Quaker Monkeys & Milkshakes (Andy)

Trip Start Oct 04, 2009
Trip End Nov 20, 2010

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Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Puntarenas,
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Driving into Monteverde, Costa Rica is kind of like driving into an amusement park. While the ride itself feels like a roller coaster going up and down the mountainous landscape, as you enter you are bombarded with signs welcoming you and telling you to "stay here" or "take this tour." The signs are a bit overwhelming and nothing like anything we've seen in the rest of central america. This really is the center of central american tourism.

We decide to stay in a town called Santa Elena just outside Monteverde. Our reason for coming here is twofold. One to see how Tim is doing at his new volunteer teacher position and two to partake in some of the supposedly great hiking and eco-friendly tourism we've heard so much about from other travelers. The town of Monteverde has an interesting past. As summarized by our handy dandy Lonely Planet book the town was established by a group of four Quaker pacifists from Alabama who refused to be drafted in the Korean War. They set up a dairy farm and later a specialty cheese factory and lived off the land. In 1983 National Geographic did a feature on the area billing it as the place to see the beauty of Costa Rica and since then tourism has been enormous, pretty much creating the city of Santa Elena that is about 5km outside of Monteverde.

Tim is working in the Quaker school in Monteverde; the Monteverde Friends School. We went to visit him on our first day in town to catch him in action. The school is much bigger than I pictured. Hosting about 100 kids it has the setup more like a farm than a school. The classrooms have enormous ceilings and windows that let in some of the great Costa Rican sun and a gentle breeze. Tim just started working here about 3 weeks ago and already seems really comfortable in his spot. It was just very easy to see that he is happy in his role as a teacher. One of these days I would love to sit in on one of his classes and really see him in action. After my experience at Los Patojos in Antigua I have a very deep respect for good teachers and their ability to bring a lot of energy and innovative thinking everyday. Talking to Tim and seeing him interact with the students I could tell that he loves what he does and takes a lot of pride in it. It was nice to see.

Monteverde is located in the middle of a cloud forest. To be completely honest I have absolutely no idea what a cloud forest is. I'm assuming its a tropical forest located in the mountains and therefore has a cooler temperature and more clouds than a normal tropical forest. But thats just a guess. Either way, its pretty cool to come out of a classroom and run into a group of monkeys hanging out on a tree. As this was our first monkey encounter we kind of freaked out, breaking out the camera and running over to get a better view of them. A normal occurrence for the kids, they just looked at us and laughed. I can only compare it to the erupting volcanoes in Antigua. The first day we were there we freaked out about the erupting and asking stupid questions like "are we going to have to evacuate the city?" and by the third week we would turn to the new person next to us all calm and collective like and say "you probably want to go check that out." But whatever, monkeys are cool and I'll freak out just about every time I see one.

Tim had a few more hours of school left so Lindsey and I decided to check out the Quaker Cheese Factory next door. Tim recommended that we get the milkshakes to which Lindsey replied "They make cheese milkshakes! Are those even good?" Sitting down to our ice cream milkshakes I would remind Lindsey of this comment for the rest of the trip. It's not very often she says really stupid things and its all too often that I do so I need to take advantage of this while I can.

That afternoon we all went off to the Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (Monterde's Cloud Forest Reserve). It was a good hike through a living cloud forest getting a chance to see a few insects and butterflies in their natural habitat. The look out points were kind of a waste since as it is a cloud forest we were covered in clouds. The highest point was located (supposedly) on the continental divide. You couldn't really stay too long as the wind was trying to push you over the side. Our best spot to catch some wildlife was on top of a giant walking bridge that overlooked a large section of canopy. After waiting for 15 minutes and seeing nothing I attempted giving my best monkey call. I unbuttoned my shirt to about the belly button (i figured monkeys would be more willing to come out if they saw we had hairy chests like them) and yelled in my best low howler monkey impression "moooonkey, mooonkey, mooooooooooonkey." I kid you not practically two minutes after I did this black howler monkeys came out of the forest and swung from tree to tree. Lindsey and Tim still wont give me credit for the calling but whatever, I know what I did. It looked like a family of howlers, with one really young one trying to keep up. It was an exhilarating experience seeing them in the wild so close to us.

Afterwords we popped into a small place on the road back down to Monteverde called "Hummingbird Cafe."  Thinking nothing really of it other than a chance to get a coffee we were blown away to be greeted by about 20 hummingbirds flying around our heads.  The Cafe has been feeding these birds for 10 years and has grown a small family to take care of.  Not exactly sure how many types they have, the owner of the cafe told us a few fun hummingbird facts such as they are extremely possessive and if you leave bird feeders out overnight they will continue to eat even if they freeze themselves to dead in the cold.  We spent the next hour standing in the middle of the bird feeders set up and watching these things whiz by our head.  Quite an amazing animal.

Our Lonely Planet book recommends a hike called Cerro Amigos. Its a free hike and on a clear day you are supposed to be able to see the active Volcan Arenal. Little did we know that the "hill" was more like a mountain and the "trail" was a utility road leading to television towers. After two hours of sweating, complaining and overall discomfort we made it to the top to find pretty much no view whatsoever. I guess thats why they call it a cloud forest. We did run into a somewhat crazy satellite worker while we are up there that for his job must live up there for weeks on end. On the side he runs a little souvenir shop of necklaces and bracelets that he makes. He was extremely proud of a (in my opinion) very ugly necklace he made out of cow bones. I guess you get pretty desperate on top of a mountain by yourself for weeks. He was a nice guy and pointed out to us a very small corner of the volcano that you could see through the clouds. So not a total waste.

You can't visit Monteverde without doing a canopy tour, they practically make you sign an agreement before entering the city. Tim was able to get out of school early and we took off with an outfitter called "Extremo" to another section of the cloud forest. Strapped in our extremely uncomfortable harnesses we went careening from tree to tree attached to a cable. It was a pretty cool experience but nothing that I would pay as much as we did to do again (I don't know if I've mentioned this but Costa Rica is ridiculously expensive compared to the other central american countries). The canyoning was too slow to get any serious exhilaration or nervousness going but too fast to get a good look at the canopy and wildlife. The definite highlight of the day however was the Tarzan Swing. This enormous rope swing attached to your harness where you drop from a 40 foot cliff. It hurt like hell but definitely got the blood pumping.

That night we wished a fond farewell to Timmy. We've been traveling with Tim for almost four months and this was probably the last time we would see him for a long time. So after a few individual and group hugs we wished each other luck and promised to keep in touch. I know Tim will do great things for his school and I'm not worried about him in the slightest. It was great traveling with him and he did an unbelievable job of traveling with a couple as I can only imagine it can be a very trying task. We wish you well buddy and hope you make it down to peru to visit!

And just like that we left Monteverde, en route to our next destination, a farmstay near San Isidro de El General. I need to find my innnermost farmer, I figure it must run in my blood right Brie? Wish us look and hope everyone is doing well!

Hasta Luego,
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