and plan your Arubian camping trip around Easter.

Tents in front of Marriott Hotel, Palm Beach, Aruba

Tents in front of Marriott Hotel, Palm Beach, Aruba

Actually, camping in Aruba is a very popular activity among the locals. It is a decade old tradition which transforms the coastline of the island, especially the western side, into a huge camping ground but only for a couple of weeks in March or April, whenever Easter happens to be that year.

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Easter is among the most important holidays for the Arubans and “Easter Beach Camping” is a highly anticipated and very well organized event taking place every year since forever, even since before the first hotel in Aruba was built. Families gather on previously determined big camping sites on one of Aruba’s many beaches during the kids’ Easter vacation and pitch their tents and tarpaulins. But first, they have to apply for a special camping permit -one for one camping site which may include many tents, issued by the local police for 5 $US per tent. The biggest camping site I saw this year included 11 brothers and sisters and their families- about 70 people in total, of which 30% were children. The permit holder becomes the “president” of the camping site and has to ensure that everyone respects the strict rules, otherwise he might lose the permit: no excessive noise after 10 p.m., no littering, no fire, no BBQ, no driving and no animals on the beach.

Playing dominos

Playing dominos

Normally, they apply for a permit by filling in a form and paying the fee at the local police station a month before the event, to make sure they will get the desired spot on one of the many beaches all around Aruba: Arashi Beach, Eagle Beach, Baby Beach, and Palm Beach among others.

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The camping is perfectly organized with portable toilets and small open kitchens. Every compound includes many tents and a large common area where everyone gathers to eat and celebrate together. Every meal for the next two weeks is transformed into a party.

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I met and talked to a few of the campers. They were super welcoming and happy to share a beer and a nice meal with me, while telling me all about Easter camping in Aruba. And I must say, the chicken was fabulous!

We are “locos felices” (happy crazies), they said proudly. We have been getting together every year for Easter in this same spot for twenty years now. We are a big family, about 30-40 people. The children love it, and this activity is mainly for them! The little cousins play together on the beach all day long and sleep in the tents at night. On Easter morning we do Egg Hunt on the beach. The grown-ups, we don’t sleep in the tents, they are for the kids. We sleep all under this tarpaulin in hammocks, all together, in open air. It’s all about spending time together, as a family, living as one with the peaceful nature.

Maria, 85 with four of her children

Maria, 85 (right) with her three daughters and a son

At age 85 Maria is the oldest camper. She only spends the days in the camp and returns to sleep in her house at night. But in her younger days, 20 years ago when she was only 65, she used to stay overnight as well.

This year, she has four out of five of her children, as well as many of her grand and great-grandchildren camping together just north of hotel Marriott on Palm Beach. Her son is the “president”, or the “chief”.

 

Maria and her daughters in the common area. Behind Maria is the area where the adults spread their hammocks and sleep at night together.

Maria and two of her daughters in the common area. Behind Maria is the area where the adults spread their hammocks and sleep at night together.

Marriott is the newest hotel on Palm Beach and was finished just months ago. Before, the campers used the beach area which is now reserved for the hotel, and they got pushed away. Their grounds are becoming smaller because of the large resorts which are taking over.

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When I asked them if visitors to the island can also apply for a permit and camp in Aruba on Easter, some told me sure, but others replied it is just for the locals.

And even if it was permitted, they said, we wouldn’t like it for tourists to do it. Imagine everyone instead of going in the hotels, pitching a tent on the beach. There wouldn’t be space left for us!

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Yet, as confirmed by VisitAuba.com, everyone is allowed to apply for a camping permit from the local Police Station in Noord (Call+297 587-0009) for two week around Holy Week on Easter, locals and tourists alike, and as long as there is space available and the permit is granted 10 days in advance, you can camp in Aruba! The cost of the permit is $5 per tent for the entire period (1-2 weeks).

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The problem is, you have to apply for a permit in person in the police station and preferably one month in advance… So I guess, Easter camping in Aruba will remain predominantly a local tradition.

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Author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off the grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in their Facebook page Facebook/The Life Nomadik where Mira is publishing stories and pictures.

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