Monday, January 7, 2008

Osa Expedition

Finally the boats arrived and we managed to get on the road. With about 8 and a half hours of driving and 9 rivers to cross before we get there, it still doesn't quite feel like we've started, but at least now we know that the expedition will happen. We only have to do our time in the truck and we will soon be on Playa Carate pushing out into the waves. Before we arrive however, we will drive through much of the inner coastline of the Osa Peninsula, and through the cloud forests that don't just catch the moisture in the clouds but produce it. As we drive we can see puffs of cloud rising off of the trees, it's as if it's the breath of the forest. The land here is becoming alive!

Part I

We spent a night on the beach at Playa Carate, and set about getting geared up for the trip. All the while, the waves break heavily on the shore like the teeth of the ocean gnawing away at the land. Scarlet Macaw, Howler Monkeys, and Poison Dart frogs
keep us entertained, and we get to test our system as the tropical rain pours down almost dousing our camp fire, and threatening to drown us in our hammocks.

Finally, after dozens of unexpected set backs, our boats are packed, our hearts are racing, and the waves aren't letting up. We decide it's time to make a break for blue water, and one at a time, peel out into the rip tide, hoping against all hope that we will be swept into the blue and not catapulted back onto the beach in boats weighing upwards of 200 pounds full of gear.

I pull Jesse through the head high shore break to give him a head start and as he gets up to speed, he begins to break through the white wash from waves the just broke a few meters in front of his boat. My stomach begins to drop when I see what in surfing we call a "cleanup set"
forming in the distance. The set rises above the rest of the waves and charges the shoreline, it's obvious Jesse sees the set coming, because his arms have started pumping like cylinders in an engine to get him through the coming battle between man, boat, and the pacific. Two more meters and he would have risen gracefully over the wave, and he would have had a magnificent vantage point to look out to sea for more waves, but instead, the wave broke just in front of his boat, and the whitewash blew the sprayskirt right off of his boat. In a moment, his boat was full of water. When they get this way, they are almost impossible to control, like paddling a telephone pole through the water, there is no chance of turning. Perhaps, that is why Jesse didn't turn around and try to make it back to shore. With his boat now going through the waves instead of over them, Jesse managed to get into the blue water and begin to bail his boat. I'm obviously relieved, but I turn around and find that Izzi doesn't look so good. She is fair skinned, but she is now as white as a pearl. She doesn't hesitate, and gets in the boat, weakly commanding me to help pull her into the water.

In only a few meters, Izzi hits her first wave, her first wave ever actually. As it turns out, she's only sea kayaked once before, and that was in a harbor. I push her forward, hoping to save her some energy for when the big waves come. The rip tide as stopped going out, now it's coming in, the waves are steadily marching forward, and Izzi looks like she is towing an anchor. After a few minutes, she is still pushing forward only to be pushed back nearly to shore, and she's obviously getting tired. With the coming set, she gets turned sideways, and then inevitably, upside down.

I prepare myself for an angry or demoralized team mate, but as soon as the boat is empty of its water, Izzi is back in it. This time I tow her out until I can no longer stand and we wait there with me holding her boat for a break in the waves. In a mad dash, Izzi makes for the blue water, and cresting the peak of the last threatening wave, she now only has to worry about coming back in further up the beach.

Part II

We arrive at the first ranger station, only about 3 miles up the coast, and we have to check in with the rangers and pay the park fees. Coming to shore was easier than going out, and Izzi amazes us with a natural ability to side surf a kayak, never having done it before, still though in a comical collision, she and Jesse get tangled up in the shore break and both end up in the water trying drag their boats to shore. At the station, we hear that since nobody has ever done a trip like this in the Osa Peninsula, that it must not be allowed. So the ranger says that he is going to have to call the "director" to see if Sea Kayaks are allowed in the park. I doubt he ever called, but the word was that we would have to hike it. No boats. As he said this, we could see fishing boats motoring up the coast without so much as a glance from the rangers. We could get in the boats and paddle forward, and they would have most likely been unable to have done anything, but we decided that we would do our best to work with the park instead of against it. The only problem being that we are in no way set up for the 16 click hike that we have in front of us. Jesse has a drybag with shoulder straps, and a pair of shoes. Izzi and I are equipped only with our Hammocks and soft bottomed neoprene surf booties. The trips status as an expedition is waning the only thing we have left to call it that is our firm resolve to work through all of the obstacles that stand before us. So, we throw our gear in Hammocks, put our heads down and start walking.

Part III

There was once a time, when the sharks came up the Rio Sierpe in such great numbers, the locals say that you could have practically run across the river on their backs. Now, with sport fishing boats and longliners just past the breakers, it's no wonder we saw a mere 3 sharks the entire time we where at the river. I don't know much about the range of these sharks, but they are known to stay near this river mouth, and with no protection whatsoever, their numbers have dropped drastically. There is no enforcing of the law in Corcovado when it comes to fishing in the park, and the park only extends 500 meters out into the ocean. One of the locals of Playa Carate just told me about a battle that she and a few locals had against the powers that be who had planned to put a tuna farm at the mouth of the sierpe river where the ocean floor drops off to as deep as 2oo meters. I am not a biologist and I don't know the impact of putting a tuna farm in the area, but I do know that any time I've seen nature messed with, the only things that happen are bad.

Part IV
While sitting on shore and waiting for the bull sharks one evening, we saw a the back of a crocodile with all its serrated ridges moving up the coastline through the waves. It disappeared rather quickly, and our interest returned to looking for sharks. The river water was clear, and so as we stared into the depths, with my underwater camera at the ready, we felt confidant that we could not be snuck up on. With the light failing, I moved up river to photograph a few smaller crocodiles (2-3 meters) that where lounging in the shallows. Just upstream of Jesse and Izzi, a fully grown crocodile popped it's eyes through the surface of the water, obviously the one we had seen in the waves, and quite undetected by our vigilant eyes. Crocodiles most often attach from downstream is what we were told by Dr. Brady Barr, and this one had just swum up from downstream and passed within a few meters of us without ever even causing a ripple of concern from our team.

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