It’s a Jungle Out There
“We’ve got jaguars and ocelots, but you probably won’t see them. But they’ll see you,” said Nancy, director of the Campanario Biological Station, over breakfast. A spry woman of indeterminate age, she’s lived in Costa Rica for the past 44 years after travelling down from the United States and just staying put.
For the past decade, Nancy has been a part of the Reserve, which hosts high school and college students from North America on educational research stays at Campanario, located on Costa Rica’s remote Oso Peninsula.
Nancy came aboard this morning as guests aboard UnCruise Adventures Safari Voyager enjoyed a hearty breakfast. My hearty breakfast was starting to flip-flop in my stomach as she continued on with her morning pep-talk. “We’ve got snakes, too. Lots of snakes. You’ll probably never see one. Although, one guy last week almost stepped on one. You’ll need close-toed shoes though, as a safety precaution. They’re mostly poisonus. Except for the boa.”
Ah, the boa constrictor. Nature’s heat-seeking missile. I envisioned one dropping out of the trees above me, landing on my shoulders, its scaly body encircling my neck, drawing ever tighter before feasting on a tasty meal of cruise writer…
I pushed the rest of my eggs away. Nancy, a wonderful character if there ever was one, rattled on happily at the microphone. Slender, five and a half feet and probably in her late 50’s, she wore a plain t-shirt, shorts, and brightly-coloured Crocs. I decided if she could survive the jungle, surely, I could, too.
Most cruise lines don’t stop here, preferring to head to more established ports further south. This is primary forest, untamed, uncut and undisturbed for centuries. Life here exists on rhythms that pre-date Campanario, and the Centre intends to keep it that way. They have established camera traps throughout the forest; motion-sensitive cameras that track animals by day but also by night. The data is downloaded about once a month and sent to experts for positive identification.
UnCruise is in the beautiful position to have been invited to come here, which is a great honour. Coming by ship is also the best way to get here; some of the Expedition Team members were telling me that when they came to scout this place before UnCruise began calling here, getting here from San Jose was a nightmare as you can’t fly or drive here. The only way in or out, really, is by boat.
This morning, guests could take three different hikes, all of which required a good degree of mobility. I chose the second-longest hike, which lasted about 90 minutes in duration. For those with mobility issues, a skiff tour of the shoreline was offered. I liked that – UnCruise will never leave guests without an option, and if one doesn’t exist, the Expedition Team onboard will do its best to create one.
We began with a stroll up the beach and nearly immediately entered the jungle. This is one of the most ecologically intense places on the planet. Indeed, over 174 species of amphibians have been identified in Costa Rica, along with 221 different types of reptiles – half of which are snakes. Interestingly, there are so many kinds of snakes here that some, according to the Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica, have never been photographed.
And yet, snakes aren’t the most common cause of death here. Falling coconuts rate higher in probability. Still, I found myself looking down at the branches I was stepping on, waiting for one to come alive.
Here, closed-toed shoes were a requirement, and it was recommended that guests watch their footing because of the uneven terrain and, of course, the possibility of snakes.
There’s the Common Tree Boa, which attacks the face of its victims. Non-venomous, it often bites with such force that it leaves its teeth imbedded in its target. On the flip-side is the brown-blunt headed vine snake, which rarely bites and is seldom dangerous to humans. On the flip side of that is the highly-venomous Pit Viper; one dude you don’t want to cross.
Here’s the lowdown: I didn’t see one snake. You likely won’t, either, so if you’re nervous about it, put the thought out of your mind. Nancy used a great analogy this morning: we don’t think twice about crossing the street in New York City, with its abundant traffic. At any moment we could be hit by a car, but chances are good you won’t be. The same is true with snakes: there are thousands of them in the forest, and you’re unlikely to have any issues.
The humidity inside the jungle was breathtaking. Bring lots and lots of water. Rehydration salts are also an excellent idea, as you’ll be sweating out nearly everything you take in. However, the effort is worth it. This is one of the most impressive places I’ve experienced outside of the Galapagos Islands.
I arrived back onboard just in time for my complimentary massage. What’s that, you say? It’s true: every guest aboard the Safari Voyager – and most UnCruise vessels – is entitled to a complimentary 30-minute massage. Every guest that wants to participate puts their name down at the start of the voyage (a new procedure for UnCruise) and then the ship’s Massage Therapists schedule your appointment around your chosen activities.
I met Jenna this morning at 11 am, fresh from my hike on-shore. The free massage I got from her was better than some of the paid ones I’ve had on larger cruise ships. It’s a wonderful added touch that UnCruise offers, particularly with all the physical activities offered each day.