Parte Dos: Monteverde & Arenal Volcano
If you’re just joining my Costa Rican adventure, you should check out the first part first: Costa Rica, Parte Uno: Arrival and Corcovado National Park.
With Corcovado in our rearview mirror, we set our sights for the beaches on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. We luckily had found a charming lady to wash most of our clothes the night before. Those were clean, but we still had 4 pairs of putrid boots and a few articles of unwashed clothing in the back of the RAV4. Therefore we enlisted the help of one Tommy Hilfiger.
Yes, this Tommy air freshener so overpoweringly covered up the stench of days of trekking that finally its tricolored scent, coupled with the winding roads, became so nauseating that we buried it in the glove box.
We first stopped in a little surfer town, Dominical, to grab some lunch. I feasted on a perfectly amiable piece of snapper. Here I am after my feast. Note, once again, women’s clothing courtesy of Marvelous Mexicana Airlines.
A couple hours later I felt a bit queasy. Thus began my epic, two day losing battle with diarrhea. There aren’t many pictures of Quepos, nor the fabled town of Jaco where we spent a full hour. We had to be sure to factor in enough time between my bathroom sprints to make it to the airport before Marvelous Mexicana closed for the night and I was out of a bag.
At long last, I was reunited with my bag. I stroked the handle and teased the zipper lovingly. Bag was shy and didn’t respond much. That’s okay, luggage love is tough love.
The Marvelous Mexicana rep was unapologetic at best. Maybe he would have shown more sympathy if he wasn’t busy texting on his cell phone the whole time he was finding my bag. He encouraged me to contact his manager for compensation which I did several times. She was, if possible, less helpful than my original Marvelous Mexicana friend. Finally, I followed up the situation via email back here in the US. After steadfast denials of wrongdoing and several emails from me, Marvelous Mexicana Airlines finally compensated me $100 for 5 days of delayed luggage and a total of 11 hours spent driving to get my bag. Clearly then, marvelous cannot be used too frequently to describe them.
That evening we spent the night in San Juan, just north of San Jose at a charming little hotel. Here we are being charmed during breakfast.
Lovely Interior as well.
You'll notice that it's sometimes difficult to arrange the text beside the pictures I want. Especially considering the fact that people view this blog on various monitor resolutions. Please bear with charity the large tracts of blank space or captions to pictures the aren't nearby. Thanks.
We continued on the next day to Zarcero with its fantastic gardens. Please view:
By early afternoon we reached our destination: La Fortuna, which sits at the base of the Arenal Volcano. Arenal Volcano is an active volcano which regularly gives an amazing show of smoke, lava, shooting rocks, and smoldering glows—when it’s not hiding behind clouds. Luckily it wasn’t when we were there. Here is our view from our cabina:
The other main draw of this area is the hot springs. Our intention was the hit up the grand daddy: Tabacon. Our 3 trusty guide books gave the price as $29 per person, an amount I could barely scrape together from my meager engineering salary. When we arrived, what to our wondering eyes should appear but a $52 per person fee to enter Tabacon. Incensed, we checked a few others and finally decided on the next best thing: Baldi Hot Springs. Certainly the most Disneyesque of the others we checked out, with a swim up bar and something like 12 pools of varying temperature, along with bountiful waterfalls, music, gardens and European nonagenarians.
I dipped my leg in one Baldi pool only to have my skin bubble and melt off in chunks. Gazing in sorrow as my flesh floated away, I overheard a German man dunking himself in the same pool while laughing to his friend, “Ze Americans cannot handle ze hot!!!”
Unable to see anything of the volcano other than the red outline I drew on the cloud wall in that picture above, we left La Fortuna and headed around picturesque Lake Arenal.
After a few hours of kidney rattling roads we arrived in Monteverde/Santa Elena. Monteverde was founded by World War I era Quakers who left the US as conscientious objectors and started a new life here in the mountains of Costa Rica. The Quakers introduced new methods of cattle grazing and conservationism that allowed more natural forest to remain unscathed. The forests here are commonly referred to as cloud forests because of the altitude and the, uh, clouds. Here I am, chilling above the cloudline.
Once I die, I would like someone to posthumously post this as my primary facebook photo. Then everyone would say: “Oh look, Brian’s in heaven!” That would be funny.
Monteverde means “green mountain”. It is. Check it out.
Immediately upon arrival in Monteverde we hit up the ziplines, or canopy tours as they are called here. We had researched the various canopy tour companies and made some preliminary decisions before we learned of the newest addition: Monteverde Extremo Canopy with longer lines, a rappel, and a tarzan swing. Well we went for it. Here’s Andrew the Canadian geared up for Extremo battle:
Extremo has something like 18 lines, one of which is 750m; yes, a half mile long zip line. It was pretty incredible. Here is a shot:
If you’re not affected by heights, the rappel was tame at best. We did, however, hear one elongated scream as a frightened girl was lowered to the ground. The tarzan swing was the most thrilling. Shuffle up to the edge of an 80 ft high platform, bend your knees, and get pushed off. You freefall for a bit before the harness roughly catches you and sends you swinging out into the treetops. It was interesting watching the 15 or so people in our group go over the edge. It typically sounds something like this: “wooohooooo---UGH, *grunt, gasp, slight strangled moan*, YEEEAAAA!! “
After swinging like a spider on silk strand a few times you’re caught by a couple of the workers with a rubber inner tube standing on a nearby platform.
