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DAY 3  So after a faaabulous day snorkelling near Isla del Caño (dolphins! sharks! stingrays!), I woke up at an even earlier ungodly hour the next day to visit one of the largest national parks in Costa Rica: Corcovado. Everything starts early in Bahìa Drake – breakfast is at 5:30 or 6 a.m. – because you have to take a boat to go anywhere, and that might take at least an hour. So everyone gets up before 6 a.m. and then goes to bed around 8 or 9 p.m. I hadn’t quite gotten used to the farmer’s hours just yet, but it was definitely easier to wake up before dawn when I had Corcovado to look forward to! Admittedly, $90 US seemed steep for a day trip to Sirena, one of four research stations in the park. But my main reason for coming to Bahìa Drake was Corcovado (National Geographic has called it “the most biologically intense place on earth”). And after seeing such an amazing array of animals (howler monkeys! squirrel monkeys! more howler monkeys!), I vouch it was worth every penny! Corcovado was absolutely the highlight of my trip.

6:10 a.m. Yawn. It was still dark when I left! As I’ve said before, Pirate Cove was a distance from the main tourist hub of Bahìa Drake. Since I was the only tourist from Pirate Cove that day, the driver had to make a special trip to pick me up before making stops farther down the coast. Yes, I’m special. Remember that.

8:05 a.m. Ohhh, panther prints! Once ashore (after about an hour-and-a-half boat ride), we split into two groups. Eight of us were whisked away by Javier, our guide, who promptly pointed out the prints. Though panthers and jaguars are sometimes spotted near Sirena, I suspect Javier was pulling our naive tourist legs…but I believed him!

9:30 a.m. Lizard! Yup, we saw lots of ’em chilling on driftwood on the beach.

9:35 a.m. The famous – and endangered – Baird’s tapir is the largest mammal in Central America. A nocturnal animal, this particular tapir can be found cooling himself in his mud hole during the day. And who could blame him? It’s darn humid in the rain forest! There was condensation in my camera lens!

10:05 a.m. Kudos to Javier, who was carrying around a heavy Swarovski telescope. He’d let us take pictures through it with our point-and-shoot cameras. Sometimes the birds were so high up, even the fancy zoom lens on my DSLR couldn’t get this close.

10:20 a.m. Like the tapir, this pair of great horned owls seemed to always be found at home and remained undisturbed by us.

10:35 a.m. My first monkey! Yay! Corcovado is the only place in Costa Rica where you can find all four species of native monkeys: the squirrel monkey, white-face monkey, howler monkey and spider monkey. To tell the truth, I hadn’t researched that beforehand, and I couldn’t tell the difference between them. Looking at pictures now, I can see their features, but at the time I could barely see them at the tops of the trees (the trick is to look for moving leaves)! Five minutes ago, I was convinced the one above was a squirrel monkey, but now I’m sure it’s a baby howler (because of its black face). Actually, now I think it’s a spider monkey!

11:03 a.m. In action! An adult howler howling! Courtesy of Javier’s telescope.

11:45 a.m. Post-lunch, which we’d eaten at the research station, we took a different trail. I’m still amazed at how huge all the plants were. Mom would be so jealous!

12:15 p.m. A squirrel monkey (I’m sure of it!), hidden behind some leaves.

12:30 p.m. Can you see them? I count five – five clumps of dark fur nestled in the branches. Howler monkeys. Later, as we were heading back to the beach to wait for our boat, we could hear them howling! I took a video just for the audio – they sounded like dogs howling at each other! Truly eerie.

12:31 p.m. My first trip to Corcovado was really all about the monkeys, though we did spot a few birds, such as this mysterious brown one.

12:37 p.m. And this one, which I’m calling a partridge, but it’s not.

12:39 p.m. While I live to cycle, hike and paddle, I willingly admit I’m a klutz and am always injuring myself. Crossing this creek didn’t not go well for me – I slipped and spent the rest of the hike in soggy boots.

12:50 p.m. But falling in the water had its perks: Javier felt sorry for me and let me get up close to this little howler squirrel monkey.

12:53 p.m. And this squirrel monkey came crazy close to us!
12:57 p.m. He was too cute!!!

1:03 p.m. Though not the coveted blue morpho (which I saw fluttering around Pirate Cove!), a blue butterfly nonetheless.

1:35 p.m. And that was my first trip to Corcovado, which ended with refreshing watermelon by the beach while we waited for our boat. I still think it’s funny how the guys get out to land and launch the boats! It took four guys (Javier’s there on the left) a few tries to use the waves to get us out to sea.