Saturday, July 23, 2016

CR: Monteverde & Arenal

While we were sad to move on from Punta Islita, we were fortunate because the honeymooners accompanied us to our first venture away from the resort: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.  The party continues!

That first evening, we went on a night hike at the Curi-Cancha Reserve with our guide, Adrian.  That's right, at night.


Half of us could barely contain our excitement at what wildlife we would discover, while the other half was quite terrified considering the possibilities.  The slightest murmur from the dark bushes would create quite the commotion among us, with people fleeing the affected area with high knees and frenetic flashlights. 

Still, some discoveries were gorgeous and colorful and benign, like hummingbirds and fireflies, frogs and butterflies.

But the other, more ambitious discoveries were indeed frightening, yet relatively amiable (considering we all got out alive).  Keep in mind that what follows were all in their natural habitat, but our guide knew where they hide, so we were prepared for and never surprised by their appearance.  We saw a pit viper snake (Adrian: "It's safe, he's just hunting"), a scorpion under infrared light (he glowed!), and a female orange-kneed tarantula that Adrian coaxed out of hiding.  It was sick (both meanings apply).

One of the highlights of the night was the lightning storm we witnessed from the clearing near the forest.  Adrian said that in the several years he's been doing these tours, he'd never seen anything like it.  We were perched up on a hill, with a spectacularly open view of the sky, watching purple sparks crack through the atmosphere and illuminate everything below.

Those couple of nights, we stayed at an Airbnb that had a great view out over the forest and all the way to the water on a clear day.  It also had amazing personal hammocks that we took full advantage of.

That next morning, Amanda and Andrew continued on with their honeymoon (I suppose those traditionally are done in twos), and we mourned their departure over the most delicious breakfast of all time the trip, at Cafe Orchid Coffee Shop.

That day we headed to the Selvatura Adventure Park, where we walked over hanging bridges through the cloud forest, where we unfortunately experienced no clouds. 

I got made fun of for this by locals, but I really think my favorite Costa Rican "animal" would have to be the leaf-cutter ant.  They work so hard chiseling out pieces of leaf that are twice or three times their size and carrying them back to their hills in a perfectly coordinated army line (check out their handy work below).  Discovering a constant stream of them was intoxicating to the eye; I can't tell you how many times we stopped just to observe ants.  That's the kind of place Costa Rica is, though-you really can't help but stop to smell the roses.

Next up, Brittany and I went ziplining.  At Selvatura, there are 15 cables totaling over two miles-the longest tour in Cosa Rica!  Towards the end, Brittany did the tarzan swing, and for the last cable, I did the "superman", soaring over the forest on my stomach for an entire kilometer.  It was a spectacular view and an exhilarating feeling-the closest I will ever come to flying!

The view from our airbnb that night:

The next morning we visited the Monteverde Reserve for a guided tour.  Our guide, Sergio, was extremely easy on the eyes, but we still managed to absorb the knowledge he was putting down.  It is incredible how knowledgeable these guides are, especially considering the instinct and intuition needed to be a truly good one.

This is an orchid!

The whole morning turned into a quest for the resplendent quetzal, one of the most magnificent birds that exists.  We greatly enjoyed the hike but were disappointed as we neared the park entrance but still hadn't spotted one.  Just as our spirits were sinking, you could sense a buzz in the air, and Sergio started sprinting toward it, with us in hot pursuit.  Another guide had spotted a quetzel, and Sergio was able to point our telescope right at him. Check him out!

Kristen was moderately excited

Resplendent is indeed the perfect word-his tail continues far outside the frame of my photo, as you can see in the guidebook below, to the left.  We also learned that the Guatemalan currency trades in quezals!

That afternoon, we departed for Arenal, taking a taxi-boat-taxi option.  This means that one taxi van picked us up in Monteverde and brought us to the lake, where we transferred to a small boat to cross it, before finally getting into another taxi van that took us to our hotel.  Transportation in this country is not easy!  It took a few hours all in all, but the boat ride was awesome-we didn't see another boat out on the water for the whole 30-40 minute ride, and the land surrounding the lake was barely developed.  It was incredibly calming.

Our van driver on the arenal side, Isaac, was incredible talkative, albeit in Spanish.  I had been warming up my Spanish skills and was enjoying my half-Spanish, half-Italian conversations with the various people we encountered.  The farther we got from resort life, the more we needed Spanish!  Isaac offered that he would be happy to answer any questions we might have about the local area.  I turned to my three compadres and passed along his offer, excited to attempt actual translating.  Daniel piped up, asking not-so-simply if the city is supported by hydroelectric energy from the volcano.  Having hoped for questions about local restaurants, etc., I just looked at him wide-eyed and we all busted up laughing.  Nonetheless, I translated the best I could, and surprisingly Isaac piped immediately, affirming that they have so much hydroelectric energy, that the company responsible, I.C.E., often exports much of it.

We stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which was situated halfway up the volcano.  It felt like a grown-up summer camp, and the volcano was basically at the foot of our beds!  I would highly recommend this spot.   The volcano was a fickle friend, often hiding behind the clouds, but it made it that much more exciting when it would reappear.

From the hotel's deck

Our "backyard"

Not long after our arrival, we grabbed drinks at happy hour and walked them over the hanging bridge to the jacuzzi, where we met an incredible older couple named Ethel and Merle, who enchanted us with tales of their travels and courtship.


Since our hotel is situated a ways from the main town of La Fortuna, we grouped both our Arenal activities into one outing.  First, we hiked down to the La Fortuna Waterfall.  Somehow, this was my first time ever swimming in a waterfall, something I had always wanted to do!  The current created by the waterfall was powerful, but there was a lifeguard on duty and it was shallow enough that we could stand. 

We had a really fun video shoot while we were there, which I could never quite get right.

Next, we jumped in a cab and headed to Eco Termales La Fortuna, a thermal hot springs resort even more beautiful than I could've imagined.  Surrounded by trees, there were several large square pools, each one progressively a few degrees cooler than the last, finally ending in a cold plunge so you can regain your wits after the heat.  We were there from 5-9pm, so we got to see it from daylight to dusk to dark.  We felt like such lushes.  It was the ultimate vacation spot, perfect for our last evening altogether! 

The next morning we went on a short group hike provided by the hotel.  It was a great last jaunt into the forest, but showed us how fortunate we were to have had as many private and small-group tours as we did throughout our trip!

Then we broke off, Kristen and Daniel headed to San Jose and Brittany and I headed back to Liberia to sleep close to our respective airports for early flights the next day.  Brittany and I stayed at Hotel Javy, the glowing reviews for which may have been slightly exaggerated.  Still, it worked just fine for one night, especially since we spent most of our time in town, drinking beer, eating at the lovely oasis Cafe Liberia, and stumbling into a high school's talent show.

Costa Rica was such an exotic trip for us.  I had so many new experiences: living among tropical bugs and animals, zip lining, and swimming in waterfalls.  We got to celebrate Amanda and Andrew's spectacular wedding and learned what it means to live the pura vida.  In fact, the day after Brittany and I got back to San Francisco, we were walking down our street and stopped for awhile to look at a butterfly, something we wouldn't normally have taken the time to do.  I hope we can cling to more such moments, reveling in the beauty and stillness around us!

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