My milkshakes bring all the girls to the pig farms

Trip Start Jul 19, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Sunday, March 19, 2006

Ahhhh! My first solo entry in eight months of the trip. This is only one of my many first-ever adventure "firsts" while travelling alone. It is, sadly to say, also the first time Iīve forgotten the camera chord at the internet cafe, so there will be no pictures for these updates. I will do my best to paint a mental picture, but make it a bit less than a thousand words as the popular phrase goes.

I said adios to Eric at the bus station early last Thursday morning and took the local bus up to the Monteverde cloud forest in the mountains of Costa Rica. Sniffling a bit, but with luck on my side, two blind men with guitars got on the bus about an hour into the trip and began to belt out sappy Spanish love songs with all their heart and soul. I couldnīt help but smile as we bumped along a dusty, crater-filled road, and these two men trying to keep from falling down in the aisle, serenaded us with perfect renditions of Spanish songs Iīm sure Iīve heard in many a Mexican restaurant while munching down tasty chips and salsa. It was yet another "magical" travel moment when you think to yourself "Only in Central America." The only thing that could have made it better was if the locals on the bus suddenly got up and salsa-ed their little butts off in the aisles as well. But seeing as we were having a hard enough time of simply staying in our seats as the bus tipped and rocked on the road, and we were not filming a cheesy musical where random song and dance scenes suddenly appear amidst normal daily activity, it didnīt look like it was going to happen.

I met a French-Canadian girl on the bus and we ended up sharing a room together in the town outside the cloud forest, since weīd both hiked up a long hill and were too lazy to hike back down looking for dorms or separate rooms. We signed up to see the nearby cloud forest - which was surprisingly and amazingly beautiful. Iīve never seen trees with entire ecosystems growing on their trunks and branches and the entire forest looked like it came from the 80īs movie, "Legend" (I did not, unfortunately, see any unicorns though).

It rains 90% of the time in cloud forests, so feeling pretty lucky that it was dry, warm and cloudless, we started off on the guided tour to spot all sorts of critters. The first thing the guide tells us that we are in fact, NOT lucky b-c when it doesnīt rain, there are no clouds, and when there are no clouds, the animals wonīt come out because they feel too exposed. Iīve seen most of the monkeys and things before so I wasnīt too bummed, especially since we got to see some colorful, harmless-looking millipede on the path. Supposedly, our little friend has poison on its skin, and if it gets into the human blood stream through an open wound or something, will kill that human slowly, taking from 5-20 years, slowly attacking the brain or kidneys. Never in a million years did I think Iīd get to see killer millipede in a cloud forest.

Near the end of the tour, we heard some strange bird call and then rustling in the branches near to us. After standing for five minutes with our necks craned back and our mouths hanging open looking up for the culprit of the noise, we spotted the very rare and elusive Quetzal bird. This bird is so beautiful, with a brightly colored body of green, red and blue, about 1 1/2 ft. long, and an equally as beautiful and lengthy tail. The Mayan indigenous people worship the Quetzal as a magical bird and considered it a god. It is the national bird of Guatemala and their monetary unit is called the Quetzal. Theyīre so hard to spot, that a Guatemalan man came all the way to Costa Rica just to see one, because he was unable to see Mr. national bird Guatemala, in his own country. So, no clouds or not, I felt pretty lucky on our trip. The only thing that couldīve made me happier looking up and seeing the gorgeous bird, would be to see little Ericky swinging from tree to tree, doing his best monkey impersonation.

On the tour van ride back into town, I got to talking to the driver, Francisco, about the nearby Monteverde cheese factory. He informed me their milkshakes were not to be missed, and in a very confusing conversation, I think he offered to return to our hostel and pick up my friend and I later in the afternoon and give us a free ride out there so we didnīt have to pay for a taxi. We were thinking, "Man these Tico (Costa Rican) people are so nice!" When we got into town, he stopped the van, and asked if he could invite us to a milkshake right then and there. Feeling it would be rude to say no, we went and tried the very tasty treats, but then felt badly because he insisted on paying. Again we though, "Geez, so friendly!" He then dropped us back off at our hostel.

As Francisco promised, he showed back up in the afternoon, and drove us out to the cheese factory and gave us a brief tour. We oohed and aaahed at the big vats of milk being pasteurized, acted completely interested when he introduced us to a bored looking man sitting in a truck that was unloading a shipment of milk from the farm, and then acted very privileged to be able to stick our heads through the heavy plastic curtains to see where the milk was going. Really, it was all a little random and weird.

Then, we get back in the van, and he asks if we want to see the local pig farm where they make the sausage. "Oh yes! That is what I REALLY wanted to see of tropical lush Costa Rica - a pig farm where little oinkers are made into fatty sausage. We ainīt got nuttinīlike that in Indiana!" But . . . since he offered and was being so nice. So we go to the farm and he proudly shows us the baby pigs feeding off their orca fat mommy pig, the male pigs eating slop, more and more and more pigs. Then he explains that the left over milk product from the pasteurizing process is what the pigs eat as feed. And again, so proudly, he explains that the pig feces is made into a dried feed, that is then fed to the cows, who will be producing the milk that will be pasteurized with left-over products to be used as feed for the pigs and so on and so on. As I nodded and smiled with awed eyes, when Iīm really think "This is so completely wrong, and I will never eat pork products again."

We saw two guys walking up the hill with a wheel barrel and rope, and as Francisco explained that a pig was about to be slaughtered, we told him it was about time for us to leave. Now Iīve never heard a stuck pig squealing, but Iīve seen silence of the lambs and the scene where Anthony Hopkins (?) is giving his lamb screaming speech to Jodi Fostner, was enough for me to know I did not want to stick around. We thanked our very generous friend for taking us and as he dropped us off at the hostel again, he asked if he could invite us to a cup of coffee. Now Iīm thinking, "not nice, creepy" especially since heīs got three kids ages 9-12. No coffee? How about going to the club tonight? The guy just wouldnīt quit. We said no, thanks again, and all that polite stuff, and then made him take some money so he couldnīt feel like we "owed" him anything.

So lesson #1 learned from travelling: a milkshake is not just a milkshake, and you donīt have to go see creepy pig slaughter houses just to be nice, because the guy might get the wrong idea and want to go clubbing with you later - after his kids have gone to bed. It was all pretty harmless, and we at least got a funny story out of it. Funny how I never got this kind of treatment when Eric was around, and of course I was wishing he still was.

The next day, my friend and I walked to the Childrenīs Eternal Forest (CEF), a 54,000 acre reserve purchased with the help of local school children. Again, we had no luck with spotting wildlife, but did have a good time hiking around. I found it really funny that dropping just a few meters of altitude, the CEF looked like any other forest youīd find in Indiana, while the cloud forest, just a little bit above it, looks like tropical fairy-land.

After all the hiking and walking back into town, I spent the rest of the day laying around in the hammock and doing non-exciting tourist stuff (must have been non-exciting b/c I canīt seem to remember what exactly I did!)
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