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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Like Here, Only Different, Part 2

After escaping from Matapalo we stopped at Manuel Antonio NP. We arrived very early for which I am thankful. Our leader arranged for a good friend of hers to be a guide, if desired. For myself, I wanted to ramble by myself and have a few hours of solitude.

It had been a long week and I would welcome the chance to "refresh". Off I went climbing to the Mirador (overlook). I learned that heat in the forest is a bit more heated than at the beach. Once again I was happy I had the forethought to get some sweatbands. Using a red one would also prove helpful in future encounters with a hummingbird. I was not the first up the trail, but it was so quiet that the animals and birds were not disturbed by my passing.

I enjoyed being in my first Costa Rica tropical forest. Like home, there are tons of ferns and mosses ... and like home they grow from everywhere! Unlike home, they are Super Sized.

Trees become the platform for everything else to grow from. Here at home, they grow lightly, in the tropical forest even epiphytes have baggage. The legendary frogs of the tropics often live their lives inside the bromelaids which grow high in the tree tops, never seeing the ground. Indeed it was not until near my trip end that I found little frogs in a volcano caldera lake.

Every plant seems to be bigger than life. Everywhere there was something blooming. There are a million shades of green. Some things ask to be touched, others clearly state, DON'T!!!

I was able to walk quietly and had a troop of White-faced Capuchins pass overhead. My camera work was not as nimble as these creatures. Shooting upward in the unique light of the forest presented its own set of challenges.

Birding was also a special challenge. They live much of their life high in the trees and always seem to be back-lit. Like cats, all birds are dark gray in poor lighting. I did manage one great shot of a Fiery-billed Aracari.

I followed a little creek down to the beach was delighted that it was alive with exceptionally busy hermit crabs. They too were a challenge to photograph. The beaches at Manuel Antonio are considered some of the most beautiful in the world. I am not a beach person so my experience is limited. It was beautiful in my eyes. I would have wished for more time to ramble and explore but we only had a few hours.

We decided to get lunch at a beach restaurant before making the long drive to Monteverde. I had a delicious ceviche and salad and others clearly were of a similar mind, salad was a draw for most everyone.

The legendary road to Monteverde could only be described as potholes held together by dirt. It is pretty much with intention. There is a desire to make this beautiful and sensitive area a challenge to get to. Indeed some of the venues limit their daily attendance. While this month is the rainy season, and the "low" season for tourists, during the peak season I can imagine how crowded the venues get. We had a private van. I know there is a public bus to Monteverde. After our hair-raising trip to Quipos from San Jose, I am thankful for the careful attention of our driver, whom we would meet again in the later week.

But oh the beauty of the journey up the hills. Steep sided narrow valleys covered in green trees. Farms and crops, mostly coffee and banana hug the hillsides.
Dairy is big here and Monteverde itself is the center of the dairy industry. Established by Quakers from Alabama in the 1950, many farms produce crops and milk cooperatively. This is , in fact , the case with the majority of Costa Rica's Ag industry. There are large corporate type farms in the country, but most are still small holdings with diverse crop rotation. Monoculture is not very common. Along the coast north of Quipos, African Palm oil is aggressively produced and we passed large plantations. Since the fall of its the use diet market, there is a new drive to produce bio-fuel using the rich oil.

Arriving in Santa Elena, a small town near Monteverde, we all gasped with joy when we saw our hotel , El Atardecer (the Sunset) . Beautiful, charming, clean , hot water, no bugs (well hardly) LAUNDRY SERVICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Our hostesses spoke no English but with the help of dictionary, rudimentary skills and the very sophisticated 13 yo niece of owner, we managed quite well.

We quickly went into town to visit the tour company that provided local services. One can choose to join regular tours or just go off on their own. Taxis are fast , inexpensive and know the way to all the sites. Once at a venue you could book a guide or go off on your own. Top guides are certified by the national system and they proved to be engaging and highly knowledgeable (and proud) of their country. We already had a private visit to Santa Elena Cloud Forest as part of our trip. This reserve has a limited entry permitted and is at a higher elevation than Monteverde.

Then to bed in a sweet clean comfortable QUIET room.

