Getting to know our inner Tarzans!

Trip Start Jan 23, 2007
Trip End Dec 24, 2007

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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Friday, June 29, 2007

Yo Yo!!

Took a pretty early start to get here we must bemoan - catching buses at 5.30am is not our forte, especially after waking up panicked every half hour as we were relying solely on our biological clocks to wake us (our alarm was stolen in the mugging)!!

Arrived in the nearest big-ish town, Nicoya, at about 6.30, and had to wait about an hour and a half for our connecting bus, so we had the pleasure of chatting to some characters who were awake at that hour, and watching that corner of the town wake up.

The bus to Puntarenas was pretty quick and painless, though Sam slept through the one thing he wanted to see (a recently constructed bridge), and we saw a bus that would have got us to our destination 5 hours earlier pass us on the highway heading in the opposite direction - doh!

On arriving in Puntarenas, we downed some breakfast and found our bus wasn't leaving for another 3 hours, so we lugged our packs over to a internet cafe some blocks away, and spent a couple of sleepy hours checking emails, writing the blog, and bemoaning Alinghi (not the Swiss damn it all! - apart from old Blurtarelli, there isn't a Swiss person on that stupid boat) leveling the Americas Cup 2-2.

The ride to Monteverde was about an hour and a half of the same road we had taken to get to Puntarenas, and then another hour of a very steep, winding, pot-holed and narrow road up 1500 metres. The vegetation was lush and cloud low - by the time we neared the top of our climb, we were well into the mists.

On stepping off the bus we were immediately accosted by a local hostel owner, who walked us the 3 steps to his door and showed us small, sparkling rooms for $10US - bargain!! Spent the rest of the evening eating dinner before an early night for an early start - thankfully, our hostel lent us an alarm clock!

At 6.30 we were picked up and taken up to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest reserve, one of the 2 protected areas of forest in the area. Santa Elena had been a farming project until about 25 years ago, and the regrowth was phenomenal - some trees grew at 4 metres a year according to the guide. At the entrance to the reserve, a friendly, half-tame Peccary came up to our group and started snorting and rubbing its head against people's pant legs (not ours thankfully).

Our tour was great - our guide was very informative and knowledgeable, and we were shown a large number of interesting plants along our 3 hour walk - lucky as we saw few animals. Some of the plants we were shown included a number we have as pot-plants (bromeliads, orchids etc.). Given the pest status some of these have at home (Wandering Jew) it was interesting to see them in their natural setting, which was oh so similar to New Zealand bush to look at.

Other interesting plants included those that have flowers that can be seen by insects because their colour can be seen under infra-red light, and other plants whose clear sap oxidizes to form a red colour almost instantly - so you can perform magic tricks by writing on something in invisible ink, and the colour slowly goes a deep red.

Mushrooms were plentiful too - the guide pulling a line he clearly used everyday - you can eat any of Costa Ricas 40,000 species of mushroom - although some of them you can only eat once. He also brought laughs with a variation on the theme when describing which vines are strong enough to swing on.

The only animals we did see were spider monkeys about 40 metres above us in the forest canopy - more dark little shapes and rustling than anything resembling a monkey from our vantage point. However our guide had told us about a time he got lost in the forest and heard a jaguar calling or 'coughing' not far off - he said the jaguar saved his life, as he fled in the opposite direction to the way he was walking and eventually came out at a road, otherwise he may have died from exposure.

Back at the entrance we went on a short walk while waiting for a mini van to take us back to town, but were very disconcerted when our Peccary friend kept following us - even taking shortcuts through the bush to emerge right next to us. After successfully avoiding him, we spent a bit of time up a observation tower that looked over the reserve, hoping the clouds would clear enough for us to see distant Volcan Arenal spewing out lava - they didn't!

Back in town we found a bakery (we love you Costa Rica) and had a variation on a meat pie for lunch. Yum! Still no service station pie we reckon, but close enough. Had a bit of a snooze, and then went for a short walk around the town - unfortunately Monteverde's hilly terrain meant a short walk is all we could be bothered with today!

The next morning, we surprised ourselves by being brave enough to go on a 'canopy tour'. The theory is that by suspending yourself from a series of flying foxes going through the forest, you get a different perspective on the flora. This is a flimsy theory to be sure, because in practise you fly through the jungle on this zip lines using only a leather glove to brake yourself on the cable above you, and get thrown off tall structures at regular intervals. What a blast!!

The first 4 lines weren't all that scary, but just as we were getting comfortable with the situation, we arrived at the end of one line to be hurriedly fasten onto a rappelling line where the guides let you hurtle toward earth before giving you a gigantic wedgy! So for the first split second you are feeling a mixture of terror and bravery (looking as you do like a SAS soldier jumping out of a helicopter) as you plummet earthwards - in the next moment you are grunting in pain (at least the guys were) as you stop very suddenly - much like a friend playing a cruel trick on you at rock-climbing as you make your way down the wall.

After this mandatory sterilization, the lines become longer and faster, although you barely had time to think about this as the guides quickly changed your harness to the next line, and with a manic smile and a 'Pura Vida!!', sent you flying off into the green yonder. Sometimes they would tell you not to brake until the very end of the line so as to not get stuck in the middle - we're not sure whether this was a honest mistake us they underestimated our weight and hence momentum, or whether it was their form of practical joke for their colleagues who wildly gesticulated for us to slow down at the other end of the line - once the guide had to emergency brake us, another time we both slammed into a tree!

After the 10th line, our biggest test of courage was before us - rudely introduced to us by a blood curdling scream from one of the girls doing it the activity uphead. The 'Tarzan swing', as it was appropriately named, was a swing where you had to jump off a 10 metre tower -free falling for the first 5m or so, and then swing way out into the jungle. The people up ahead of us in the line were either not doing it at all, yelling as they jumped off, or (the scariest by miles) being so terrified they couldn't make a sound.

Frances went first - screaming as she was pushed off and swing out over the trees opposite, missing the ground by only a few inches. Sam imagined himself calling out Tarzan style, ahhhh-ah-oh-ah-ohhh, but was beaten to it by a brave gent uphead, and then could only manage a Managua-mugging like scream anyway! Both of us said afterward that we silently consuled ourselves before we jumped that at least it wouldn't be as scary as being mugged, although Sam's scream seemed to prove they were about on par!

The last 2 lines were really a fitting finale - about 500 metres (that is a long flying fox) and about 50 metres high at the mid point. The second one we had to do in tandem - Sam only half joking as he squealed in terror in Frances ear!!

Back in town we ate at the bakery again, and went for a long afternoon walk - deciding a visit to the Serpentarium would put our budget into dangerous territory!!

Next morning was another 6 am bus, so we hit the sack early after saying goodbye to Mali, the volunteer we had caught up with in Samara.

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