Monteverde, La Fortuna, San Jose

Published: August 27th 2007
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When my volunteering time at Las Pumas came to an end, Lynn and I went travelling to see some other parts of Costa Rica. We set off on the bus to Tilaran, a nice cool town in the hills, and there changed to catch a bus to Santa Elena. The road from Tilaran to Santa Elena was pretty bumpy - as are all roads to Santa Elena I think, because when we were in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (our main reason for going to Santa Elena) in the tourist shop there were some t shirts for sale that said ‘I survived the road to Santa Elena’ - we were hardened travelers because we did!

We took a trip into the Monteverde Cloud Forest the following day … it was lovely. I loved the greenness of it, and the age, and the fact that it gets most of it’s moisture from cloud rather than rain. I loved the fact that the world is one place - did you know they have sand from the Sahara desert in the forest that is brought on winds and deposited there and brings nutrients for the plants that make their home on the trees -
Two hummingbirdsTwo hummingbirdsTwo hummingbirds hovering and one sitting!
I think they were called epiphytes. They don’t damage the host tree at all - it was like every tree in the forest was home to it’s own little eco-system of different plants and flowers - I found it fascinating. We also saw a waterfall, stick insects, caterpillars, birds (although we heard more than we saw) - I liked the call of one bird which sounded like a rusty swing swinging. I LOVED the humming birds too - they were vibrant in colour, speedy when flying and amazing when they hovered. I loved the zipping whooshing sound they made as they flew by me, it felt sometimes as if they skimmed by my head, causing a breeze as they zipped past. I sat and watched them for ages! We also saw a tarantula, a humming bird nest, and a quetzal. This bird is actually called a resplendent quetzal… and it truly is very well named. It is a stunning bird that no painting or photograph can capture. The green-ness of it’s feathers stand out in a luminous show of vibrancy among all the other greens of the forest. We were very lucky to see a quetzal - and it was fantastic to see in the wild.

Whilst in Santa Elena we also visited another conservation area for a nightwalk which was good but not fab. We also visited something called Selvatura - we walked through the forest on paths, and more importantly, walked along bridges suspended in and above the canopy of the forest. I loved them, although I was little scared initially, it was great to see the top of the forest and to spend as long as you wanted to just staring, looking and peering into a world of flora and fauna that I would not usually see. More epiphytes from all angles! I think the suspended bridges were one of the highlights of my trip.

From Santa Elena we took a jeep-boat-jeep trip to La Fortuna. The trip itself was without incident - but had the potential for all sorts of mis-haps! At one stage we wondered if we were going to be the subject of newspaper headlines - ‘tourists attacked on remote beach’ - but the remote beach was in fact the port (!) where we caught the boat (!) across Lake Arenal - all good fun! In La Fortuna we stayed in a hotel with views of Volcan Arenal - except we mostly had views of the clouds that covered it! We did a tour (very different to the one I did in Charlotte ;-)) of the area - which included a short hike on the base of the volcano, where we saw a sloth in the trees high above us (this was a bit of a theme with Lynn and me - we wanted desperately to see a sloth - pronounce it how you will!!!), walking trees (with roots they use to find the light by moving a few inches one way or the other to get the most amount of light in between the canopy of the taller trees), and a few views of the bottom of Volcan Arenal - and the clouds further up it! Part of the tour was to some of the local hot springs. We went to Baldi springs which were great - it was like a number of hot interlinked swimming pools, with waterfalls and swim up bars where you could order drinks and cocktails. I loved this bit - lazing in the hot pool (we stayed in the hottest pool) - sipping a cocktail or two (or was it three?) - delightful! The final part of tour was to return to the foothills of the volcano (I think I have forgotten to say it was an active volcano - one of the many in Costa Rica) so that we could hopefully see through the dense cloud some of the volcanic activity. Finally we did see some of the red hold molten lava tumbling down the side of the volcano - it was not clear and was thru the cloud, but I am very pleased I saw it as it was a first for me. On the way back to the hotel we watched the videos I had taken on my camera of Samson … ahhhhh!

The following day we headed off to San Jose the capital city. Here we stayed in the lovely Dona Innes Hotel which had some of the most friendly helpful staff you could wish to meet. Our main reason for visiting San Jose was to do a tour which would include the La Paz waterfalls and Volcan Poas. We did the tour the following day - I especially liked seeing Volcan Poas - it was cold up there - and
One of the suspended bridgesOne of the suspended bridgesOne of the suspended bridges

Some of them were very long - and you really felt as if you were inside the forest
you could stare down into the crater which had a lake in it with sulphur steam rising from it, it was eerie and amazing at the same time. To see the steam rising from the lake, mixing in with the ever present cloud and the barren landscape was one of the high points for me. Volcan Poas is another active volcano in Costa Rica - so that was exciting in itself. On the trip we did we also went on a river boat - which was fun - we saw a crocodile and other animals and birds along the river bank. We also saw some tiny frogs which were orange with blue legs - called the Levi frogs because they look like they are wearing blue jeans! Lynn had done a river trip with Corobici Safaris in Caňas and said that she had seen more animals and birds, there and that the guides had been very good. The following morning we went to see the Pre Colombian Gold Museum in central San Jose. I enjoyed the museum and was glad we had done something in the city. We had tried to visit the theatre the day before but the orchestra was rehearsing and it was closed to visitors.

