Since we’ve already talked about the night watching the leatherback and the volcanic eruptions, let’s take you on a journey through the cloud forest…
For years we’ve been planning a trip to Costa Rica (in fact, we would have gone in 2007 had we not been invited to service yet) so when we got the invitation to Belize, we decided we’d get to Costa Rica for the 2008 holidays and we’d do all the things we’d previously planned. One of those was a trip to the cloud forest in the Monteverde reserve. We stayed in the neighboring village of Santa Elena, arriving on Christmas Day after a scenic drive from Playa Tamarindo. The roads were quiet and we were able to stop at every spot along the way to try to capture some of the beauty of the mountain landscape. It was one of our favorite Christmases. So, upon arriving in Santa Elena, we passed our hostel a couple times and finally saw the sign on the nondescript building, only to be welcomed to one of the best places we stayed on the entire trip – Sleepers Sleep Cheaper Hostel.
The rain began to fall the night before and was strong through the night – with forceful winds that blew cold air through the windows. We awoke early wondering if the canopy tour would still go in such strong weather, and wondering if we should hook ourselves up to a cable and fly above the valleys in said elements. After a hearty breakfast with Ronny’s family and the other guests, we put on as much clothing as was reasonable to stay dry and warm and boarded the van to Extremo Canopy Tours. There were too many options for the zip lines, but we selected Extremo because it has some of the longest and highest lines and because it goes out over the valleys rather than just in the cloud forest. This way you see much more than just trees (we’d already done the zip line here in Belize among the trees and after a while, it’s just the same on a different line).
A video of Anthony's Tarzan swing through the...err...jungle/rainforest
This was one of the longer lines that we traveled. Watch closely as Ginnie disappears into the mist.
After the zip line, our day of adventure was only 1/3 complete. We next headed out to Selvatura in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve to walk the hanging bridges among the treetops of the cloud forest. We definitely wanted to walk through the cloud forest and thought this was the best of it all - to walk along the floor and the bridges among the trees. The rains were not too bad, although at Extremo they had their moments, and when we arrived back to town the sun was out and the winds were not as strong. Well, as soon as we got up into the higher elevation to reach the cloud forest, we were back in the rains – I mean, it is a rain forest, but still. It was far rainier for this portion of the day, but we had fun as we looked at all the trees, foliage and the mountains surrounding us.
Ahhhh!!! Come down from there before you hurt yourself. Ginnie wondered how I would have explained an injury from this stunt to Peace Corps.
The tour concluded with a tasting of several of the factory’s cheeses, including Monterico, which is only made there and is so delicious. It’s a soft cheese similar to a Monterey jack. We liked all the cheeses, except for the coffee bark smoked provolone – yikes. Neither of us likes smoked foods as it is, and we both don’t like coffee, so the combination was horrible. That was the last one offered, too, but it was right before their homemade milk sweet, also known as dulce de leche. It’s a really creamy and incredibly soft caramel sweet. We were then asked to finish off the remaining cheese (otherwise it would be thrown away and no one wants to waste good cheese!) so we had more of the Monterico and some of the others.
Our guide had a bit of trouble with that provolone, but eventually all the cheese was gone from the platter. The actual end to the tour was to return to the sales center to look in the viewing area where you can see into the factory from the ground floor (we’d looked in from above on the tour) and then we stayed to try the homemade ice cream. It was a healthy lunch of cheese and ice cream…what more could one ask for? Ginnie saw orange pineapple ice cream on the menu (well, technically naranja con pina) and was reminded of one of her favorites from Crescent Ridge Dairy back in Massachusetts. She got a cup of that and it was glorious! Fresh, homemade ice cream rarely disappoints. Despite the cool mountain air, the ice cream was a very welcome treat. Afterwards, we returned to the road for an afternoon of driving back through the lush landscape and eventually onto Volcan Arenal and the town of La Fortuna. We stopped several times for photos and to enjoy the views of the volcano across the lake (Lago de Arenal). There are no roads that directly connect the volcano and Monteverde despite the close distance (horseback rides make a day trip between them), but it’s worth the gorgeous drive anyway.
One place we knew we had to visit was La Paz Waterfall Gardens. We’d found out about it while searching online and came upon a PCV website with information on things to see in Costa Rica. This is what we teasingly considered the Disney of Costa Rica. La Paz is a big garden park with several areas to walk through and see the natural wildlife of Costa Rica. The trip ends with a walk to five waterfalls, the last being La Paz, the most photographed falls in Costa Rica. This was one of our final activities and we’d passed up many opportunities to see frogs, birds, and other wildlife since we knew we’d see it all here. We were not disappointed. We picked up our tickets and started on the self-tour. First stop was the aviary where all sorts of native birds fly overhead or right next to your head, as they did with each of us – they definitely shocked us as the toucans and parrots zipped right by our ears! The birds are so colorful and beautiful and vibrant. Fortunately, Ginnie didn’t wear her earrings on our visit since the African Grey Parrot likes to steal them and fly away.
Once we passed through the hummingbird area, we came to the snakes. Neither of us is that into snakes, but for some reason we took a picture of nearly each one there – I think it’s because they went from mildly venomous to instant-death venomous. Maybe the pictures can be a good thing to study so we can know them on sight if we have any more encounters while in Belize.
*We just learned there was a devastating earthquake in Costa Rica on January 8th. We don’t get a lot of international news and since the US news we get didn’t mention it, we just found out. We are hoping our friends at Paraiso Tropical are safe and well, and we hope all the people affected are getting the assistance and support they need to rebuild and move forward.