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March 3, 2010

Monteverde

Filed under: Costa Rica 2010, Travel — Becky Dave @ 8:03 pm

Mushrooms in the cloud forest

On Saturday we were off to our next stop—Monteverde.  Monteverde, as the crow flies, is less than 15 miles from our base at Arenal’s Tabacon resort.  Unfortunately the crow kept the route a secret from the road planners.  To cover the 15 miles, our actual drive took us close to four hours as the road wound around Lago Arenal.

Becky had become annoyingly insistent on a horse ride before we left Arenal. So, on our last chance before we left for Monteverde, we stopped in La Fortuna to satisfy her horse riding desires.  She seems pretty happy with the experience in the short video I took of the ride:

Becky’s horse ride:

http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/Movies02#5444489806145941938

The bandstand in Tilaran's central park

The bandstand in Tilaran's central park

While it is true that the road conditions on the way to Monteverde did not live up to the horror stories we read on the Internet, a good stretch was rough enough to remind us of just how many joints there are in our bodies.  Poorly secured dental work was at risk.  Fortunately, in Costa Rica, dental services are cheap.

Cloud forest vegetation

Quakers from the United States founded Monteverde in the 1950’s.  The pacifist Quakers sought to avoid the Korean War era draft in the States and found Costa Rica’s military-free government particularly appealing.  Today less altruistic tourists have found Monteverde and its’ nearby cloud forests.

In Monteverde, we met our B&B host, Sabine, at the Super Compro, the main grocery store in the downtown.  Street addresses are near non-existent in Costa Rica, as far I can tell, so it was easiest to meet up with Sabine and be lead up the rough gravel roads to our lodge.

We stayed in the “Treetop Lodge.”  The Treetop is a minimalist four-room affair that is tucked up off the main road to Monteverde’s Cloud Forest Reserve.  Monteverde sits near the Continental Divide and the weather is cool on the Costa Rican standard.  The Treetop sits in the trees on the third level of a wood frame building.  It has no air conditioning or heat nor does it really need it.  Hot water only goes to the shower.  Even the doors are crude and funky and air gaps in the building are everywhere.  It felt like being in an oft-expanded tree house.  And when the wind blows, as it often does in Monteverde, the house shakes.  All in all, the Treetop ranks as one of the more unusual places we have stayed.  It worked well enough, though, but there was one downside.  When we entered, the place smelled of a recent bug bomb.  This must be one of the consequences of the building’s air gaps.  All the holes let some of Costa Rica’s museum of live bugs come in and take up residence.  Our multilingual German host had taken care of the problem with cans of insecticide but the bombs had gone off a little to close to our visit for our liking.

A hummingbird in Monteverde's Cloud Forest

Our days in Monteverde were spent in the forests.  An early morning guided tour of Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve) started our visit.  We walked along the cool, wet rainforest trails with the drips of water and the distinctive metallic sounds of Black-faced Solitaires or Squeaky Hinge birds breaking the foggy quiet.  Periodically, our guide would point out an unusual bird or animal.  In Costa Rica, there are many birds and animals that are unfamiliar to us and in Monteverde, with all its biodiversity, this is even more the case.

Forest mushrooms

Our park admission ticket was good for the day, so we decided to make a return visit in the late afternoon.  This time our visit was unguided and most of the visitors had departed.  With the thickening shroud of fog, the forest was quiet, peaceful, and primeval.  Glistening fungi, flowers, and plants alongside the trails attracted our attention.  Our pace was slow and deliberate.  Being “lost in time” has multiple meanings here.

The following day we were out to Selvatura Park for the seemingly required Costa Rican activity—the canopy tour.  Using cables to move though the jungle from tree to tree was a technique developed by scientists studying the rainforest.  Now, the canopy tour is the iconic Costa Rican adventure activity.  Tourists are sliding on zip lines from tree to tree all over the country.

