Hola from Costa Rica
So on to my final destination in Costa Rica, Monteverde. You can catch a couple of buses or the quickest and easiest route is a jeep/boat/jeep. Really as you go in a minbus it should be called the Bus/boat/bus, but I suppose this doesn’t sound as exciting and therefore a lot of people wouldn´t opt for it. Anyway it was all very pain free. The highlight was the narrow little boat over the lake which gives you a great view of the Arenal volcano. I arrived in Monteverde in under 3 hours and checked myself in to the Monteverde backpackers. Possibly I´d recommend Pension Elena it looks more fun. Although the area is called Monteverde most of the backpackers stay in Saint Elena the nearby town. I like it, it looks real and although caters for tourists it hasn´t outdone itself and retains a lot of character. I chatted to an Aussie girl in my dorm for a bit then went out to get some food. Budget food is a little limited but I headed to a cafe called Maravilla and then had an early night.
The next day I pottered around town, had a late breakfast and decided to do the Sky Bridges walk. Just as I got back to the hostel it absolutely poured down. Luckily this didn´t last too long ( well we are coming in to rainy season) and I was picked up by my over friendly driver who insisted he wanted to marry someone from another culture and would I like to come with him to Bar Amigos that night….think I´ll give it a miss. I got to the Sky Bridges and was told it would take just over an hour to do the walk over the 8 elevated bridges. I set out down the narrow paths and tried to spot wildlife. It seemed like there was too much tree cover so made my way to a bridge. The bridges are incredibly high and you are above or in line with the tree tops. At first they felt a bit unsafe especially as they wobbled wildly when anyone else walked on them with you. I kind of wanted to experience this on my own so let various people pass by. Then the loud groups were so noisy that I didn´t think any wildlife would even stick around. As the bridges got higher and higher the scenery was getting better and better. Eventually the ends of the bridges looked like they were disappearing in to the clouds (could that be because I’m in a cloud forest? ), it was all quite misty! I spotted an Emerald Toucan (the smallest of the species) and managed to take a photo. Then a rare treat, I got to see a Quetzal swooping through the sky. This is a rare and protected bird in Costa Rica and is a gorgeous green and red colour, the males also have quite a long tail feather. Finally on the very last bridge I saw a nose bear otherwise known as a Coati, although it looked completely different to the ones I’d seen in Iguazu. Unfortunately I couldn´t get a photo as once again everyone was walking over the bridge so the shot came out blurred …. god damn those tourists !!
I was starving when I got back to town so went to Morphos for dinner and had some lovely roast potatoes with my dinner. When I got back to the hostel Jas and Lucy from La Fortuna had checked in. They also needed to eat so took them to Maravilla and just had a drink while they ate. It was great to see them again !!
The next morning I had to get up at 6am for an early morning trek through the Saint Elena reserve. Two of the other girls from my dorm were going whilst Jas and Lucy were booked to do the canopy tour which here includes a rather scary tarzan swing. I had been recommended to get a guide which was definitely worthwhile, otherwise it´s very difficult to actually see anything. Firstly, we were met by a rather wild pig called Charlie. Well when I say wild he seems to have domesticated himself. Apparently he did have a girlfriend once but she hated his forays into the car park to say hello to people so dumped him and retreated to the forest. He in the mean time has become addicted to insect repellant and was trying to lick it all off Helen´s legs. Being a friendly pig, he decided to begin our 3 hour trek with us (I so so want a pig, I’ve even given up eating pork for the time being, I just can’t face it !!). The Saint Elena reserve is a cloud forrest, it´s split into primary and secondary forest, here’s a picture of the primary forest above. You can also go to the Monteverde reserve aswell here. It used to rain every day but due to global warming it doesn’t anymore. In fact, the warmer weather has brought birds that never used to live here like toucans in to the area. They have then been killing the Quetzals and Bell birds, according to our guide there used to be more than 100 bell birds in the park 3 years ago but now there are only 35, it didn’t seem like they were endangered as we could hear them constantly, but maybe it was the same one who was a bit lonely. So on to the wildlife, we got to see a cool stick insect and then a millipede which gave off a rather almond smell to disuade predators. We did get to see a couple of the rare Three-wattled bell birds which look like they have rather strange black spaghetti hanging over their beaks. They have to be at least 7 years old to have this