It’s a Jungle Out There

UnCruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager, at anchor off Costa Rica’s Oso Peninsula. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

“We’ve got jaguars and ocelots, but you probably won’t see them. But they’ll see you,” said Nancy, director of the Campanario Biological Station, over breakfast. A spry woman of indeterminate age, she’s lived in Costa Rica for the past 44 years after travelling down from the United States and just staying put.

For the past decade, Nancy has been a part of the Reserve, which hosts high school and college students from North America on educational research stays at Campanario, located on Costa Rica’s remote Oso Peninsula.

Guests leave the Safari Voyager this morning to come ashore…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…at the Campanario Biological Station. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Nancy came aboard this morning as guests aboard UnCruise Adventures Safari Voyager enjoyed a hearty breakfast. My hearty breakfast was starting to flip-flop in my stomach as she continued on with her morning pep-talk. “We’ve got snakes, too. Lots of snakes. You’ll probably never see one. Although, one guy last week almost stepped on one. You’ll need close-toed shoes though, as a safety precaution. They’re  mostly poisonus. Except for the boa.”

Ah, the boa constrictor. Nature’s heat-seeking missile. I envisioned one dropping out of the trees above me, landing on my shoulders, its scaly body encircling my neck, drawing ever tighter before feasting on a tasty meal of cruise writer…

I pushed the rest of my eggs away. Nancy, a wonderful character if there ever was one, rattled on happily at the microphone. Slender, five and a half feet and probably in her late 50’s, she wore a plain t-shirt, shorts, and brightly-coloured Crocs. I decided if she could survive the jungle, surely, I could, too.

…into the jungle. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Most cruise lines don’t stop here, preferring to head to more established ports further south. This is primary forest, untamed, uncut and undisturbed for centuries. Life here exists on rhythms that pre-date Campanario, and the Centre intends to keep it that way. They have established camera traps throughout the forest; motion-sensitive cameras that track animals by day but also by night. The data is downloaded about once a month and sent to experts for positive identification.

UnCruise is in the beautiful position to have been invited to come here, which is a great honour. Coming by ship is also the best way to get here; some of the Expedition Team members were telling me that when they came to scout this place before UnCruise began calling here, getting here from San Jose was a nightmare as you can’t fly or drive here. The only way in or out, really, is by boat.

A total of three different hikes were offered here, all of varying difficulty levels. I chose the intermediate option. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This morning, guests could take three different hikes, all of which required a good degree of mobility. I chose the second-longest hike, which lasted about 90 minutes in duration. For those with mobility issues, a skiff tour of the shoreline was offered. I liked that – UnCruise will never leave guests without an option, and if one doesn’t exist, the Expedition Team onboard will do its best to create one.

We began with a stroll up the beach and nearly immediately entered the jungle. This is one of the most ecologically intense places on the planet. Indeed, over 174 species of amphibians have been identified in Costa Rica, along with 221 different types of reptiles – half of which are snakes. Interestingly, there are so many kinds of snakes here that some, according to the Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica, have never been photographed.

No snakes, but these branches sure come close. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

And yet, snakes aren’t the most common cause of death here. Falling coconuts rate higher in probability. Still, I found myself looking down at the branches I was stepping on, waiting for one to come alive.

Here, closed-toed shoes were a requirement, and it was recommended that guests watch their footing because of the uneven terrain and, of course, the possibility of snakes.

There’s the Common Tree Boa, which attacks the face of its victims. Non-venomous, it often bites with such force that it leaves its teeth imbedded in its target. On the flip-side is the brown-blunt headed vine snake, which rarely bites and is seldom dangerous to humans. On the flip side of that is the highly-venomous Pit Viper; one dude you don’t want to cross.

Our Expedition guide, Rey, points out things that most guests would just walk right by. The expedition team onboard is one of the line’s greatest assets. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Here’s the lowdown: I didn’t see one snake. You likely won’t, either, so if you’re nervous about it, put the thought out of your mind. Nancy used a great analogy this morning: we don’t think twice about crossing the street in New York City, with its abundant traffic. At any moment we could be hit by a car, but chances are good you won’t be. The same is true with snakes: there are thousands of them in the forest, and you’re unlikely to have any issues.

The humidity inside the jungle was breathtaking. Bring lots and lots of water. Rehydration salts are also an excellent idea, as you’ll be sweating out nearly everything you take in. However, the effort is worth it. This is one of the most impressive places I’ve experienced outside of the Galapagos Islands.

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Heading down out of the jungle…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…to explore the grounds of the Biological Station. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

I arrived back onboard just in time for my complimentary massage. What’s that, you say? It’s true: every guest aboard the Safari Voyager – and most UnCruise vessels – is entitled to a complimentary 30-minute massage. Every guest that wants to participate puts their name down at the start of the voyage (a new procedure for UnCruise) and then the ship’s Massage Therapists schedule your appointment around your chosen activities.

I met Jenna this morning at 11 am, fresh from my hike on-shore. The free massage I got from her was better than some of the paid ones I’ve had on larger cruise ships. It’s a wonderful added touch that UnCruise offers, particularly with all the physical activities offered each day.

