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Travel Journal: Costa Rica Day 6

I didn't feel like writing yesterday, so now I need to catch up!

Friday - we awoke early to meet at 7:30am guide to the Monteverde Cloud Forest, for a sky walk (hike through forest and hanging bridges) and Sky Trek (canopy tour on zip lines). Dropped off some laundry at the front desk so I'd have a few fresh items for our next resort: Samasati.

Carlos, our guide for the day, was very friendly. Everyone in this country is friendly - all very eager to tell you about things, help you see animals, etc. Despite living here and seeing these things every day, they don't seem like they've lost their awe or joy. It's very cool.

We took a van to the Arenal Lake, where we got on a boat. There was quite a bit of conversation between Carlos and the 3 boat drivers on shore. We ended up getting into a boat and starting off across the lake. Carlos had the driver take us slowly past some shoreline areas to try to spot some wildlife. Partway across, there was a cell phone conversation with the boat driver and someone, and then Carlos says, "Hang on, we're going to switch boats." Another boat (one we saw earlier on shore) pulled up, and we boarded. There were several people from Tabacon on board - I got the impression maybe Carlos jumped the gun or got confused.

The boat got us to the other side in about 30 minutes - would have taken us about and hour and a half to go around by car! Part of the shore of the lake is a protected area, and the other part is owned by a farmer. So, all around it is pristine green hillsides and forest - beautiful rolling hills with a few cows grazing here and there. Really breathtaking - in America that lake would bs surrounded by houses, condos, yacht clubs and restaurants.

At the other side was a small landing (really small, like a plank of wood and a gravel path) with a shop to get snacks and drinks and go to the bathroom. We got into a different van there - most of the vans we've taken are essentially the same - minibuses with 3-4 rows of seats, KIAs and other brands, but not a style we have at home. The van was just us, Carlos, and the driver - the two of them seemed to know just about everyone along the way. There was a lot of smiling and waving and chatting with people along the road. The drive to Monteverde was about an hour and a half on the bumpiest road I have ever been on in my life. A one-lane gravel road going up up up and around and around through the rolling hills and pastures I had admired from the lake.

After all the pain in my ass from horseback riding, I wasn't really having fun on those bumps, let me tell you. But, without that boat ride, it could have been double the pleasure, si I'm glad we did that (did I mention this trip cost $140 each?).

We passed through some coffee bean fields, and Carlos pulled off a few berries for us - the bean is inside the little berry, and has a shell around it that is sweet. The bean itself is a pale, whitish color. Makes me wonder who said, "Hey, I think I'll roast this, grind it up, and then pour hot water over it." I mean, really, who thinks this stuff up?!

Near Monteverde, we tried to go to the cash machine in town, but the computers at the bank were all down. Bummer, because we were totally out of cash and had nothing to tip with. Side note: it never would have occurred to me to tip tour guides, etc. but an English couple we went rafting with tipped the raft guides, which made us think we should. So broken bank = no tips today. :(

We got up into the cloud forest which...had no clouds. According to all of our guides, this was very unusual. The cloud forest sits right on the Continental Divide, and Costa Rica is a narrow country. So, the warm, moist Caribbean winds come in from the East, then they hit the mountain range and create fog and clouds. The forest and the area around it are apparently cloudy and very windy 80% of the time. So, we had very good luck with a sunny, nearly cloudless sky, and a warm day with very little wind. We didn't get to see the forest in its usual state, but we had spectacular views.

We started at 10:30am on a Sky Walk with our walking guide, Orlando. He was a few minutes late because his motorcycle broke down on the way, and he had to push it home and take the car instead! So, we got started at about 10:40 and had a two-hour walk ahead of us. Orlando was AMAZING. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge about the forest - pointing out details as tiny as a flower that had been punctured at its base by a hummingbird. We learned so much! Without him, the walk would have been cool, but we would have missed out on a lot of really cool details. He told us about these plants I've been seeing everywhere - they look a bit like a short aloe plant and they grow on the trunks and branches of trees. Apparently they're called Bromelia (sp?) and each leaf is shaped like a cup. The plant collects water, then organisms (including bugs and frogs) live inside. When they die, the plant absorbs the nutrients.

The cloud forest is apparently a very unique ecosystem, so it was cool to learn more about it. Like, the moss acts like a sponge, collecting moisture from the clouds and then slowly releasing it to the trees it grows on. And all the plants have adapted methods of survival - and they say that some trees have over 100 other plants growing on them! So, the trees are like entire forests unto themselves. I'll stop now - I can't possibly regurgitate everything Orlando told us - but it was fascinating.

Part of the walk was along paths, and part of it was across hanging bridges that they have installed so that you can see the forest from both above and below the canopy. On one of the bridges, we saw a troop of howler monkeys! So I finally got to see a monkey, instead of just hear them. He was eating leaves off a tree - I got to see him through Orlando's binoculars. We walked and talked for two hours, then met up with Carlos again and said farewell to Orlando. I'm really bummed that we were out of cash, because Orlando deserved the biggest tip of the trip!

We had lunch (the typical stuff - I really like the food here, lots of rice, beans and fruit. Feels healthy.), and then set off for our Sky Trek at 1:30pm. Our Sky Trek guides were Hector and Peter. They strapped us into harnesses that went around our waists and legs, and handed us gloves, helmets, and a pulley. We went up up up a circular staircase, and onto the same hanging bridge where we started our walk with Orlando. We took a different turn on the path, though, and kept going up. Hector gave us instructions, then we got started on the first zip line. It was pretty simple - Hector and Peter do all of the work strapping you in and then stopping you and unhooking you at the end. They stand at opposite ends of the line, and communicate via walkie-talkie when its safe for the next person to go. There are 11 cables; they have the highest, fastest and longest in Costa Rica. The first few are relatively low and short, then they work you up to the big ones. I was nervous at first, but it was so fun! After the first line, I was volunteering to go first.

They strap you in, and you lean back, cross your ankles, pull your knees toward your chin, hang on to the pulley, and FLY! It's completely amazing! And since there were no clouds, we could see everything below us (some other people we talked to went a couple of days earlier and couldn't see anything, they were just zipping through fog).

Okay, I'm going to have to continue this in the morning, it's 9:30pm and our bungalow at Samasati faces East, so we'll be up with the sun.

Posted November 13, 2004 8:30 PM | On This Day: 2002