We got the bus back to Caňas and Las Pumas, where the idea was that Lynn would spend a couple of days before flying out to California with Cathy, and I would spend one night before heading to the beach to get a tan and rest before my flight to Charlotte on Wednesday 4th July. However … on the bus I stupidly put everything of any value (monetary and emotional) in my day pack and put my day pack on the shelf above us … and when I came to get off it wasn’t there. It was my fault as I should have kept my bag with me. So things like my journal and my camera (with all those precious pictures from Las Pumas and of Samson) along with more replaceable things like money, credit cards and passport went, gone, taken. I like to think that they have helped someone who has less than I do - and indeed if my credit card statements are anything to go by someone has eaten well and has a few new pairs of shoes. However - my photographs and journal …!!! I am re-creating my journal, and Felicia, Lynn and Cathy, as well as Carmen have been so very kind and sent me their photos - I am forever in their debt. Carmen also leant me her camera for me to take some photos whilst I was at Las Pumas that weekend. There was no point going to the beach as I had no money at all and was going to have to return to San Jose to get a new passport before flying out on Wednesday.

I stayed at Las Pumas and ‘volunteered’ for the next couple of days - chopping fruit and sweeping paths again. I got some cash through Western Union Money Transfer - an absolutely fantastic system. On Saturday Lynn, Cathy and I had a tearful goodbye, and on the Sunday I said a very tearful goodbye to Carmen and the other staff members - Gilbert, Eddie and Rosita learned the English for ‘sad’ and ‘I don’t like goodbyes’!! I really enjoyed Las Pumas - don’t get me wrong, sometimes the tasks were mundane and I got bored, but it was worthwhile and I met some fabulous people and some wonderful cats, and I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. I like to think that I went with an open mind and a willingness to do and try anything, and that helped enormously.

We had some fab times - parties for Lynn’s birthday and father’s day among others, and I loved staying on site so that you could wake up to the sounds of the cats roaring at night, or the parrots and parakeets singing at the top of their voices in the morning. I loved the sound of the grey foxes ‘squeaking’ at you. I loved the scarlet macaws, such regal birds in many ways and so sad to know that there are so few living in the wild because so many were captured and kept as pets or in hotels to amuse the guests!! I loved it when the cats purred, snarled, meowed, growled, or the sounds of them eating their meat - gnawing through the flesh and crunching on the bones, appearing to lick it to death (but of course their meat was already dead). I remember the look in Tiggy’s eyes as he was eating his meal - it said ‘stay away from me and my food’... you don’t mess with a wild cat and it’s food! It was a fabulous experience in every way.

On the Sunday I took the bus into Alajeula in readiness for meeting someone from i-to-i who would take me to the British Embassy in San Jose to replace my passport. i-to-i were great and supportive in helping me get things sorted. Whilst in Alajeula I did some souvenir shopping, and took a trip into San Jose to visit the National Theatre which was lovely - I liked it because it was old and original and had a national history. The boxes for the presidents and the stalls for the normal people and the décor were full of atmosphere and history rolled into one. It was built in 1890, in a classical Renaissance style and I especially liked the smoking rooms - one for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. I finally got my passport, despite computer breakdowns and general slowness, about 3.5 hours before my flight out! The staff were very patient, helpful and kind - I really appreciated their support.

Back in Charlotte (where I landed at 9.05 pm - which made me smile!!!) I stayed in the Holiday Inn near to the airport as Bert and family were out of town. I lazed around the pool and watched a bit of Wimbledon tennis on the TV in my room. On the plane from Charlotte to London I sat next to Kid Kash - an American Professional Wrestler. For those of you who know me … can you imagine … ME sitting next to a tattooed wrestler from Tennessee?! He was very sweet because when I got tearful as we took off from Charlotte airport - watching it disappear into the evening haze - he asked if I was frightened of flying and if I was OK. We chatted for quite a while and he said he was going to do a number of fights in Europe, UK and Ireland, and he showed me some official photos. You can find him on wikipedia.

And so ended my trip to North Carolina and Costa Rica. Despite having my valuable stolen I had a brilliant time - I made some special friends, learned a lot, saw new sights, heard new sounds, smelt new smells, had new experiences, ate new food (rice and beans, and some more rice and beans!) - it was truly wonderful and I would do it all again. I thank Lynn, Cathy and Carmen for the photos of Costa Rica, and Felicia for the photos of North Carolina. You are great photographers - thank you! And I thank Bert and Fran for their excellent hospitality and for giving me such a great tour in North Carolina. You are all wonderful people.


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