Monday morning we were fed to overload status on fresh fruit and juice, eggs and cereal. We had all become devotees of the fruit and water (or milk) drink known as fresco. I favored Guanabana (soursop) while others went for watermelon or papaya. No matter your taste there was a fruit to satisfy it. The trees grow wild and we often sampled on the go.

Our first stop was Santa Elena NP. We were greeted by our guide Johnny and a bevy of hummingbirds and one green viper. I am sorry to say I did not get a good picture of the viper. Hummingbirds, too , proved a difficult capture. We spent about 3 or so hours learning about the overall ecology of the forests.

There is deep concern that the current rainy season is not very rainy and the plants showed lots of evidence of bug predation and stress. Everything was wet , so their lack of moisture must really mean the norm for this environment is super saturated. We climbed up to nearly 5100 feet. Here at home this would be nearing the timberline, but in the lush environment there was no seeing out for the trees.

Where there were open windows to view out, all one could see was cloud vapors and mist. On rare, clear days you could easily see some of the volcanoes we would visit in the coming week, but it was not to be at this time of year. This lack of visual compass was a bit disconcerting and I was never sure of which way was north or east.

Moss grows on ALL sides of the trees.

For lunch we went down to Selvatura Park, a handy center providing all types of activities. Most in the group went for Zip-lining. For myself and my roommate Cordie, we were for nature study, which you cannot do hanging from a wire. We rambled a network of suspended bridges looking down onto the tops of trees from about 150 meters above the forest floor. It was a great way to see into the forests, out to the surrounding hills shrouded in clouds.

After our long ramble, Cordie and I had an hour before meeting the last van back to town, so we spent it agog in the Hummingbird Garden.

Violet Saberwing

Steely-vented Hummingbird.

We got back in time for me to grab a night hike in a nearby farm forest. We discovered mostly bugs and the sound of bug night chorus was overwhelming. We also found a sleeping Emerald Toucanet. I was also happy to see that there was a little hole in the overcast sky. Enough to see the Milky Way.

Gratuitous Bug Sex photo

The next day most of us had booked a ride and hike combo. This was my absolutely To Do event, others slowly cottoned on to the idea of a 4 hour horse ride and a hike.

I was in heaven. Nicely trained and cared for horses took care of those not experienced. The hike was much like here at home, following the course of the San Luis river to a stunning waterfall. All along the moist way there were butterflies and bugs to capture my attention. I found some fun birds and creatures. I was also fascinated by Balsa trees, which produce a fabulous purple trumpet shaped flower. There was a nice little farm as the hike start point and the ride to the farm along a winding road down the valley produced amazing views.

Sapo Grande (Marine Toad) HE. WAS. HUGE!

Unknown species butterfly. My camera cannot leave bugs and such alone.

Glasswing, Greta oto.

San Luis Falls

Brown-hooded Parrot

That afternoon we visited a demo farm called El Trapeche. The multi-generational family owned property had fallen out of use when it was decided to reinvent it as an educational / tourist venue. We learned about the diverse crop and harvest culture of sugar coffee banana and the use of small crops such as Tilapia (fish) and mixed fruits and vegetables.

We saw learned about coffee production from growth , harvest (including farm worker issues) processing and roasting. Sugar cane was featured and we saw production (and sampled) fresh whole cane ( what a wonderful discovery, so nice) and cane juice. We also learned about the production of the national drink, Guaro ( much like Pisco, from Peru) and made candy from boiled whole cane sugar juice (an acquired taste, very sweet very potent) . At the end we enjoyed coffee and Picadillo, a chopped meat and veg served in a tortilla.

For me, one of the best parts was a chance to watch an Ox team work using the traditional carts. These carts are hand painted, freestyle. Painting design can be unique to the artist and can often be identifiable to a specific region or family. I saw carts in use in other areas, but not so much as in this community.

All too soon our time in Monteverde was over. I would have wanted a few more days. I didn't get a chance to visit the Monteverde Reserve itself. Nor did we visit the Quaker Cheese Factory or sample the famous ice cream. Most of us were feeling a slight effect of the sudden return of fruit and veg to our diets, but it didn't really slow most of us down one bit.

1 comment:

  1. beautiful! Thank your for sharing these images - it makes me want to go there :)