Six Men and the Jungle

(Written in 2004)


It is every man's dream---every real man's, that is---to go off with other men into the jungle, there to walk and explore and generally do things real men do there. Such as: smoke as many cigarettes as you wish; drink as much rum as you desire; walk where your heart takes you; camp where you will; have animal encounters of a close kind; talk over a campfire and make fun of French people, birdlovers, and birdloving French people; walk all over the place with really big knives.


Setting our first camp.

At the Rio Llorona.

Walking on water?

Nathan as Moses leading us to the Promised Land of Sirena.


This is a chronicle of six very cool guys---ex-Lincoln High School students and one ex-Lincoln High School teacher---who actually did these things. The jungle was Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica. The very cool guys (in alphabetical order) are Jeff Butler, Matt Crain, Sebastian Knight, Nathan Todd, Erik Van Versendaal---and yours truly, Mike Austin.


Four cool guys.


Erik: "Hey guys, is this that tent thing you were talking about?"

Resting atop a beach rock.


Resting on our first night.



The tale begins way back in June of 2003 in Argentina. All of us were sitting at Pollos---if you do not know what this place was, we are not going to tell you about it---talking about my upcoming 'year of living dangerously'. My plans were to backpack all over South and Central America. One of us wondered why a bunch of Lincolnites could not join me somewhere along the way for some backpacking. And so the plan was set: We were to meet  in Central America eight months later and head for parts savage and foreign. Inspite of differing schedules, college classes, changes of itinerary and money concerns the entire thing---it was a miracle really---came to be. It was a clear case of ambition, desire and determination all meeting at the same point.  The results are below.


Matt: "Don't worry, Sebastian,

we  will get more smokes!"


Matt: "Now, where the **** did my **** tent go?"

Resting on the way to Los Patos.

Care to fight these guys?


After meeting in San Jose, we headed out by bus for Palmar Norte and on to Sierpe, where we spent the night. This jungle village is on the Rio Sierpe and perhaps is the last place in the world where one would find a superb restaurant---yet find one we did. The next day we boated for two hours into the ocean and then landed at Drake Bay. Here began the fun: nine days of walking with heavy packs, sweating all the while---sweating while walking, resting, eating, sleeping, standing, sitting, thinking, laughing---gallons of the stuff pouring from all pores all the time. There was no avoiding it, so we (sort of) got used to it. Walking from Drake along the coast we came in three hours to a most perfect and crocodile-free campsite. We set tents, made fire and read poetry.


Cool me yet again.

Sebastian imagining a woman far in the distance.

Jeff cannot believe Sebastian's hair cut.

Nathan hard at work.


Th next day we walked six hours to the boundary of the park at the ranger station of San Pedrillo. This was one tough day, all sweaty and hot as we switched between beach and jungle, sometimes climbing over hills rendered tremendous mountains by the humidity and heat. This was also our introduction to 'exposed beach hiking', that is, walking along a long and shadeless beach in the boiling sun with heavy packs in 100 percent humidity. We took an hour break at beach's end, where we rested with shoes off while Nathan amused us by climbing a tree and failing in his many attempts to crack open a coconut with his machete. We had yet three hours to go that day, and much of the route passed near eco-type resorts where the rich and fat and bird-addled huddled in swimming pools and comfortable bars while pretending to have a jungle experience. After reaching the ranger station we decided to stay two nights for some much needed rest and relaxation.


Hitting the beach road.

Toward the Lost Ark?


Nathan to Erik: "Hey! I think I spotted some smokes!"


Two days after we were quite ready for the hard walk to La Llorona, a point on the beach near a waterfall. This was tricky, as we had to make a choice: to stay at La Llorona---not really an option as the place was filthy---or to continue along the beach for six hours until the ranger station at Sirena. The problem here was that the beach walk crossed three rivers, six hours between the first and last. These rivers emptied into the sea, and so during low tide they were easily crossed. But at high tide they became frothy torrents. At all times their water is salty and undrinkable. And there were crocodiles and sharks in these waters, so swimming across was out of the question.  The beach hike required that we take note of the ebb and flow of the tides. Properly timed all three rivers could be crossed, but any problems along the way---an  injury, a slow hiker (me)---meant that we would be forced to remain on the wrong side of the last river for hours until the  tide went out.


At the beginning in Bahia Drake.

Clearing camp at Sirena.

Dinner time at San Pedrillo.

Jeff crosses a stream.


This is in fact what happened. We stayed at La Llorona for some time while we waited for the right moment for crossing the first river, the Rio Llorona. At 4 PM we headed out. That first river was easy, but the second, the Rio Corcovado, was three hours away---and all of the way would be walked at night. After crossing it we took a break. It was here that some of us noticed that we were being watched by something. Unknown to us, there was a large puma in the jungle near the beach either tracking us or stalking us. It took a bold step by walking right onto the beach, and it was then that some of us saw the beast. It was way too close, truth be told. It seemed to have chosen one of us to devour, but became alarmed after we saw it. We held our position, and the creature headed back to the cover of the jungle.


