Living in Costa Rican Wilderness
Living in the Remote Costa Rican Wilderness
(Guest Post by Ryan Biddulph – see end of post)
“We ain’t in Kansas anymore.”
I mouthed these words to my wife Kelli as we blasted through the 3rd stream, rumbling through the remote jungles of Buena Vista, Costa Rica.
We took a house sitting job just 2 weeks prior.
I knew it was off the grid. No electricity. Outhouse. Water via hose from a jungle stream. But we had no idea it was *that* off of the grid.
The Set Up
The home/hut owner noted how his place was a 3 mile bicycle ride into town. Turns out, the homeowner had the stamina and skill of a professional cyclist, riding 35 miles like it was nothing. Of course he shared this with us after we landed the sit.
Anyway, we were well aware the place was way off of the grid, a jungle on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.
We passed 4 streams while on the ATV and then plowed up a mile high hill with a 30% grade in some spots. 5 more minutes riding through muddy jungle then we hopped off the ATV as the last 15 minutes had to be hiked on foot
It was a house, technically, but more like a hut.
This basic lodging had a large, open air back porch with panoramic views of the surrounding lush, dense jungle. Imagine a small kitchen with an outdoor sink, gas range, kitchen table (more like a wooden slab) and a small table for holding spices and whatever fruits or veggies you picked for the day.
3 sleeping areas/rooms spanned the back section of the hut. Beds were stuffed with straw, plastic covers crinkling through the night. Mosquito nets were mandatory.
The place sat on stilts, elevated about 6 feet above ground level for safety purposes. You don’t want to be too close to ground level with all the wildlife around and during monsoon season you will be flooded out, as nearby, “drier” Bribri gets 8 feet of rain a year.
3 caged dog runs were beneath the hut for the family of Rhodesian Ridgebacks who lived on the premises. We watched only 1 of the dogs, named Thunder.
A Typical Day in the Jungle
After waking at 4:30 AM due to hitting the sack around 7 PM (not much to do when it gets dark in a remote jungle) and the booming calls of Howler monkeys, we would begin the day with meditation and stretching.
Food preparation was a biggie for us. Something Kelli and I looked forward to. You really tend to appreciate and enjoy food when you need to walk 3 hours through remote jungles just to get a cookie.
I’d make some Tico coffee and oatmeal while Kelli would grab her cereal.
After breakfast on the back deck – where we sometimes watched entertaining sloths and monkeys in the canopy by the hut – we would plan our day. Kelli tended to chill out until a mid afternoon nap. This trip was all about detachment and observation for her. I would walk Thunder, the 90 pound lion-hunting Rhodesian Ridgeback, both morning and night.
Sometimes I tossed in fruit picking or macheting to keep the grounds snake free.
Thunder was a fearless beast who often dove into deep jungle to hunt whatever caught her fancy. We once saw her scale a 30 foot vertical cliff like it was nothing. These dogs are called the Navy SEALS of the canine world. For good reason.
She would barrel up hills, sprint through the woods and never wanted to turn around and walk home, even if I walked her for 6 hours, as I did during one intense trip. Pretty much a cyborg-dog, Thunder was.
On the property we saw bullet ants, poison dart frogs, centipedes and scorpions. We had 7 scorpions living inside the hut. Along with 7 bats.
We never saw a scorpion inside the place until a legion of over 5000 army ants swept through the house, routing every living insect in the area, smoking the scorpions out from their hiding places.
These impressive ants overwhelmed and butchered all types of smaller life forms. Nature’s exterminators.
They didn’t bother me one bit though. I would walk slowly and they knew to travel around me. Kelli just chilled under the mosquito net until they left the hut.
I once whipped a bullet ant from the kitchen sink with a ratty old dish towel. These guys own the most painful insect sting on earth, with many victims saying a sting from a bullet ant does in fact feel like getting shot.
We had to be careful that no poison dart frog dove into the dog’s water dish as ingesting the frog or the contaminated water could kill Thunder.
As far as birds, we saw toucans, oropendola, Mealy Amazon parrots, owls and hummingbirds.
In the monkey category we saw Howler monkeys and Capuchin monkeys.
2 and 3 toed sloths frequented the property too.
We only saw 1 long, green snake but the homeowner noted how highly aggressive, venomous fer de lanzes were often spotted in the area. He showed me the machete mark on the wall where he decapitated a fer de lanz that tried to kill a frog in the kitchen sink.