feature and were just sitting on the end of a high branch calling out with their bell sound to attract females. Next a huge helicopter beetle, I also pointed this out to a couple who were walking on their own. Then the tour ended, no monkeys – boo hoo !! Helen decided to go off and walk some more trails but didn’t see anything else and I caught the bus back in to town for a late lunch. I bumped into some girls I´d met on the volcano tour in La Fortuna and then went to book my bus ticket. There´s a TransNica bus that takes you straight through the border but unfortunately that was booked up so I´d have to stay another night and leave on Monday. Lucy and Jas decided that they´d leave and just try and catch the local buses so we all went out for a last pizza. In all there were 10 of us (as you can see above) and we caught up with Steve who´d also been my dorm mate in La Fortuna. We called it an early night. Actually it was really strange as our whole dorm had been out together so we all went to bed at the same time (it´s been ages if at all that that´s happened), it felt like we were on an illicit school trip and we were having to arrange a time to wake up for our midnight feast. Lucy was talking about the toilet and obviously being Australian called it a Dunny. Brooke (American) and Magnus (Norweigan) said “What´s a Dunny ?”, only the way Magnus said it was “Dun…..ny ????” in a very funny Scandinavian way. Lucy then repeated this and burst out laughing so we had some more fun and introduced them to the word “Doona” as well, which Magnus also pronounced in a very high pitched questioning way. It meant that we all went to sleep literally snorting with laughter under the bed clothes. Very juvenile but it took me ages to fall asleep I was laughing so hard. I think you had to be there. The girls had to leave at the crack of dawn. It was sad to see them go but there is a possibility I´ll see them in Nicaragua so who knows …..
I got up and went to the Orchid garden. I´ve just finished a book called Orchid Fever about the rules and adventures of people in the orchid world so thought it was rather fitting (more riveting than it sounds – honest !!). They had some 500 orchid species out of 1200 that exist in Costa Rica including the smallest. Actually the garden was beautiful and I hung around after my tour in the hope of getting that all important shot of a butterfly pollinating an orchid – no such luck !! There was however a great moment of meeting Lorita. She´s a wild green parrot but comes to the garden every morning as she knows they will feed her. She has even learnt her name and screams it out and then cackles with laughter, this then makes you laugh and it was highly entertaining for a while. One very happy wild bird !! Next on my list was the Serpentarium where they house both the local harmless and venomous snakes. I tried to tell the difference with the head shape but it was really hard, I´m really not going to know the difference if I come across one face to face so think I´ll treat them all as venomous just in case.
After a relaxing afternoon there for me was one thing left to do the guided night walk. I haven´t done one since Borneo and when the guide asked me what my expectations were I said I had come to see Tarantulas as I heard most people had seem them on this trip, and I knew any photo I got would scare the hell out of my Dad when I got home. We started off while it was still light but we had all armed ourselves with torches. First port of call was to walk through a banana plantation, we then rounded a bend and walked up some steps then bingo….our guide stopped at a ground level hole in a tree. He shone his torch inside and said orange legged tarantula, it was a female who was guarding her nest. Apparently they don´t kill the male if they realise he wants to mate with her, and she´s also very opportunist if prey walks by. He got a small stick to create some vibrations which would make her venture further out of the nest. She was huge and actually quite beautiful. She didn´t come out too far so we still had to crane our necks to see her properly. Well, at least for me it meant that my expectations of the tour had been met immediately. Darkness fell pretty quickly after that. It was incredibly difficult to spot anything but we were all shining our torches up high in the trees in the hope that we may find a pair of eyes shining out in the dark. All we really found were fire flies, various May beetles and moths. There was a teeny weeny frog and then I screamed as I realised the buzzing sound was a huge beetle flying at me. Thankfully that only happened one more time and I´m pleased to say I handled my next buzzing in a far more dignified manner. After the forrest we made our way over some fields but didn´t really see anything. One of the girls moaned that the tour was boring but she really was a pain anyway and then we were back at the minibus. I have to say I quite enjoyed it, I love the sound of the forest at night well that is of course as long as I´m with a guide to save me and I don´t have to camp there !!
