Friday, January 25, 2013

Costa Rica Episode 3--Monteverde Cloud Forest

After a leisurely breakfast and preparations to leave Arenal and the beautiful Lost Iguana, we were picked up and taken to Lake Arenal which was just a couple minutes away--we had passed it numerous times on our excursions. A private boat and boat captain took us across the lake to the very muddy, very wet, very rustic landing place where a driver and van awaited us for the drive to Monteverde. Up until this point, we really had wondered why friends and family warned us of the mind and body numbing roads in Costa Rica. Yes, some had been a little rough but nothing to write home about. Within 30 seconds of this ride, we knew. This ride was to make the white-roads of Italy pale by comparison. There were ruts, holes-big holes, rocks, boulders and more for the next 2 hours or maybe it was 3--at the time I would have said 24. Additionally, as we went up the drop became steeper and steeper. We were thankful for a driver who clearly had made this trip many, many times and knew each boulder and hole. This was clearly more rugged territory than the more developed Arenal area. The reality is this just gave us one more colorful memory and experience; after all, we have enough freeways at home.

Finally we arrived in the town of Monteverde which is composed of restaurants, souvenir shops, excursions/tour/activity businesses, a couple banks (which was good as we needed an ATM to replenish our col√≥nes which were about 500 to a dollar) and a very good ice cream place. Monteverde developed as a tourist area much later than Arenal and so lacks some of the rush and bustle which, truthfully, is really quite nice. It is still pretty rustic, simple  and laid back with wooden sidewalks and sometimes dusty window displays. Certainly not the nightlife that Arenal has, in which we did not participate.

We were immediately taken to our lodging the Monteverde Lodge and Gardens which architecturally is really at one with the surrounding foliage and forest. It is a mountain lodge not a glitzy hotel. At first we found ourselves comparing it with the beauty of the Lost Iguana and the lovely, large, well-appointed room we had there but we soon reminded ourselves of the difference between a resort and a lodge. The room here was rather cramped quarters for 3 people. Perhaps there were larger rooms which would have been nice. Since Casey is now man-size, we three trip over each other easily.

With that said, we did enjoy it here. The staff was helpful and accommodating--doing such things as drying our rather wet outer garments when we returned from the rather wet cloud forest. The restaurant was good and the wait staff was professional, warm and very nice.

The first night we went for a twilight, read dark, wildlife hike in the adjoining forest. Our guide was totally outstanding who, like safari guides, saw things we would never have spotted. At first I was a little concerned because Casey does not call me "queen of klutz" for nothing. There were up and down stairs and paths--some steep, reminding me that I should have listened to Ken when he told me I should exercise to get ready for this trip. Paths were slippery with wet leaves. But, in spite of these conditions, we were told not to grab any tree or foliage to steady ourselves as there might well be snakes entwined on them. This wasn't the most welcome of warnings! I did use a walking stick for the first time in my life and found that it worked wonderfully well and provided a refreshing degree of confidence and stability. The rest of the trip I used one on our hikes.

We saw several animals, sleeping birds, tarantulas, spiders, puma tracks and, I am sure, things I have forgotten. I had not known that birds perch on a limb and go to sleep for the night until dawn. We saw several doing this. It was a good walk. Dinner was in the lodge that night.


And...here is one. In bed for the night. Cute, isn't he or she?

The next day was a trip to the cloud forest in the morning. Cloud forests are higher in elevation than rain forest; however, just as wet. We actually did not see very much on this outing. Everything was in hiding. There was a tarantula or two, some birds and a millipede but that was about it--no animal life.


All and all, it was rather a dud except the forest is lush and gorgeous--sort of like nature's temple. 


That afternoon we went to a hummingbird gallery which basically was a place that had many feeders with sugar water to which humming birds flock. They were beautiful and there were a lot of them but it just seemed contrived with all the feeders.

Trio
Sofia
And, this was December 31--New Year's Eve. Not much was happening in town--in fact, I think nothing. The Lodge did have a special menu but it was turkey which didn't appeal to us. So, we went to Sofia which was recommended by the lodge. This was a very nice restaurant with an upscale menu which surprised us. It turns out that Sofia and Trio, where we ate the next night, are owned by a woman from the US who has restaurants here. The menus reflect some creative sophistication along with an acceptable wine list. We enjoyed both places.

Our last day in Monteverde, Ken and I toured the Don Juan Coffee and Chocolate Plantation while Casey had much more fun horsebacking riding. Somehow learning the ins and outs of all you ever wanted to know about coffee growing did not seem what a 14 year old would enjoy. The truth is that Ken and I didn't find it all that interesting either. I think we should have joined Casey even though I am quite certain my anatomy would feel the pain afterwards. Looking at this picture, it seems as if Casey could have used a larger animal but we weren't there so maybe they were all this size. All I know is that he had a great time, didn't fall off and said they went at a pretty good clip. He was happy.

In the afternoon we did go somewhere that we all found interesting--The Bat Jungle--which I know sounds creepy. But, it actually was very interesting in that the guy that took us around really likes bats, has studied them extensively and shares a wealth of knowledge about bats world wide. I was a little worried when they took us into the cave that bats would be flying around and into us but, happily, there was a glass wall between us and them which suited me just fine. The bat guy did go in and feed them and made himself at home and seemed to be pretty much left alone. Actually, contrary to my feelings about the coffee planation and the hummingbird garden, I would recommend going here.

The next morning we were picked up early for a three hour ride back to San Jose where we went to a small airfield and boarded our private chariot plane which took us to Tortuguero--which we all loved. Think of Fantasy Island and "zee plane, zee plane" if you are old enough to know.



This was actually bigger than the plane we had in Kenya and not held together with duct tape as was the plane in the Amazon rain forest--which was larger. Forgetting to pray is not an option on these adventures.




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