Selvatura Park has a particularly elaborate collection of lines and bridges.  The park’s has 15 zip lines that cover close to 2 miles.  The longest cable spans nearly a half-mile distance hundreds of feet above the forest floor.  Pulleys attach to the visitor’s climbing harness.  Once clipped in, you glide above the trees until you reach the next tower.  Sounds a little scary, but it really isn’t.  There’s not much of a feeling that you might fall.

Knobs on Selvatura's walkway

Perhaps to compensate for the lack of fear on the zip lines, Selvatura has installed an optional “Tarzan Swing” at the end of the canopy tour.  Still in your climbing harness, you climb to the top of a platform and are hooked to a rope strung high above on a stout limb of a tree.  A gate on the platform is opened and the guest drops in free fall for eight to ten feet before swinging away in a long arc.  Though it was more exciting than the zip lines, I didn’t find this one to be particularly intense, either.  But I cheated.  Typically, when the gate is opened, the guest hesitates and the staff pushes the client off the edge.  When the gate opened, I gave the staff no chance to push me.  I stepped right off the edge.  Control is the key.

On Becky’s turn, a hesitation when the gate opened let the staff push her off.  A loud scream echoed through the forest and I suspect that an underwear change was in order afterwards.

Knobs was completely calm during his visit to the big swing.  I doubt that another client has retained so much composure.


Next up we visited the herpetarium.  Now this was scary.  Large venomous snakes are really not my thing and Costa Rica has a bunch of them.  At least all the ones we saw were behind glass.  (This would be a bad place to be in an earthquake.)  Amongst the snakes was a big Bushmaster.  Bushmasters are the longest venomous snakes in the Western Hemisphere.  I hadn’t thought about it much before, but one of the guides at the Pacuare Lodge, where we stayed earlier, said that he had cleared a Bushmaster from the lodge’s deck just before we arrived.  Had I known exactly what a Bushmaster was when we were at the Pacuare Lodge, I might have spent the entire shore stay in the safety of the rubber raft that we arrived on.

After the snakes and other slimy things, we did a loop on Selvatura’s Tree Top Walkways.  The Tree Top Walk Way is Selvatura’s name for a series of metal suspension bridges that take the visitor through the rainforest at canopy level.  Eight bridges ranging from 36 to 180 feet high link with forest floor trials to make a 1.9-mile loop.  The longest bridge is an impressive half-kilometer long.

On the bridges, with the Doppler shifting otherworldly metallic sounds from the zip liners in the air, it seemed like we were in the middle of a Lucas Film’s space epic.  The bridges did allow a very different view of the rainforest.  On hikes, we had seen the deeply shaded forest floor.  From the zip lines, we had a quick view of the jungle just above the treetops.  On the bridges, we looked closely at the life in the trees.  High in the trees of Costa Rican’s rainforest much of the jungle life exists.  Epiphytes, non-parasitic “air plants,” live on the trees deriving moisture and sustenance from the air and debris that collect on the trees.  For older trees, it often seemed like there were more vegetation from the epiphytes than from the tree.  The walkways let us see up close this important part of the rainforest ecosystem.

Pass the sugar: Pot Limit Omaha in the Treetop Lodge

Our local residence, the Treetop Lodge, did not offer much in the way of nighttime distractions.  In the entertainment vacuum, a game of poker was started.  The first night we played pot limit Omaha with blinds of 5 and 10 cents and an eight-dollar buy-in.  Though we had purchased a deck of cards, we did not have any chips or much currency.  In lieu of the chips, we played using matchsticks, packages of sugar, and forks.  In the end, we forked over the matches and passed the sugar to Becky.  It still remains to be determined whether it was Becky’s superior play, a Valentine’s Day gift, or just outright cheating that lead to her victory.  Knobs may have suspected the latter.  He insisted on 0.5 and 1 cent blinds and a lower buy-in the next evening.

Zipliners at Selvatura Park

Selvatura: 

http://www.selvatura.com/

Pictures

Arenal to Monteverde:

http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/ArenalToSantaElena#

Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve:

http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/Monteverde#

From Selvatura:

http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/Selvatura#

Mr. Surly has some Costa Rican pictures also:

http://picasaweb.google.com/surlypeach


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