Costa Rica

Adventures in Monteverde – Into the Cloud Forest

As much as we tried to deny it…our time at Rancho Margot had come to an end. Our next stop was the Cloud forests of Monteverde.

Rancho Margot is a truly wonderful place, hard to tear yourself away from…especially when you discover the natural warm pool on the last day. John and I were in the water for about 3 hours, no more than 3 minutes of which included swimming. The rest of the time was spent soaking, floating around and trying to figure out how the hell we can continue to live this sort of lifestyle for the rest of our days (without breaking any laws). There was also a ‘breath-holding’ competition, which John crushed.

The staff at Rancho Margot are amazing, I don’t think I have ever been treated so nicely and with such sincere friendliness. Over the course of the week, we got to know Emmanuel, Eric, Aurelio, Silvio and Jonathan and their personal stories, passions and hopes for the future. I’m bummed that I didn’t think to take a picture of our new friends, but a last minute change in our scheduled pick-up rushed us out earlier than anticipated. In brief…if you are ever in Costa Rica…stay at Rancho Margot and give everyone a big hug from the crazy Americans who were traveling for a year.

There are a couple of ways to get from El Castillo to Monteverde…you can drive for 4 hours or you can take a taxi/boat/taxi across Lake Arenal in about 2.5 hours. We opted for the latter, so bright and early on Wednesday morning we climbed onto a motorboat moored on the shore of Lake Arenal. Seeing as we were staying very much off the main path, we skipped the first ‘taxi’ bit of the journey and went straight to the boat leg. We were getting picked up early, so we were the only ones on this little craft..which felt kind of fancy…even though the vessel at hand was peeling paint and lurching quite impressively to port. Volcán Arenal was looking a bit moody that morning…her summit, once more, hidden by rainclouds.IMG_1539.JPGWe arrived at the main pick-up point and, from the smug perch of our little boat, watched dozens of fellow tourists struggle with their rolly-bags down a dirt path to the dock. They were ushered into a bigger, more robust boat, while we watched from our little pontoon. As it turns out, we were in the overload boat, which rapidly filled to maximum capacity…and then some. Once we had all boarded, our luggage was stacked into a 6ft pile, which added to the imbalance. We set out on the lake, cracking along at a fair pace, listing heavily to port. Our captain eventually noticed, probably sensing the concentrated stare of concern from 50% of the occupants hitting the back of his head, and there was a brief re-arrangement of people to the right side of the boat. Weight re-distribution accomplished, we continued on a noticeably more level voyage.IMG_1537.JPGOn the other side of the lake, we all piled into various minivans and continued our journey along a bone-shaking road, strewn with loose boulders and potholes. Paved roads have been hard to find since we left La Fortuna, and it would be a full hour into our journey until we encountered one. Until that time, we clung onto any surface of the van’s interior we could find…all the handles you would commonly find seemed to have been removed…or they had just shimmied off along the way. Seriously, these roads could bounce your tits right off.

We arrived in Santa Elena, our home for the next 5 days, around noon and were greeted by our lovely hosts, Beth and Manolo. Beth, a fellow yarn-horder, and I had been chatting about the trip for a couple of days and it was a delight to finally meet them in person. We are staying in a studio apartment on their property, which is outfitted with everything we could want: freshly made pumpkin bread, passion-fruit tea, balcony, hammock and a hot shower (the non-suicide variety). There were several reasons I booked this accommodation, but mainly there was one, big hairy reason that sealed the deal. A RESIDENT SLOTH.

Among Manolo’s many talents (he built all the houses on the property) is leading nature hikes around the area…which means he’s excellent at spotting wildlife that 99% of us would miss. We weren’t in the studio for 5 minutes before he ran up and asked “Would you like to see a sloth?” “WOULD I?” Lo, and behold…the local sloth had come out of hiding for a nice long scratch. Manolo set up his scope and I finally saw my first wild sloth.IMG_1538.JPGI think I kept my cool…although I was probably gibbering like an idiot. Soon, the sloth came further out to munch on some leaves and flowers…then, she did what she does best…just hung out for a while.IMG_1535.JPGMy squee-o-meter was at full capacity.

The rumbling of our stomachs finally drove us into town. The food at Rancho Margot was delicious, but no matter how scrumptious a particular food is, it’s going to get a bit repetitive after 6 days. Late at night, John and I found ourselves whispering our food fantasies back and forth like deviants.“Snickers bars”“Cheeseburgers“…“Oreos”. Having taken care of the snicker-lust during a brief baño stop along the way to Santa Elena, it was time to move down the list. Cheeseburgers were devoured at The Treehouse restaurant, which is coincidentally located in a tree. Our next stop was the Super Mercado, where we bought a weeks worth of breakfasts, lunches and oreos. Our mission complete, we headed back to Casa Libelula and met the other tenants: Marie, Natalia and Martín, visiting from Florida. We joined this trio of ladies and Manolo as they scoped out some toucans that live in the neighborhood. Can you spot them? IMG_1536.JPGWe thought we were in for the night, but Manolo was scheduled to do a night hike through the cloud forest for their other tenants…would we like to tag along? “WOULD WE?”