The Trek to and from Town
Every Friday we trekked back into town – Bribri – to buy food for the week and then we’d head to nearby Puerto Viejo for a little taste of civilization for the day, staying overnight until Saturday morning.
The walk back into town was not too bad; about 2 and a half hours because you went downhill. But you always needed to wear rubber boots whenever you hiked or walked the dog because of the permanently muddy conditions in some areas as well as the quicksand like mud that Kelli and I both fell into once, up to our knees.
After chilling in either Puerto Viejo or Bribri we’d do shopping for the week, grabbing our food that did not require refrigeration, and we’d begin the 3 hour or longer hike back to the hut, deep in the jungle.
The first 15 minutes were easy; flat, rocky road in town. Then you entered the jungle. Not too bad. Barring the one time after 3 days of torrential rains when I had to pull my wife and 6 bags of groceries across a roaring rapids swelling up to our thighs.
Yes; remember that I always had to carry 6 to 8 bags of our groceries for the week on this journey.
We passed one stream. Then flat lands, working deeper into the jungle. We’d cross the 2nd stream, then work our way up a tiny hill. Humidity would increase slowly and steadily, with 100 foot high trees appearing more frequently as you trekked deeper into the heart of darkness.
After passing stream #3 the grade increased, and your legs would slowly begin to burn. Then after stream #4 you met the real challenge; a mile high mountain with serious grades, some as steep as 30%.
As I’m carrying the week’s groceries and both of our laptops (via backpack) I tested the limits of my fitness. Only once did I hike this mile high mountain carrying a heavy yoke without taking a break. Most days I too 2-4 breaks.
Landslides typically blocked a portion of the path, 30 foot high chunks of earth pouring onto the clearing. One day a huge, felled tree blocked the entire path. Kelli and I had to gingerly walk through branches to get into town and back to the hut.
When we finally reached the top of the mile high mountain, we began to work our way into the remote, uninhabited jungle.
Downhill we went, and this is where we absolutely needed boots because the muck and mud increased as the canopy spread above the path.
This was the most slippery, dangerous part of the hike because you could trip and fall down the hill at any time.
After we passed the farm – where the one other human being in the area lived – we got onto the property.
Rocks, mud, 20 percent grades and an uneven, outright hazardous path greeted us. Sometimes we hiked down the hill backside first, as if we were walking down a ladder into an inground pool.
We finally arrived to the tiny clearing around the hut.
Oats. Cookies. Fresh spinach and turmeric from the grounds, along with sour oranges picked from the property which I used to flavor the stream water.
Rice, textured soy protein, cereal and coffee. Some sugar. Sauce.
Everything had to be sealed inside a container or wildlife would find it, burrow into the food and contaminate it.
We learned how to pan bake bread from the homeowner, which was a nice treat.
Toilet and Shower
We used an old, rickety outhouse that was situated 2 feet away from dense jungle. I often saw bullet ants, scorpions and poison dart frogs not a few feet away from me as I used the outhouse.
The shower was just the hose that fed the house from a jungle stream, that we’d latch onto the stilts via a clever contraption to set up a shower like environment.
We would toss the hose up 10 feet via another ingenious device to latch the hose onto the sink. Water ran 24-7, 365 as the run off simply flowed back into the stream. We used organic detergent. No harm, super green.
The humidity levels in the jungle were epic. On some days I noted plants growing over an inch from sun up to sundown.
I threw out many shirts, ruined from the mildew, stained and smelling musty as could be. Even though we sealed both our laptops in a Ziplock bag these were ruined within a few short weeks after leaving the jungle, never working the same.
The homeowner warned us to wrap up outdoor activity at 5 PM. Being under the jungle canopy, things began getting dark at 5:30 and became pitch black at 6:30.
We used candle light to read, to chat and to laze the early evening away. We also had small battery operated flashlights if we wanted to get around the hut during the night without lighting a candle every single day.
We’d read or chat for an hour or 2 and go to bed.
This was the most challenging 6 weeks of my life but it was also among the most rewarding, fulfilling and fun 6 weeks of my life too.
It was an amazing experience I’d not trade for anything in the world.
About the Author:
Ryan Biddulph is a blogger, author and world traveler who’s been featured on Richard Branson’s Virgin Blog, Forbes, Fox News, Entrepreneur, Positively Positive, Life Hack, John Chow Dot Com and Neil Patel Dot Com. He has written and self-published 126 bite-sized eBooks on Amazon. Ryan can help you build a successful blog at Blogging From Paradise.