Total distance travelled: 38,957 kilometres (24,196.89 miles)
Finally leaving the Groundhog Day that were our many attempts to depart Grand River Lodge (at least via the Rio San Juan) behind us, we were now camped (not literally) further down river at the quaint river town of El Castillo.
Our host had us lodged in basic, yet cosy wood panelled rooms above their small, rather basic general store, and his energetic, mischievous young son kept us all on our toes.
Not surprisingly, running a store and renting rooms wasn’t enough, they also had tours to sell, and given our reason for a second trip down river to El Castillo was to explore the nearby Indio Maiz, we were very ready to listen to what he had to offer.
It wasn’t long before we’d signed ourselves up (the English Chris had already scouted a few other options and his price seemed reasonable) for a 5 hour excursion the following morning, an hour on the river each way, and 3 hours in the jungle.
Wet weather throughout the night, convinced us all to hire gumboots for the adventure, and having picked up some snacks to substitute as breakfast, we were on the river nice and early.
At the helm our host and his young son, and accompanying the four of us (Sarah, myself and our English friends Chris and Faye) was Nicholas, our guide for the morning.
First up was the need to negotiate some rapids, right on the river where El Castillo sits, as it was their very existence that prompted construction of the fort and town to combat Pirate incursions back in the 17th century (rapids meant the vessels would need to slow, where they would be fair targets for those manning the fort).
For us it was an easy task in our shallow draught boat, but for the sailing ships of Sir Francis Drake or Henry Morgan, I can’t imagine how they did it!
Whilst we couldn’t always hear Nicholas, perched as he was at the front of our boat, he was very adept at spotting wildlife and it wasn’t long before he was helping us spy a multitude of Iguanas in Browns and Greens as they lurked in the trees.
It wasn’t long into our trip that the river actually becomes the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border (a small clearing and flags identify the location), and it was when running parallel to this bank that was now Costa Rica that we saw our avian highlight of the tour, Toucans!
Two of them to be precise, but all they really did was leave us wanting more…
Before long we came to a fork in the river, to the right flowed the Rio San Juan, where it would continue on before discharging into the Caribbean.
To the left flowed the Rio Bartolo, and it was at this juncture where we would be abandoning our boat for our excursion into the Indio Maiz.
So what is the Indio Maiz?
This biological reserve on the Rio San Juan & Rio Bartolo is a protected reserve, which according to ‘The Guardian’, has more species of birds, trees and insects than the whole of Europe!
Even prior to us entering the rainforest, we were all very thankful of our decision to hire our rubber boots.
The ground around the ranger/military checkpoint where our land journey was to begin was covered in a thin film of water, and as soon as we began to wander the path beneath the jungle canopy, we were trudging through thick, wet mud.
Despite the relative shelter we enjoyed from the rains due to the trees above, this in no way meant that the conditions got any better.
In fact the ‘path’, for it no longer resembled one, continued to become more and more difficult, so much so that we spent more time watching our step, than scanning our surrounds for wildlife!
This didn’t mean the jungle was devoid of life for us.
As well as acquainting ourselves with an inquisitive monkey, Nicholas was able to explain the medicinal properties of many indigenous plants, including one that was a natural anaesthetic (after only 5 or 6 chews, we could feel our tongues start to numb).
Coincidentally, it was also looking down that prevented us from ruining the day for a couple of local turtles as well (we nearly stumbled on them in a literal sense)!
Unfortunately no Sloths, Armadillo or Tapir were to be sighted today, and the final stanza of our tour took as back on the river.
More monkeys were sighted, before we moored in some shallows allowing us to give our boots a much needed clean of any mud and other filth that still clung to them.
None of us had the foresight to bring our swimmers, for had we done so, I’m sure all four of us would have been in those refreshing waters rather quickly indeed.
An early El Castillo return allowed us plenty of time to grab some lunch before our afternoon river departure back up to San Carlos.
* Our rooms at Turistic Lodging Universal (yes, that is the real name) cost us $5.00 US per person in a Private double.
* Our trip to the Rio Bartolo cost us $65.00 US for 4 people ($16.25 per person), with the additional cost of $1.00 per person to hire gumboots and $3.00 US for the park entrance fee.