Saturday, 31st August 2014
We got up at 4:30am and after foregoing showering and wearing the same clothes as yesterday (couldn’t be bothered to take anything out of our packs), we walked the 10 minutes from our hostel to the Pulmitan bus station. We are good at getting places early and had about 40 minutes to wait until we could board the bus. They did tell us to get there half an hour before though so this time not our fault. The bus was nice although like a fridge as usual, it befuddles us why they like it so cold in the buses. I know it’s hot outside but that doesn’t warrant some of the temperatures we have experienced in the buses in Central America. I had to tell the driver where we wanted to get off in Spanish which was a test of my skills. It seemed to work though. This bus goes all the way to San Jose but we are only going as far as a petrol station at a turn-off to Monteverde in a place called Rancho Grande. Costa Rica has beautiful lush green scenery with high rising volcanos and hills in the background, it was a nice journey for a couple of hours before the driver called our stop to get off.
Rancho Grande, it turns out is little more than a petrol station and we had an hour wait here before the bus from San Jose to Monteverde was due to pass through when we would flag it down and jump on. We didn’t have to wait for the bus however as a taxi driver was driving back to Monteverde and offered to take us for the bus fare so we took him up on the offer. The drive was even more scenic on this route as we climbed our way up to Monteverde, first along winding sealed roads then along a dirt track for the last 15km or so. The dirt road didn’t seem to slow our driver down any though as he overtook everything in sight and made short work of the trip which takes the bus around three hours but we got there in one hour and we were at our hotel – ‘Cabina Vista al Golfo’ – by 10am. Not bad for a mornings travelling.
Monteverde is home to a cloud forest, a forest which spends most of it’s time in clouds as the name suggest. This means that there is an abundance of flora and fauna up here as there is a lot of moisture for plants to grow and to provide home and food to animals. It is a popular place in Costa Rica and we have come here to check out the forest and hopefully see a sloth amongst other animals. There is a cloud-forest reserve near to where we are staying, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, that we will check out. The area is known as Monteverde and was most recently settled by Quakers from the USA, escaping the Korean War draft. They protected a lot of the land and forest which ultimately created the reserve. It is also the adventure capital of Costa Rica for whitewater rafting, zip-lining, canyoning and other such activities. We are more interested in the nature up here though. The hostel itself sits on a hill with a nice view down onto the town of Santa Elena in which we are staying. Every now and again a cloud sweeps through the town and blankets everything in thick dense fog.
After checking into the hostel and having a rest we made use of the hostel kitchen and I whipped up a pasta lunch (found some gluten-free pasta in the town supermarket!) taking in the best view of any kitchen I know. It’s nice to get a chance to cook for yourself every now and again. Eating out all the time sounds like fun but after a while you do want to take some control back over what you get to eat. It’s also a cheaper option in a town where things are generally more expensive than we are used to. After lunch we booked ourselves on a guided night walk to spot to local wildlife in the forest. This picked us up at 5:30pm so we had a full afternoon of sitting around the hostel which was nice as this place is so beautiful.
We got picked up on time, a first for Central America, and after a short drive we were at the tour place. We had about 10 in our group and the guide was excellent, telling us all about the wildlife and plants we were seeing. We saw a sloth right at the start which was incredible, moving about in the tree. This one was a two-toed sloth and is nocturnal. There is a three-toed sloth which is diurnal. Don’t ask me why one is nocturnal and the other isn’t, the guide didn’t seem to know. He led us around a track through this primary cloud-forest and we saw sleeping birds (looking quite funny as they tuck their heads under a wing so they look headless), resting snakes in trees (a green pit viper and a hog-nosed pit viper), an olingo (a tree-living racoon type creature), an orange-kneed tarantula, stick insects (one of which was about a foot long), frogs and other insects. It was a great walk, lasting about two hours and we believe made all the better by the guide constantly telling you things about the wildlife. We all had torches but were mostly reliant on the guide’s (Alex) spotting skills to see anything. After the walk we got dropped back in town and looked for somewhere to have dinner but all the options are fairly pricey there so we wandered back to our hostel where we know they to be a couple of typical Costa Rican places that looked cheaper. It turned out to be a great option. Kirsty had Casado, a typical dish of stewed meat (in this case beef), rice, beans and plantain, and I had chicken in a passion-fruit sauce with not so typical chips. They had Jurassic Park 2 blaring away on the TV on the wall which some locals seemed to be enjoying. They certainly fed us well there and with over-full bellies we called it a night, looking forward to a sleep-in tomorrow.
