Saturday, August 6, 2011

Costa Rica Part 5: The Cloud Forest

After one night each in Sarapiqui and Arenal, our next stop was for another two-night stay, this one in Monteverde. Now, if you were taking a tropical vacation, would you expect to be staying somewhere with high temperatures that just reached 70, if that? I would guess not, but Monteverde is at over a mile elevation, and let me tell you, the weather there felt wonderful! (Especially when contrasted to the weather in Cleveland after we got home!)

Monteverde is in what's known as a cloud forest, which, according to Wikipedia, is "a generally tropical or subtropical evergreen montane moist forest characterized by a persistent, frequent or seasonal low-level cloud cover." So, it rained a good deal, but more often than actual rain we experienced mist. And, as the name Monteverde suggests, it's very green there. (This could be said of almost everywhere we went, but perhaps the cloud forest most of all.)

The drive to Monteverde was an adventure, in more ways than one. We had an unexpected delay when, in between Arenal and Monteverde, we came to a narrow bridge that was having construction work done on it. Next to the bridge, a dirt path descended to the shallow stream that the bridge passed over, then went back up on the other side of the stream to rejoin the road. Apparently that path was the detour for the bridge, although there was no way a full-size bus could go that way, right?

Wait, we aren't actually going into the stream, are we? What?? Oh, yes, we were. I think everyone on the bus was at least slightly terrified at that moment. The bus went all the way into the stream and started up the other side - but got stuck; it couldn't make it up the opposite shore. We rolled back into the stream, and stopped for a minute. What now? The only option was to retreat back up to the road, in reverse. This was something I certainly never expected to experience in my life. We made it without incident, and then stopped to assess our options. After some discussion, we decided that all the passengers would disembark from the bus and walk across the bridge.

The major obstacle to the bus crossing the bridge was that there was a large hole in the road in front of the bridge, directly in the path of the buses' left-side wheels. At first, the bus drivers considered just putting a wooden plank over the hole. This did not seem like a good idea. Eventually, it was decided that the hole should be filled with rocks, and then the plank placed over the rocks. So our tour guides collected rocks from the stream to fill the hole.

The name of our tour was the "Costa Rica Eco-Adventure," and as all this was going on, there was plenty of bemused commentary among the tour group about how we were certainly having an adventure. Several SUVs drove through the stream as we waited, and we cheered them on as they accelerated up out of the water. Finally, the hole was filled, and the buses passed safely over the bridge to more applause. We loaded back up, and continued on our way.

Before we even arrived in Monteverde, we experienced a spectacular drive into town. The road was unpaved, narrow, and windy, so in the tour bus, it made for an interesting - and potentially nerve-wracking - experience. At times one could look out the window of the bus and see only clouds. I always felt safe, though - surviving going into a stream and reversing back out of it in a bus probably helped!

Our hotel in Monteverde was El Establo, and it was quite an impressive place. We were situated on the 500 level. That doesn't mean the fifth floor of a building, though - that means the fifth level of buildings that were located all the way up a steep hillside. To get to our room from the entrance of the hotel, we had to take a shuttle. Another interesting feature of the hotel was that the electricity in the rooms was activated by placing your room card in a slot, so that when you weren't in the room the electricity was automatically off. I thought this was pretty neat; they definitely seem to be more eco-conscious in Costa Rica than in the United States.

Another nice thing about our accommodations was the great view from our room. Cara and I both felt that this was probably our favorite place we stayed (well, if we put aside the food - we only had breakfasts at the hotel, but they were the low points food-wise in a tour full of excellent meals).

That evening, Cara and I went on the night walk, an optional excursion. It was a guided walk that promised the opportunity to experience the cloud forest in the dark and see various wildlife. We didn't see that many animals - a few insects, a tarantula (that was definitely cool!), and a couple of snakes that were barely discernible way up in the trees. Still, just being out there in the lush forest with darkness and a light rain falling around us was so neat. Sean, the little boy, was in the same group as Cara and me, and at one point he commented that he thought this was where Jurassic Park was filmed - specifically, the scene with the raptors in the tall grass. (The scene in question was actually in the second Jurassic Park movie, a far inferior film to its predecessor, but that particular scene always stuck with me as being really outstanding.)

