As part of my 3 months stay in Costa Rica, I wanted to visit the lesser traveled La Amistad International Park whose area is partly in Costa Rica and partly in Panama.
As the park is remote and true wilderness, it was not possible for me to go on my own but I found the community project AsoProLa, that organizes hikes deep in the forest to a place called Valle de Silencio.
However, I was disappointed and would like to inform other visitors about my experience with this organization.
After contacting AsoProLa via the Whatsapp number provided on their website, a volunteer called Marilyne based in Canada answered all my questions and I agreed with her when I come and the dates of the hike.
I took the bus to Tablas and got off at the restaurant Soda El Rancho, where I met a driver with a pick up truck that brought me to the Posada La Amistad run by AsoProLa at a village called Altamira.
I arrived on Monday and was supposed to leave on Tuesday or Wednesday. Now I was informed that the hut in the valle del Silencio was occupied with scientists at this time and that I could only leave on Friday. That annoyed me already as it meant I lost about 2-3 days as there was not that much to do in Altamira. As I was already in Altamira, I had no choice than to accept the postponement.
Caminata Gigantes del Bosque
I spent one day before the hike with a walk called Caminata Gigantes del Bosque. It starts at the park entrance which is about 50 minutes by foot from Altamira. The enjoyable walk is 1.5 km through a forest at the border of the park. I met interesting insects and butterflies.
AsoProLa community project
One day I helped plant coffee seedlings.
Hike to the Valle de Silencio
On Friday we started the 3 day hike to Valle de Silencio. I was alone with my guide Elio, who was part of the AsoProLa Community Project. I often participated in tours in Costa Rica that were led by trained guides. Binoculars were available on every tour because binoculars are often the only way to see the animals. But on this hike, everything was different. Elio had no tourist guide training and no binoculars with him. I quickly realized that he was not interested in teaching me about the animals, plants and landscape. Instead, he was on his cell phone most of the time to discuss his other businesses. If I wanted to know something, I had to ask him, since he seldom explained anything on his own.
I do not know why the organization chose Elio as I met a trained guide with vast knowledge at Posada La Amistad. He surely would have been a much better guide.
As long as Elio had mobile phone connection (until Cerro Quemado at 2’250 meters), he was often on the phone. As he spoke loudly into the phone he likely scared away the birds and other animals. According to the brochure, I could observe, among others, toucans, woodpeckers, white-faced monkeys but I did not see any animal.
We passed several photo traps that the scientists set up.
The remains of a hedgehog that fell victim to a predator
On the way up, I was often completely alone for longer period of time as Elio was busy with his phone or as he did not wait for me while I took pictures.
Before we reached the hut, we passed an area where jaguars, tapirs and quetzals are abundant according to the brochure but of course, we did not see any. The trained guide I met at Altamira told me that he had seen a tapir only four times in 11 years. Thus, do not expect to see any of the big animals.
We arrived at the Refugio after noon. Of course, there is no mobile phone connection (and thus no internet) and no electricity. The water is cold.
View from the terrace
My bed. It was very cold in the night. Thus, I was grateful I was provided two sleeping bags.
After lunch, we hiked to a place called Laguna, a pond in the forest.
I went to look for the endemic frog after dinner with a flashlight.
First I saw other creatures.
I tried to get more information from Elio about where to find the frog and how it looks like but did not get useful information. Elio gave up finding one but I continued searching.
Finally, I saw one!
Hike to Jardin (Garden)
After breakfast, we hiked to the Jardin.
Footsteps of a jaguar
The vegetation was really impressive!
A non-poisonous snake
We finally reached the Jardin. It is an open area whose floor is is very soft as it is covered by countless plants.
On the way back. I was mostly alone in this wilderness as Elio was nowhere to be seen. It was really careless of him as I could have been injured because of a fall or an encounter with an animal.
At one time, I strongly smelled a tapir but as Elio was not around, I did not dare to look for it. We might have seen the tapir if he was with me.
We searched again for the frogs after dinner. Elio gave up very quickly.
I learnt that you have to wait until 7:30 pm before you can find them after a long search.
This time, I saw even two of them.
On the way back to Altamira village
As soon as we left the Refugio, Elio disappeared in the forest. I was completely alone in the park and shouted for him but did not receive an answer. I thought that this might be dangerous as I could fall and become injured or encounter a poisonous snake. He did not communicate about his plans to go quickly and leaving me behind. I finally met him at Cerro Quemado where he had mobile phone connection again. He then told me that he hurried as he had to make important calls. From then on, he was constantly talking to people on the phone, without paying attention to me. I could not accept his behavior and told him that the tour is not over yet and I expect him to show me birds that were mentioned in the brochure. Although the brochure said that one could see the Quetzal and Trogon birds, we did not see any. It was nearly impossible without binoculars anyway. Later he started operating the phone again.
These poles mark the number of kilometers.
My guide Elio below lianas.
Once we arrived at the ranger station, I expected the car to be waiting for us to bring us back to Altamira but there was no car. I had the impression that he forgot to communicate that the car should come.
The car arrived after 50 minutes waiting time. Later I heard at AsoProLa that it was not Elio’s fault as the car had a problem but Elio did not communicate that to me.
I really liked the forest. It is a fairy tale forest with all the moss, fallen trees, ferns, orchids and the endemic frog. That is why I am glad I did this hike. On the other hand, I cannot recommend doing this hike with AsoProLa as as they postponed the hike by a few days in the beginning and Elio’s behavior is not acceptable. It could have been dangerous to leave me alone in the forest. In addition, I did not receive the information and attention that I expected for a tour that was quite expensive (I paid USD 340). I had the impression that Elio is not a passionate guide. It was just a job for him that he wanted to accomplish with as little effort and time as necessary.