Uvita -> Ballena
In Uvita we stayed in a very clean cabina, set back in a laurel grove near a small stream. When we asked about horseback riding, the young Tico couple that owned the cabina recommended that we hire David as a guide.
He works on the small cattle ranch that is associated with the Merced wildlife refuge and also heads the effort to organize and promote local ecotourism and conservation and communicate with MINAE (the government agency that oversees mining, energy, and national parks).
It was a fascinating day of riding, we worked our way across the ranch to the beach, through an estuarine environment and then into the second growth and virgin rainforest in the mountains.
Like all of the Tico guides we met, David had great eyes and spotted birds and animals that we never would have noticed. In addition to his descriptions of the plants and animals and their interactions that make up the diverse ecological zones that we rode through, David was particularly good at picking out edible fruits and nuts for us to taste (don’t try this on your own).
They didn’t all have flavors that would make them bestsellers at the local market, but it was fun to get our mouths and noses involved in the experience.
We also learned about local efforts to preserve the environment. One, the feline rescue program was particularly interesting. They take in injured jungle cats from all over Costa Rica, place them in enclosed forested compounds and use remote-control care and feeding techniques to rehabilitate them. This gives the cats a better chance for survival when they are reintroduced to the wild in a National Park or preserve because they have not been habituated to the presence of humans.
Obviously you can’t tour the rehabilitation facilities, but if you are interested there is a visitors center where some of the cats that were too badly injured to reintroduce to the wild live (including an ocelot who had all of her teeth pulled so she wouldn’t bite the guests at the resort where she was caged).
As was often the case, we biked out of Uvita so early in the morning that there wasn’t anywhere open to get coffee. About 10 km down the road we spotted a soda decorated with surfboards bearing Greek inscriptions and pulled in for breakfast. While we were drinking our café con leche, we noticed the sign for cabinas villas Lorena pointing down a driveway towards the beach. We went to take a look, and it turned out that 10 km was all the farther we rode that day.
In fact we ended up spending most of three days in this idyllic setting in the middle of Ballena National Marine Park. The proprietor, Francisco, told us about a secret beach that was only accessible at low tide and Chris (the other guest) told us about a hike up the middle of a river to a waterfall in the forest.
There is some construction going on, and signs that soon there will be more than the two sodas and three cabinas that currently trim this beautiful stretch of beach so if you like secluded you better get there soon.