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant. Oddly enough, the next night, we had dinner at another Italian restaurant. The restaurants were both good, but I still found this somewhat strange; it was one of the very few things I would have changed about the tour.

On our second day in Monteverde, we got to experience the cloud forest from three different perspectives, and all three were amazing. We started out with a guided hike on a trail - experiencing the forest from ground level. I know I've said things like this many times in this series of blog posts, but the scenery was just so spectacular!

It was a great hike. Cara and I both wished we would have had the opportunity to go on a longer hike in the cloud forest - perhaps on another trip to Costa Rica. After the hike, we got to visit a hummingbird garden in the park. It was hard to believe how many hummingbirds there were and how close we could get to them.

After the hummingbird garden, the next item on the agenda was the canopy tour. This was a walk along a series of huge, rickety suspension bridges. So after first seeing the cloud forest from ground level, we now got to see it from way up among the treetops. It was quite astonishing.

Finally, after walking among the ground level vegetation, and then among the tree tops, came the third way of experiencing the cloud forest - hurtling at up to forty miles per hour, hundreds of feet off the ground.

Ziplining was one of my most anticipated activities on the tour, and it easily lived up to expectations. I've been a thrill ride enthusiast since a young age, so this was right up my alley. If you're reading this, it's possible you've been ziplining before, but unless you've been to Costa Rica, it's unlikely you've been ziplining like this. We first ascended up a tram to the top of a mountain, and then went down a series of nine ziplines that crisscrossed a valley, meaning that each line placed the rider way out in the open with jaw-dropping views of the forest. The mist made it even better - as we departed, the platform would quickly disappear behind us, and then we would accelerate into a white shroud - the trees below were visible, but straight ahead there was only a vast nothingness. Finally, the next platform would come into view. It was very exhilarating!

For many members of the tour group, this was their last night. The next two days at the beach, which Cara and I went to, were optional. So dinner that night was the "farewell dinner." Cara and I both got Hawaiian style pizza, taking advantage of the opportunity to enjoy fresh pineapple. After dinner, we drove back to our rooms in the buses. Before we left the bus, Daniel, our tour guide, spoke to the whole group. It was, in some sense, a final sendoff, and I found myself getting emotional. Daniel was really a remarkable guide, hilarious, informative, and so full of life. Cara and I felt very lucky to have him as our tour guide. There on the bus, he gave each person or group a map of Costa Rica with all the places we'd stayed marked on it, and on the back, a list of all the animals we had seen. But he didn't just hand out the maps - he said a short piece about each person, and I found myself reflecting on how amazing it was that we had all gone from complete strangers to a group of friends over the course of the week, and also how Daniel had gotten to really know each person so well. The words he said to each person were usually very funny and at times very touching. When it was our turn, he began (in a sing-song voice) "Love is in the air...", then said, "Seeing the way that Cara and Jeff see each other, it makes me want to get married too . . . in ten years."

After Daniel finished giving out all the maps, everyone just sat there. It felt like we didn't want to leave; we wanted to keep listening to his side-splitting monologues and his great stories about Costa Rica and life and everything. He had to say something like, "Well, you can go now." And so we returned to our rooms.

That night, Cara and I and most of the younger (teenage and twenty-something) members of the tour group went down to the swimming pool (it was nice that we could still fit in with the younger set!). Amusingly, the lights were off, and because they were on a timer, we could not turn them on, but this did not stop us from enjoying the pool. Unlike the others, I only dangled my feet in the water, and I returned to the room before Cara; I was totally exhausted.

We didn't want to leave Monteverde, but we were grateful that we still had two more days to enjoy before we had to leave the country. Our last stop - the beach - will be covered next.

No comments:

Post a Comment