I used to wonder how Disney and Pixar came up with inspiration for some of their animated films, like Avatar… did places like that actually exist? I knew that they did because i’ve been looking through National Geographic magazines since before I could even read, but i’d never seen them in person, dense lush, untouched and filled with life. I got my answer when I visited Costa Rica’s caribbean coast and hiked through Cahuita National Park. This space, designated as a National Park some 40 decades ago protects the country’s largest coral reef and today is a key stop for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts and people like me who just like to wander through nature.
I visited on Costa Rica’s Independence day, which probably explains why during my nine mile trek I encountered only four other groups of people; three couples and one family. I don’t know if it’s because it rained earlier that morning and there was a downpour the previous night, but it was extremely quiet the loudest sound being large and heavy leaves that would periodically fall loudly at my feet or on my head causing me to jump back in a fright imagining that this was either a monkey or some other animal that had jumped down from above to get a closer look at me.
In contrast to this magical silence, several miles away at Playa Negra the location of my bungalow, a similar walk feels like moving through a surround sound theater, with numerous species of birds calling out from left to right and elsewhere a bird whose calls sound like an especially sad cat meowing. Then there are the howler monkeys that shriek from 4am to 6am and then again in the late afternoon as if knowing that someone (me) might be taking an evening nap they consider it their duty to wake them!
Here at Cahuita National Park my senses are fully awakened. The smells change as I move away from the coast and walk deeper inland, from salty to earthy with hints of what I imagine to be animals though I can't identify them - they all still seem to be hiding from me.
I see flashes of color on the ground - crabs! So many of them, darting back into their holes as they hear me coming. I'm slightly wary of them, even from afar the claws seem sharp but then I realize that they will alway run away from me. Ants march beneath my feet carrying tiny yellow flower blossoms and pieces of leaves and I try not to step on them but they are everywhere!
I try to walk quietly so perhaps I can capture an up close picture of a crab before it dashes away, but these critters are very keen and I don’t stand a chance. I press on, still trodding lightly thinking that if I don't make any noise I won't scare away any of the animals i'm hoping to see, but not too quiet, lest some barefaced snake thinking the coast totally clear slithered out from the bushes towards my feet!
I really want to see something more than crabs, butterflies and birds but I am hiking alone so I think I should be careful what I wish for as there would be nobody to help me fight off any predators, not that I expect there to be any, there were no warning signs at the entrance, but I did bring an umbrella so maybe i'm okay alone after all - could use it as a defence weapon if need be.
Ask I hike along, every few minutes there is suddenly a large web with an even larger and menacing looking spider either directly at my eye level or slightly above so that if i’m not paying attention I will walk directly into it and the spider will either end up on my face or in my hair. This possibility is terrifying. I am not a fan of regular spiders much less fancy ones like this.
If this spider ended up on my body I would either faint or drop dead so my vision has spontaneously evolved to twice it’s accuracy and I am like a hawk, identifying the spiderwebs from afar and ready to duck way before they can get a chance to make contact.
In the mean time, I’m looking out for any interesting animals among the trees and every now and then a bright blue butterfly or an even brighter orange one, both larger than the palm of my hand glides so close to me I think it will land on my shoulder but it just floats by. This is surreal. The quiet, almost deafening now is broken periodically by large lizards shuffling through the branches and, when I remember to stop holding my breath in awe, by the sounds of my own breathing.
I trek through the park for another few hours, and though I don’t end up seeing that much wildlife, just two white-faced (capuchin) monkeys, several birds, a cute and chubby raccoon and long haired caterpillars, this hike was amazing. Walking through this quiet place gave me time to think and reflect and knowing I was surrounded by animals and birds even if I couldn’t see them all made me alert and feel more alive than I had for some time.