Nathan takes a well-earned break.

Miller Time at trail's end.




Palmar Norte

Breaking camp at Sirena.


We were a bit spooked after this. Every noise or shadow became in our mind---or perhaps actually was---the cat still following us. We did not make it to the next river in time for a night crossing, and so camped along the beach under some coconut trees. We awoke early, used the last of our water for coffee and headed for the Rio Sirena. It was quickly crossed, and one hour later we were in the flesh pots of La Sirena ranger station where was available real food and lots of it. Matt thought quickly, disappeared in the direction of the mess hut, and returned cradling six beautiful, marvelous and fabulously cold Cokes. God was with us for sure.


Matt barefoot at Sirena.

Erik at Sirena, pensive as ever.

Sebastian surrounded by camp

 detritus at Sirena.

Setting camp in a river bed.


La Sirena is a huge complex for rangers and visitors. It offers 40 beds (though we of course camped in the open) and is a hang-out of sorts for bird lovers. These creatures---the birders, that is---arrive by boat or plane (they are in no shape to walk in as we did) and take a few tentative steps into the jungle with huge cameras and binoculars in tow and rucksacks stuffed with food. They return bathed in sweat and covered in insect bites after a few minutes of pretending to be Indiana Jones, and head for the shade of the ranger station, there to exchange tales of their derring-do. They unknowingly provided us with hours of comic relief. We remained at Sirena for two restful days, almost immobile in the heat and humidity.


Nathan encamped in riverbed.

Does this fit the definition of macho?

Erik writing the 'Great American Novel'.

Erik very pleased with things.


Two days spent drinking rum, relaxing from the heat and making fun of birders  prepared us for the next part of our hike, a six-hour walk to the ranger station at San Pedrillo. That is it should have taken us six hours but we had planned all along to stop about half-way and camp some place off the trail. This would give us yet another day of wild jungle camping. When we came to the Rio Sirena we headed to the right 100 meters or so into the dry river bed  until we found a suitable campsite. The water was a bit dicey, as it did not really flow and it was obvious that this part of the river was used as watering hole for animals.


Jeff scratches a tick bite.

Resting at Sirena.

Erik contemplates 'Life, the Universe and Everything'.

Erik and Sebastian waiting for Godot.


There was also another worry, as the river bed looked as it was used as a trail by peccary. These wild pigs sometimes are driven to fury by the scent of man, and they have been known to kill and eat the odd unlucky human. We went to bed with eyes and ears open. All of us that night heard the clak-clack-clack of peccary teeth gnashing together. But no pigs were seen.  Most likely the beasts saw us camped there and decided that another route would be the better option for them. If push had come to shove, we certainly would have put up a good fight.


Jungle Trail.

Camp at Sirena.

Sirena station.

Jungle beach.


After a leisurely breakfast we ambled toward San Pedrillo, arriving in three hours. Here would be our final camp in the park, as the next day would see us begin a four-hour hike to the road that led to La Palma. From this sparse little jungle town there would be a bus to Palmar Norte, and thence to San Jose. But first we enjoyed the stay at San Pedrillo. The rangers here were outgoing, and even gave long-suffering Matt some tobacco.



Bad to the bone.

Jeff and Erik.

Life is a beach.

Jeff as animal lover.


The hike to the road was arduous. We knew this would be our last real backpacking together (at least for a while). We separated into two groups, the slower made up of Jeff, Nathan, Sebastian and---always Mr. Slow---me. We four got to La Palma 45 minutes after Matt and Erik did, and we found them happy as all get out, cradling cold drinks and freshly lit smokes. We joined them, and soon the lot of us headed for the nearest cantina. As we had an hour before the bus to Palmar, we imbibed a few adult beverages. When the bus arrived we staggered aboard, well-sated---until the evening.


Making plans.

Rear end of equipment.

Cool and pensive.

Nathan prepares for the trail.


We found a place to sleep in Palmar Norte. It was---how does one say it?---rather "interesting". (At least it did not rent by the hour.) There was a party---we earned it, we deserved it, we certainly enjoyed it even if the other denizens of the place did not. The next day was a five-hour bus ride to San Jose. And another party, this time at the venerable Pizza Hut. The workers allowed us to enjoy ourselves and consume adult beverages to our hearts content.



Erik looks ahead.


The next days were sad ones, for all the guys left---back to the real world of college and work and life in America. After the last very cool guy got on that plane, I was alone. I saw no point in hanging around Costa Rica---and later came to see no point in hanging around Central America. Nothing could compare to what we had done---not hiking in Honduras or walking the Guatemalan jungles. It was time for me to go home.


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