Thursday, April 1, 2010

Sirena's Front Porch

The Sirena Station, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean and within Corcovado National Park, isn't easy to reach. It took me seven hours of hiking to reach the rustic station, though there are more direct means. One could get there by boat, parting the waters full of bull sharks and crocodiles. Or, you could charter a small plane to drop you off on the Sirena airstrip, something I saw three times during my stay.

But, that's too easy. Corcovado is one of the wildest places left in this part of the world. And if you want to get there, you should have to earn it. That's why I was smugly satisfied with myself as I lounged on Sirena's porch and watched tourists stop by for the day.

The front porch was vast, spanning the extent of the station. It's the first sight one sees after emerging from the long and dark path from Los Patos. Adirondack chairs allowed us to relax here; with my feet on the railing I spent hours looking into the surrounding forest watching for wildlife. Toucans called incessantly as small flocks worked their way through the jungle. Daily, a troop of squirrel monkeys would forage within their favorite trees for insects, only occasionally revealing themselves in the sunlight before making their way off for the night. Scarlet macaws were a common sight as pairs flew across the horizon, emitting constant and raucous calls.

It was only after the sunset that things began to get unpleasant. With the darkness came a blanket of mosquitoes, and they voraciously searched for and fed on any exposed skin. There was a fungus on my foot, a result of hiking for hours in wet boots. My bed sheets, too small for the plastic mattress, were often damp from sweaty night sleeps. It wasn't a problem for my pillow, as I did not have one. My half exposed mattress was covered by termite fecal pellets, the supply renewed each day as the insects chewed through the wooden bunk above me. The water here was suspect, and we were warned of the potential for contracting Giardia, as last year's course had. Filtering water was strongly recommended, making it difficult to quench one's thirst in a moment's notice. Each day, it was necessary not to check for ticks, but to remove the invertebrates that had inevitably embedded themselves within your skin.

None of this bothered me, it's the price one pays for staying in this unique area. What bothered me were the tourists next to me on the porch, playing with their iPhones and keeping me from indulging in my wilderness fantasy.

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