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Published: March 16th 2016
On Monday we were awakened by howler monkeys at about 5:30 am. They sound more like lions than monkeys, I think, with their deep, resonant roars. A nice alarm clock when you can get it! After our now-routine morning birding in the hotel parking lot, we left El Tucano for a long day of transit from Aguas Zarcas to the Monteverde Cloud Forest. Our bus ride was broken up with a boat ride on Lake Arenal, a huge man-made lake that supplies irrigation water and hydroelectric power. In keeping with their green reputation and emphasis on ecotourism, Costa Rica is aiming to be "carbon neutral" by 2021. We saw lots of wind turbines but not so many solar panels, surprisingly. I'm sure they'll start taking advantage of all their sunshine soon.
Anyway, from the boat we had a great view of Arenal Volcano, which was actively spewing lava from 1968 to 2010. Some people in our group were actually here while it was active and saw the red lava flowing at night. Must have been spectacular! Now it is a quiet but impressive steep cone that dominates the landscape.
We were all pretty seat-sore by the time we reached
Monteverde, especially since about an hour of the driving was on bumpy gravel roads. The views of deep green pastures and forests on steep hillsides were worth the pain, however.
I had been to Monteverde in 1979 with the Dartmouth tropical ecology program, and it had looked nothing like what it does today. Then I remember staying in a small pension in a tiny Quaker farming community. Now a whole tourist town has sprung up. Our hotel, El Establo, has hundreds of guests in nine buildings spread across about a mile of hillside. We have a balcony that faces west and gives amazing views of the (distant) Pacific and the setting sun.
Tuesday was as active as Monday was sedentary. We went up to the visitor center at the entrance to the cloud forest and had two hikes with Esteban, one just for exercise (fast) and the other for nature viewing at a supposedly slower pace, although, I think the second was tougher than the first with a lot more up and down such that the members of the group who skipped the exercise hike, including some troupers aged 80+, got more than they bargained for. In any
case, we were rewarded by a sighting of the most sought-after bird of the forest, the Resplendent Quetzal, a brilliant green and red trogon with ridiculously long, trailing green feathers. It looks more like a Disney bird from the Tiki Room than anything that should occur in nature.
The cloud forest itself is beautiful, so-named because it is usually in the clouds, but we were lucky to have sunny weather today. Everything is covered with moss and bromeliads. The trees look like they should break under the weight of all the things growing on them.
We were able to get right up into the canopy itself on our afternoon zip lining tour. Wayne and I had done some zip lining in Massachusetts where, liability laws being what they are, the guides were all business and scolded us severely if we joked around at all. Here the atmosphere was totally different. The three guides pretended to push us off the platforms, jumped out at us from the bushes, bounced us on the rope bridges, and generally tried to give us a good scare. This was definitely the more fun experience! We had some very long zips, the last one
being out on the open mountainside with the same view out toward the Pacific that we enjoy from our room.
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