Sunday, 31st August 2014
We didn’t have any plans today and were hoping for a sleep-in but that was rudely cut short by a group of noisy people who were leaving at 6am and didn’t think to cut the chatter. That meant a quite productive early morning though and we had our hostel breakfast of fruit, eggs, toast, coffee and tea. We followed this by a walk into the town of Santa Elena, only a five minute walk to get some postcards and have a general look around. There are plenty of tour companies here all offering the same thing so we did what we usually do and booked a tour for the next night from our hostel. We have planned to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This is an area of land that was conserved in the 1970s to create a nature reserve amid all the development of the local area. The reserve consists of six ecological zones, 90% of which are virgin forest and is extremely high biodiversity, consisting of over 2,500 plant species (including the most orchid species in a single place), 100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, and thousands of insects. We had booked ourselves on a guided tour to hopefully see some wildlife there and get a feel for the nature that would be surrounding us. Our experience on the night walk taught us that this is the best way to go. It not cheap though and costs around $70 for both of us with entry and the guide. We have found Costa Rica to be a bit on the expensive side. Not prohibitively so but you certainly notice the extra expense. We spent the rest of the day figuring out our onward movement with a lot of options at our disposal. We decided to give the La Fortuana / Arenal area a miss as the main reason for going is the volcano and we have seen quite a few in Nicaragua. The Arenal volcano was spewing out lava until 2006 but has been dormant since. Other than that there is all the same stuff as in Monteverde so we though we’d save our beans and head up to Tortuguero instead, getting there via San Jose. Not the most direct route but the cheapest it seems.
Monday, 1st September 2014
Another early start but planned this time. We had to catch the 6:15am bus to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to get there in time for opening and our guided tour at 7am. We had a sleepless night though as our hostel is so open which although is an attraction of the place, when it’s windy it whistles through and can get rather noisy. We got up around 5:30am in the end and grabbed our stuff before wandering down to the town. We waited in where we had been told was the right spot for the bus only for a kind resident to let us know that we were in fact in the wrong spot. We got to the right spot but then we jumped on a bus going to ‘Monteverde’ and not the ‘Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve’. I dumped the fare in the drivers hand and sat down. When Kirsty caught up with me she said that a man had shouted at her not to get on the bus so we promptly asked the driver to stop and got off. He must have though we were mad. I don’t even know if it was a public bus or not as I flagged him down. After another 10 minutes the correct bus came long and we paid our fare, again, and took the 20 minute ride to the reserve.
Once there we paid our entrance fee and waited around for our guide to show up. There were loads of bugs on the reception office, stick insects and bugs that looked like leaves. This got us excited for what would be in the park. Donald, our guide arrived with the three others in our group and we set off on the walk. The first thing we saw was not even through the official park entrance as there was a hummingbird nesting in a tree by the park shop. Donald had with him a scope which was great for getting a good view of this stuff. I did have my binoculars but without knowing where to look it’s next to impossible to see anything here. The reserve itself is amazing, with trees looming up above you, dense vegetation and everything growing on everything else as it’s so fertile and wet up here. It never dries out so the plants love it. Along the walk, which took 2-3 hours we saw:
- Nesting hummingbirds:
- – Purple-throated Mountain-gem
- – White-crested Coquette
- – Violet Sabrewing
- Praying mantis
- The smallest orchid in the world
- Orange-kneed tarantula (again)
- Resplendent Quetzal – female
- Grey-breasted wood wren – apparently very hard to spot
It is too cold up here for most mammals and the only sloth they have it a two-toed nocturnal version. The three-toed daytime one prefers the warmer weather at a lower altitude. There are also monkeys about but we saw none. It was amazing though was watch Donald at work. He would hear a bird’s song then pinpoint it, set up the scope and let us have a look. We got to see a very rare bird (the grey-breasted wood wren) and the thing we really came to see – the Resplendent Quetzal albeit a female one without the long tail feather plumage. This was also lucky as they are migrating out of this area at this time of year. The tour came to an end at a hummingbird garden which is essentially just a garden with bird feeders set up containing sugar-water that the hummingbirds love. It was funny to be around them all buzzing around, getting aggressive with one another and hovering right in front of your face. They really are a bizarre creature. I was told that because of the rate at which their heart beats (their heart rate can reach as high as 1,260 beats per minute, with a breathing rate of 250 breaths per minute, even at rest), when they die it is often due to a heart attack.
With the tour over we caught the bus back into town and had a coffee (traditional, poured through a sack cloth and into the cup) and booked our onward bus tickets to San Jose for the next morning, leaving at 6:30am. They love an early start here! Later in the day we went for another walk down into town and had a hot chocolate at ‘Choco Cafe Don Juan’ and a chocolate cheesecake. We then went back to our hostel to finish off some beers and pack.