A forest floating on water
By Lucas Iturriza
From my table on the balcony of the Las Vegas restaurant in the town of Sierpe, with a creamy café con leche steaming before me, I observe the rows of skiffs, row boats and large motor boats moored to the dock. The Sierpe River is dark brown like my coffee, an aesthetic connection that pleases me in my contemplative state. My eyes trace the path of strange birds darting about and hovering in perfect freedom, until I am interrupted by the guide who asks everyone and no one in particular, "Are you ready for an adventure?"
We board our boat where the Sierpe River merges with the Terraba forming the world famous Diquís Delta – officially known as the Térraba-Sierpe National Wetlands – which is home to the largest mangrove system in Central America – and one of the largest in the world – with an area greater than 32,000 hectares. More than 370 species of birds, 67 amphibians and reptiles, 6 kinds of cats and 600 species of insects have been identified in this ecosystem. It also protects some of Costa Rica’s most emblematic endangered species such as the tapir, jaguar and anteater.
The Pearl of the South, our boat, carries us cruising through the calm waters of the “snake river”, where we spot three kinds of monkeys: the howler, spider monkey and the Titi Monkey (endemic to Costa Rica and Panama). As if on an Amazon adventure, we also pass by magnificent scarlet macaws, a boa sleeping in a tree, parrots, fresh water turtles, sloths and even a crocodile.
The intricate network of mangroves is teeming with life and is a privilege to be here. The symbiosis of the mangroves and the sea and coast creates a unique and delicate ecosystem. A mangrove – besides giving shelter to thousands of species of mammals, birds, mollusks, reptiles, crustaceans, fish and more – purifies the water, protects the coast from wind erosion and can act as a natural barrier against tidal waves such as those caused by hurricanes or tsunamis.
Found in tropical and subtropical regions, mangroves grow best between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Mangrove trees can withstand high water temperatures and salt and grow in flooded land with very little oxygen. That is why they develop tall, stilt-like roots to pull oxygen directly from the atmosphere and to give them stability in soft ground.
After a quiet, educational ride enhanced by the eternal wisdom of our guide, we leave behind the tranquil waters of the Sierpe and move on to the Pacific.
The sea is calm and the captain pushes ahead at full speed. Within 15 minutes we are dropping off a group of our fellow adventurers in the remote, beachfront town of Drake Bay, where they proceed to various eco lodges. The rest of us continue along the coast to the San Pedrillo entrance of the Corcovado National Park, the northernmost point of this wild, protected terrain. Along the way, as if on call, we encounter dolphins and even got to see a humpback whale about 200 meters away.
We disembark on an empty beach, continuing the adventure through the jungle on a two hour hike, before enjoying a light lunch and a dip in a swimming hole upriver from a 20-meter high waterfall. We sit beneath the running water in the center of one of the few remaining lowland tropical rainforests in the world, as the day’s weariness washes away into a perfect chorus of bird calls and reflective chatter.