Having been on several trails into the forest this week, we knew there would be ample opportunity for bugs…especially at night, which tends to bring out a whole new host of horrors. Seeing huge bugs and other critters is sort of the point of a night trek, so on went the long sleeves and the long pants; as an additional layer of protection, I took my hat and pulled it down tight over my ears. No bugs getting in that way. We met our fellow trekkers at the jeep and they were dressed in, how shall I put it? A fairly optimistic way for a hike into creepy-crawly heaven. Slip on shoes, cute skinny capri pants and tank tops. One of the ladies had a huge Coach purse and another had a funky cardigan covered in studs and spikes. A nail was broken as we got into the jeep. All in all, I couldn’t think of a more perfect group of girls to go on a night hike with…there was lots of amusing shrieking, hilarious jumping about and impulsive grabbing…it was just like going through a haunted house. They were tons of fun and Manolo and John loved winding them up. “Watch out for that jumping spider. Jumps very fast and far.” Shriek!

Armed with our little flashlights, we saw lots of creepy crawlies: Katydids, enormous stick-bugs, terrifying spiders, a praying mantis devouring a grasshopper, a long horned beetle and a side-striped palm pit viper. Manolo was a great guide, spotting creatures we would never see on our own, including brightly colored birds quietly snoozing under palm fronds the size of coffee tables. He taught us about strangler figs and glow-in-the-dark fungi, all with a sense of humor. It was awesome.

Lucky for us, our bug encounters did not stop when we finished our tour. Waiting at home were various spiders, ants and a huge, green Katydid. The spiders were promptly taken care of, but the Katydid was allowed to stay, as John stressed that they eat all the other bugs I didn’t want to be sharing the studio with. As comforting as that seems, sharing close quarters with a 2.5″ erratically flying green insect is not a relaxing experience…especially when it’s decided to patrol the area directly above your head. It’s quite unpredictable. I went to sleep only after every inch of my body was covered with a sheet and comforter. I breathed out of a small passageway created by the fold of the bottom sheet and the edge of my pillow. I stayed burrowed under this shield until I awoke, 2 hours later, hideously hot and uncomfortable. I had no choice but to cut back to one sheet which hid only 70% of my body surface. It was a long night.

The next morning, we made a pot of coffee and sat around on the balcony until lunch, keeping an eye out for Cece the sloth. Our adventure for the day was a trip to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, which is the smaller of the two Cloud Forest reserves in the region.IMG_1534.JPG The revenue generated from this reserve goes back to the community in a variety of ways including the funding of research programs and scholarships for students of the local high school, tree planting and conservation of the protected areas around Monteverde and Arenal.

As we arrived about 3 hours before closing, we had the trails to ourselves. These forests feel primeval; towering trees covered in smaller plants, roped together by vines and creepers, the chittering of birds and insects and the steady drip of the rain.IMG_1540.JPGIMG_1532.JPGIMG_1530.JPGThe preserve sits right on the continental divide and the clouds from the Caribbean side roll right up to these mountains and descend on the forests…hence, the name cloud forest. This creates an eerie, misty environment that feels magical and sinister at the same time.IMG_1533.JPGIMG_1531.JPGThis peaceful wilderness was all ours for about 2 hours…until we were joined by Mr. NYC and his side kick, Russell. Mr. NYC talked…a lot. He wore shorts with bright white socks, pulled up his calves. He had a bizarre way of talking with his teeth clenched together and started every sentence with either “from what I’ve read…’ (which is apparently everything) or “my understanding is…”. He’s one of those people who have to buy a last-minute poncho at the souvenir shop, as if the thought that a place filled with clouds might be wet never crossed his mind before he showed up at the gate. He filled us in on his theories about the indigenous people of the Pacific Islands, plate tectonics, and why birds and insects migrate. His chatter shot down any chances that we might actually see some wildlife during our trek…and his buddy kept getting in every picture I tried to take. Fortunately, we gave them the slip when we got back to town.

After the cloud forest, our evening took an even more relaxing turn. We read on the covered balcony as the Costa Rican sky poured out it’s customary torrential rain for an hour, with a little bit of thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure. The storm finally broke around sunset, which resulted in the most spectacular light I’ve ever seen.IMG_1519.JPGIMG_1529.JPGI took a short walk, and watched the sunset over the fields surrounding our house.IMG_1527.JPGIMG_1528.JPGTomorrow, we are doing something I never thought I would agree to: ziplining. I still don’t quite know how it happened. There are thigh measurement restrictions, a phrase that I’m sure will haunt my dreams tonight…that is, if there’s any room alongside all those bugs.

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2 replies »

  1. Those Darlins have a show coming up and as I read your blog I just keep chanting to myself, “We belong in the wilderness.” I know you would approve.

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