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Zip lining through the jungle canopy of Costa Rica!
September 6, 2005
On this morning we awoke, packed our belongings, and waited for a small bus to pick us up at our hotel. I forgot to mention that yesterday we arranged for a “JEEP - boat - JEEP” trip to Monteverde. We chuckle just thinking about them pronouncing that, jEEP boat jEEP.
Anyway, they packed us in tight and headed to Lake Arenal - a giant man-made lake at the base of the Arenal volcano. From there, we jumped aboard a boat and were whisked away. The scenery here was like something from Jurassic Park (seriously) - the islands were overflowing with tropical vegetation and the water was clear and beautiful. Actually, parts of Jurassic Park were filmed in Costa Rica, which is no surprise to anyone who has been here.
We enjoyed traveling by water, letting the fresh air blow over our faces and listening to the crashing of water against the boat. We arrived on the other side of the lake after about twenty minutes where we were greeted by a hoard of local children. They were barefoot, curious little lads that obviously came to catch a glance at the strange looking tourists. I wonder
if it was the highlight of their day? Once on the other side, our bags were thrown on top of another small bus and strapped down, then we piled into the bus with more strangers and headed up a dirt road. This really felt like the real Costa Rica. We were in the middle of God only knows where, traveling on one-lane dirt roads through mountains and over small streams. At about the midpoint in our journey through some of the greenest, hilliest, and beautifully cloudy landscapes we’ve ever seen, our driver informed us that we would make a brief rest stop. To our delight, we stopped at a little shack set into the hillside of nowhere in particular. The view was incredible and we felt completely isolated from civilization. We stopped along the road to take a closer look at the coffee plantations and taste a coffee bean fresh off the vine (doesn’t taste like coffee at all). And we continued to Monteverde.
Monteverde is actually the main reason most travelers come to Costa Rica (it was our third favorite place after Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna). This is the home of the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve,
which protects some of the country’s last remaining primary cloud forest - home to iridescent quetzals, foraging coatis, etc. We exited the bus, gathered our bags, fought our way through the hoards of people offering rooms, and made our way to the youth hostel. Fatigued and famished by the long trek and hair-splitting ride, we ate at a pizza parlor which obviously catered to tourists. Unfortunately, most of this town seems to be built on tourism and it shows. It’s a shame that it’s lost touch with its roots. I imagine a McDonald's being located here in several years - horrible.
We booked a canopy tour with a company (Selvatura) and almost immediately left for that. It’s a bit hard to explain what a canopy zipline tour is but I’ll give it a try. First, they drive you to the Santa Elena Reserve and put you in a harness which straps around your legs and back. We also put on raincoats because it had started to sprinkle. We went up into the cloud forest and were attached to metal cables set up between trees. The harness is attached to the metal cable and one by one, you zip down
the cable at lightning fast speeds (not really, but pretty fast). While "zipping" through the forest you can look out and see the canopy and beautiful scenery. There were about 18 lines that we got to go down, then for an adrenaline rush, we got to do the “tarzan swing.” This is exactly what the name suggests, a swing in the middle of the forest in which you swing out a hundred feet or so over the forest at an incredible speed. So much fun!!
We returned to town, visited the grocery store to get some food, and then made our way up to the Serpentarium. As you probably know, David loves reptiles, so this was an absolute must-see attraction while we were in town. Eleven of Costa Rica’s seventeen venomous snakes can be found in this showcase. It also houses frogs, turtles, and iguanas.
Alas, when we were finished here we returned to our room to eat dinner and get some much needed sleep! The splitter-splatter of rain, croaking of frogs, and humming of insects sounded like an orchestra playing a lullaby just for the two of us. It put us right to sleep and filled our
dreams with exotic images and fun adventures.
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
We caught the first bus of the morning to Reserva Biológica Monteverde, which is positioned directly on the continental divide. This private reserve encompasses 10,500 hectares of land and protects 2,500 plant types and 400 animal species. The wildlife population includes jaguars, mountain lions, peccaries, and the elusive quetzal, a shimmering Christmas-colored bird that falls backwards off perches when startled to protect its long iridescent tail feathers. Unfortunately, we didn’t see these animals but we were quite content to wander the paths through dwarf elf-like woodlands and soak in the radiance of the towering canopies of the higher cove forests. We hiked up to the continental divide and just watched the clouds quickly spread over the land and dart in and out of the forest. We observed several unusual insects here, such as brilliantly blue colored beetles, wasps with a one and half inch long stingers, and a flying bug that was about two inches long by one inch wide. The trails were almost empty and we roamed through the forest at a leisurely pace just taking in the sights and sounds.
Just outside of
the reserve there are about seven hummingbird feeders. We took a seat and watched in amazement as sixty hummingbirds fed. Costa Rica has 51 species of these stunning birds which are named for the hum made by the beat of their wings, which also happens to be faster than your eye can detect (up to 100 times per second). We saw the birds hovering over flowers in the reserve as they extracted the nectar with their long, hollow tongues. We had our own close encounter with one while we were sitting down in the reserve -- a dazzling green hummingbird that was feeding on a beautiful plant in front of us suddenly stopped, and in the blink of an eye, flew about four inches from David's nose at eye-level, looked at him for a few seconds, then zipped off like a lightning bolt into the forest. Super cool!
Our next stop today was the jardín de mariposas, the butterfly garden. This biodiversity center focuses on the study of all sorts of insects. We had an energetic young volunteer give us an hour tour of the center. There were four distinct butterfly habitats, a colony of leaf-cutter ants (with windowpane
views into the colony to observe the fungus farming first hand), and a variety of beetles, walking sticks, and tarantulas. We got to see the Hercules beetle, which is a gargantuan beetle with a long nose . Among the other oddities, we saw beetles shaped like leaves which disappear when put on a plant due to the amazing camouflage and the walking sticks, which not only blend in perfectly with their environment, but are capable of re-growing their legs when they lose them.
After an exhausting walk back into town under the blazing sun, we ate at a soda and enjoyed chicken casados, although the hairs in our fried plantains were unappealing to say the least.
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