Arriving back at the hostel I found that Helen was waiting for me with Magnus and a new guy who’d moved into our dorm called Jacob. Steve then turned up with John and we all went to Maravilla for dinner. After dinner I said goodbye to Steve and then headed to the only happening (if you can call it that) place in town called Bar Amigos. They had the audacity to charge an entrance fee even though it was a Monday night. At least the beers were cheap !! On entering, it looked like we’d walked in to a bar where time had stood still. In fact it reminded me of an old style social club we used to have in the UK (probably still do !!). Boney M was playing on the sound system and there was a disco ball hanging down from the ceiling. There was a motorbike on stage and the DJ was advertising himself as “Music for the new millenium” !! Maybe he didn’t realise we’re in 2008 already. I only had one beer as I had to get up at 3.30am for my bus and I really couldn’t take the excitement. I got back to the hostel and the Canadian couple had decided to share the bunk bed above Helen (that was a result as they could have chosen the one above me). The night before I had told her a collapsing bunk bed story from a dorm in Borneo, no wonder she was looking at me worriedly.
My alarm went off at 3.30am, I moved everything outside and packed up and walked to the bus station. The bus arrived at 4.15am and I boarded. It was due to arrive at the highway at 6am and my next bus was due to pick me up at 6.40am, plenty of time !! Ten minutes in to the journey there seemed to be a problem. The driver got out to have a look along with another passenger. They only took 10 minutes and then we were on our way again. The highway turned out to be a 2 lane road and we’d arrived at 6.30am, have I been had ? I grabbed a coffee, drunk it quickly and went to the bus stop. A woman then informed me that my bus had arrived early at 6.20am, waited 5 minutes and then left. She checked with a taxi driver who said the next bus was due at 9am but I should call the office in order to get it to stop and pick me up. I wasn’t unduly worried as it was still really early so I went back to the cafe and bought a phone card. I thought my Spanish was getting better but I couldn’t understand the woman who spoke at me at 500 miles an hour in an automated message in order to get the card activated. A taxi driver then left me borrow his mobile to call the office in Monteverde but it was still too early and noone answered. As I was talking to him another TransNica bus sped past, so much for the next one being at 9am !! I am now cursing Costa Rica and just want to leave, I probably looked a sad lone and tired figure as I sat on my backpack at the side of the road. I decided to either catch the next TransNica or a bus to the border, whatever turned up first, after all if there´s one thing I do have it´s time. 15 minutes later, the taxi driver who’d let me borrow his phone came back and screeched to a halt beside me. All I heard was “Sally, Sally, I´ve stopped the bus, quick jump in my taxi !!”. My paranoia was telling me this could be a con but the chance of a bus going smoothly through the border was too good to lose. I got in the taxi and he told me that the bus was waiting for me at a restaurant up the road. As we approached there was no bus, damn it´s a con. He sped up, tried to overtake anything in sight and then 500 metres up the road there indeed was the bus waiting for me at a petrol station. I thanked the taxi driver profusely and gave him some money. Then I was safely on the bus and on my way to Nicaragua. I´ve often felt that someone has been watching over me on this trip and keeping me safe. Whoever you are, thank you. It´s amazing how your emotions can change in the space of a couple of minutes, as for me I´m elated, my language is no longer blue and I’m now on my way to Nicaragua.
As for Costa Rica, I’ve enjoyed it and met some great people. A lot of the trips seem to be very tour driven. They certainly have got to grips with the tourist market. I would come back but I think it’s a place better suited to a holiday budget rather than a travellers one. However, I’d love to go to Corcovado National Park one day. The only sad but unexpected thing is more tourists more petty crime……………..
Plane = 24, Bus = 114, Train = 2, Boat =20, Sunglasses = 9, Mosquito Repellant = 10, Books Read = 29 1/2, Bags lost and then recovered = 2.
Take care all