Monteverde - Cloud Forest Fun

Trip Start Aug 16, 2003
Trip End Apr 21, 2004

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Thursday, March 18, 2004

Putting certain discoveries behind us, we waited at a bus stop for about an hour for our transportation to Tilaran, forty five minutes away. We were the first to the stop, but found ourselves relegated to the back of the 'queue' as everybody else shoved past us to fill up the seats. We had to walk the length of the bus to the back to stow our packs, so I did not mind too much that we bumped and bashed all those that had pushed us on the way down!

Once at Tilaran, we had another wait of just over an hour, so we spent the time usefully, catching up on the Internet. A three hour journey round winding, dirt-track roads ensued, and by mid-afternoon we had arrived in Monteverde - a small, dispersed settlement in the heart of the rain forest. Traipsing round, down, and uphill, we reached Cabinas Vista Al Golfo and were immediately impressed with the cleanliness of our brand new room. It was a corner room perched on stilts and had two enormous floor to ceiling windows, providing us with sweeping views across to the town and valley beneath us.

We booked ourselves on a 'Sky-Walk' through a section of what we were to discover is termed cloud forest for the following day, and relaxed in our home for the next few days.

Breakfast at the Rainforest Cafe was a pleasant experience, with fantastic home-made toast and typical Costa Rican coffee (highly recommended!).

We were then driven to part of the Santa Elena Reserve and climbed an outdoor spiral staircase to the first of many suspension bridges through the cloud forest canopy. I had still not shaken off my feelings of lethargy, or indeed, dodgy stomach, so we adopted a steady pace, enjoying the fresh air and views. We took probably about two hours to walk just a few kilometres, stopping regularly to view giant centipedes, catch sight of quickly darting birds, or simply to admire the previously unseen perspective of looking down into the cloud forest. Nearing the end of the trek, we were beckoned over by another couple of walkers who had spotted a group of spider monkeys, some way off. We paused to watch the antics of the juveniles for a few minutes, while the older simians huddled disinterestedly from the rain! Before leaving the reserve, we spent a considerable amount of time watching a variety of humming birds coming and going from feeders that had been set up. Andrea felt that fifteen minutes for photos was plenty and went inside for a coffee whilst waiting for the return bus, but I was amazed to learn that I had been poised patiently to capture that 'one decent shot' for almost an hour!

After returning to the town, we ate lunch then made our way out to the Orchid Garden, where the 'World's Smallest Orchid' was purported to have been grown. We paid our entry fee (of three pounds each), were given magnifying glasses and shown a pitiful example of a tiny withered flower on what appeared to be a bonsai tree - that was it, the world's smallest orchid! We were considerably underwhelmed. But it got worse...

Apparently, the blooming season finished a few weeks before our visit and as a result, we spotted only three actual flowers throughout the whole garden. All but one of which was withered and brown. We felt somewhat cheated.

Not wishing to waste any more time, we duly returned our magnifying glasses with looks of incredulity and found our way back to the 'Serpentarium', where we hoped we would have better luck. With only a few minutes to wait before a guided tour, we looked around at some of the snakes nearby, feeling a strong sense of foreboding for the little white mouse in one enclosure.

The tour was interesting and informative, and at the end, interactive - the guide opened the case of a tarantula and passed it round the group. Needless to say, I backed away (so that I could focus my camera sufficiently, of course!). Andrea was one of the first to cradle the hairy beast, and once in her hands, it became quite active - I could cope with the slow docile movements, but didn't want to be too close in case the brute decided to jump!

With the tarantula safely stowed in its case, I had no qualms holding the snake that the guide handed to us next - we've both held snakes before and this one was quite small in comparison. Feeling considerably happier with our tour here, we left the Serpentarium and made our way back to our room.

We were up bright and early the following morning in order to participate in a zip-wire tour of the cloud forest canopy. Once at the Selvatura reserve, we were helped into harnesses and other safety paraphernalia and driven round to the start of what was to be an excellent adventure. Over the next two hours, we were clipped onto a number of pulleys attached to zip-wires, and shoved off to shoot above and through the trees, sometimes at break-neck speeds. We had a fantastic time, and the guys operating the equipment seemed to be enjoying it as much as the customers. It was with great reluctance that we made our way from the final platform and back to base to hand back our harnesses etc.

Once we were relieved of the burden of the equipment we joined the path for another nature trail through the forest. As before, the track wound its way through the variety of cloud forest vegetation and across long suspension bridges above the canopy. On the journey we saw nothing new until right before the end (again) when a big, hairy tarantula ambled along the path towards us! It was the same sort that we had been shown in the Serpentarium, which actually made me feel ok about it. When we approached (I was counting on it behaving in a docile manner) it slowed to a stop and just watched as we took a couple of photos. It was definitely the highlight of the walk. With more humming birds at the end of this trek, I tried again to snatch a picture of one of the larger, iridescent purple species, but with very little success (they tend to be the most wary of the varieties on show).

Before dinner we popped into the 'World of Insects', next door to our cabin. We joined another guided tour in English and were fascinated by the things we were told about the creatures being displayed. Apparently, cockroaches can live for four days after having their heads chopped off - they only die through lack of food! We also learnt that our tarantula friend from before was one of the 'Orange-kneed' variety (the name is pretty obvious, when you see the photo!). The guide was surprised that we had seen one on the path in daylight (not as much as I was, I'll bet!) as like most 'bugs' they are nocturnal. We watched with morbid enjoyment as he threw the tarantula a cricket and instantly four legs shot out, pouching the hapless insect like a test-match slip fielder.

We had chosen to have our last evening meal at 'Morpho's', as it seemed to be the best place in town. As it transpired, so had everybody else. With the queue to get in going down the stairs outside, we decided to go back an hour later - with the same results! Nowhere else appealed, so we joined the hungry patrons on the steps and chatted to the maitre d' in English - apparently, it was not unusual for people to wait upwards of two hours if there was a large group in! Thankfully, we only had to wait forty minutes, and were handed refreshments as we stood outside. We both ate a delicious meal by candlelight, which rounded off an excellent stay in Monteverde.

Dan and Andrea
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