Natasa had the incredible foresight to ask what happens if you’re not caught. She really didn’t need to ask because she was able to find out firsthand! After being uncaught by the inner tube, she swung and dangled a few more times until the workers threw her a rope with a carabiner attached to the end. Even as the rope was sailing through the air toward her I could tell that this technique would yield undesired consequences. After catching the rope some 6 feet below the carabiner, the remaining rope spun about her like a tetherball around a pole with the end result being that the carabiner whipped about and kissed her smack on the lip.
Here she is after that passionate encounter.
It saddens me to think that something this cool probably just couldn’t exist in the good ol’ USA. The risk of injury, trauma, or suppressed carabiner fetish development would prove far too much fodder for our beloved trial lawyers (John Edwards for President!). It doesn’t matter how many waivers and disclaimers you sign, stupid greedy people will still sue. And any company that wants to protect themselves will have to hire lawyers and pay court costs. That’s far too much overhead for any company that presents risk to their consumers, no matter how well it’s spelled out. Thank you, once again, trial lawyers for making it worse for everyone else except you.
The next day we headed to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The warm, humid, incoming winds from the Caribbean side of Costa Rica blow up the green mountains here, condensing and cooling. The forests sport different types of ecosystems, complete with a whole new set of trees and animals. However, as I said before, the wildlife was nowhere near the level of Corcovado. A few coatis (Central American version of raccoons) and several birds and insects showed their face during the day.
Upon the recommendation of our Reserve guide, we headed to Sky Walk in Monteverde (run by Costa Rica Sky Adventures) to view the canopy. From the ground, there’s only so much you can see, but the Sky Walk bridges take you right into the canopy where most of the life exists. A steady, misty drizzle was falling half the time and so we were done up in our slickers.
We were desperately seeking the resplendent quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. The fantastic plumage of the quetzal (especially the male) makes it akin to a large, flying emerald, especially in the mating season when it turns iridescent. Alas, however, our jewel spotting skills suck and we were left quetzal-less. However, we did take some pictures of our reaction to spotting a resplendent quetzal, if we ever were to see one. So please don’t read the preceding paragraph and simply share in our quetzal-spotting joy through these pictures at Sky Walk. Sorry, no pictures of the actual quetzal.
That evening we hit up a twilight hike in Bosque Nuboso Eterno de Los Ninos (Children’s Eternal Cloud Forest). Twilight is when all those nocturnals come out to play, being very hungry. One of the feistiest guys we saw was this two-toed sloth
We stood about five minutes underneath him, enough time to see him move his arm about a foot and reposition in the tree. Two-toed sloths are reportedly shier than their three-toed relatives and so this one never showed its face.
Having visited with the black tarantula in Corcavado, we now were pleased to see his cousin, the orange tarantula in Monteverde.
And tons of sleeping birds, puffed into fluffy balls to keep out the chill.
A living leaf
So we’re cheaters and fakers, the frogs were actually seen at the frog pond or Rainarium there in Monteverde/Santa Elena.
We finished out our Monteverde/Santa Elena experience Sunday morning with a hike up to the local waterfall. Waterfalls are ubiquitous here, they seriously flow like water. Here we are enjoying the flow.
After 10 marvelous days in the Venice of Central America, we hopped aboard Marvelous Mexicana and flew home. Impressions of Costa Rica? Well I had a lot of time to think of it, standing and waiting for my bag in Dallas.
Yes, amazingly, Marvelous Mexicana Airlines managed to lose my bag again before customs in Dallas. In fact, I was the only person forlornly staring at an empty baggage carrousel in Dallas. Thank you again, Marvelous Mexicana Airlines, for the astonishing precision with which you were able to lose the one bag capable of fomenting the most irrational rage to your most dissatisfied customer.
So, impressions of Costa Rica? There’s more to do there than we could have done in 2-3 months. We left so much out that it pains me to write it now. We never touched the Caribbean coast with its laid back vibe and amazing food. Tortuguero, on the northern Caribbean, from all accounts is amazing. Manuel Antonio, the Nicoya Peninsula, Guanacaste, Puerto Viejo: all places that I would have loved to visit if we had the time. Needless to say, I will be back.
The Costa Ricans have a saying: pura vida, or pure life. They use it as a greeting, a farewell, a statement of affirmation, and especially to describe something cool or outstanding. In a country where over a third of their land is preserved, enjoying the highest standard of living in Central America, needing no standing army, and welcoming about 2 million tourists every year, there’s a lot of occasion to use it.
Stay tuned for India, Nepal, and Bahrain, heading there tomorrow!