The Station hosts high school and University students from around the world. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon, the Safari Voyager relocated around the peninsula to a more sheltered location, where the swells of the Pacific Ocean were more muted. Here, UnCruise gave guests the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon at the beach, or participate in some more walks along the shore or even an active “charger” style hike that would take three hours, ending just before sunset.

I, however, chose to stay onboard the Safari Voyager and relax. And I wasn’t alone: a handful of guests chose to do the same thing. And that’s okay. Part of the necessary experience in Costa Rica is knowing your limits and with the high temperatures and humidity, it’s easy to work yourself into an exhausted state.

Safari Voyager awaits! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Instead, why not adopt the easygoing manana attitude of the Costa Ricans, who are known locally as ticos (for men) and ticas (for women). After a few days onboard the Safari Voyager, I’m already learning to slow down and enjoy pura vida! – the Good Life.

It’s no hardship to spend an afternoon aboard the newly-refitted Safari Voyager. Here’s a look at what UnCruise added during the ship’s year-long, $15-million refit:

  • Brand-new walls, doors, windows, ceilings, flooring, and carpeting throughout the ship.
  • An entirely new galley
  • New air conditioning throughout the ship
  • New tables, buffet stations and cabinetry, plus wall treatments, flooring and carpeting, in the Dining Room
  • New mattresses, carpeting, wall treatments, artwork, linens, pillows, towels, sinks, light fixtures and electrical outlets.
  • A new Reception Area
  • A fully-refitted Navigation Bridge with all-new equipment
  • A brand-new, stern-mounted EZ-dock launch platform for kayaks and the ship’s motorized skiffs. Skiffs, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and snorkel gear are all brand-new.
  • A brand-new, forward-facing Owner’s Suite has been created in place of the former Library on Deck 2.
  • New elliptical machines, bikes and yoga equipment on the Sun Deck, which is covered by a new permanent awning and which has been expanded over its previous incarnation.
  • New interior artwork created by local artisans from Mexico and Peru.

If you sailed Safari Voyager previously, you’ll find an entirely new experience here – one that is truly fit to serve under the UnCruise banner. The ship’s past technical issues are gone, along with any trace of the old Safari Voyager. The only thing from the ship that still exists as-is are the comfortable wicker chairs in the lounge, and the cabinetry in the staterooms.

Safari Voyager boasts artwork made by local artisans in Peru and Mexico. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Spearheaded by UnCruise interior project manager Ashley Brink, these works of art really add a special ambiance to the ship’s overall feel. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

This cozy reading nook all the way forward on Deck 2 is a great place to admire this artwork…Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

…and consult our location on the map! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

If you’ve followed along with this Voyage Report so far, you’ll notice that evenings here aboard the Safari Voyager tend to follow a familiar ebb and flow.

Cocktail Hour in the Lounge is the precursor to the Expedition briefing and recap, where the day’s activities are contrasted with the promise of tomorrow’s adventures. Tomorrow, the Safari Voyager will drop anchor in Golfo Dulce – our last Costa Rican port of call. In the afternoon, we’ll clear customs and immigration and proceed direct to Panama in preparation for Friday’s transit of the Panama Canal.

After all guests have signed up for their adventures ashore, dinner has typically been served in the dining room at 6:30 pm. The meals aboard the ship have been stellar. I’ve had the fish option each and every night, and have yet to be disappointed. My allergy to nuts has been taken seriously, and the dining staff – who also clean your rooms and generally take care of you throughout the day – couldn’t be nicer.

It’s Cocktail Hour, and that means appetizers are being served! Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Expedition Leader Sarah explains tomorrow’s activities to us. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Added to that is Safari Voyager’s personable Hotel Director, Tim Karl. I sailed with Tim on the S.S. Legacy two years ago, and he is always stationed outside the dining room, asking guests how their day was, and inquiring how their cruise is going.

After dinner, it’s up to the lounge for the lecture of the evening, with new presentations each night by different members of the Expedition Team. These talented people – Chris, Ray, Jenny, and Erika – are all natives of Costa Rica, and their infectious enthusiasm for their homeland shows through.

Nightlife isn’t a thing. By the time the lecture concludes at 9pm, guests all march downstairs to their staterooms. It’s been a big day, and most guests are exhausted at the end of it.

You will be, too. In fact, so am I, which is why I’m headed downstairs right now, to the cozy bed in my stateroom, where the Safari Voyager will gently rock me to sleep as she sails the Pacific Ocean en-route to tomorrow’s adventures.

Sunset, UnCruise-style. Photo © 2017 Aaron Saunders

Our Voyage Report aboard UnCruise Adventures’ Safari Voyager continues tomorrow as we arrive in Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

Safari Voyager - Costa Rica & Panama

Day 1Arrival in San Jose, Costa Rica & Embarkation in Puerto Caldera
Day 2Manuel Antonio National Park, CR
Day 3Curu National Park, CR
Day 4Oso Peninsula, CR
Day 5Golfo Dulce & Golfito, CR
Day 6Isla de Coiba, Panama
Day 7Transiting the Panama Canal
Day 8Disembarkation, post-cruise Panama City stay and recap.

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