Thursday, February 16, 2017

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Getting to Monteverde was half the fun as we started with an hour boat ride on the Arenal Lagoon giving us some final views of the volcano. We arrived at the take-out point where we were met by a slew of boys vying for the opportunity to carry our bags up the short hill to our vans. Not ready with cash, I had to purchase a couple of drinks in the bar to be able to offer the boys a tip for their hard work. The ride to the Monteverde Lodge included the requisite stop at a restaurant/souvenir shop for lunch.
Baggage Handlers
Monteverde is home to one of Costa Rica’s cloud forests. These forests are at an elevation where most of their moisture comes from the clouds that regularly form just above the trees. They are great places for birds and other wildlife because the moisture promotes the growth of the forest providing plenty of food and hiding places. Unfortunately, the future of these forests is uncertain because with global warming, the clouds are not as regular or as prolonged as they have been in the past. Each of our guides commented on the changing climate and the effects they are already seeing. 

Purple-throated Mountain-Gem

While right outside of Santa Elena town, the Lodge is still rural and has its own trail system along with a great glassed-in butterfly garden that can be available as a dinner venue if you reserve early enough. Before dinner we arranged several tours. I walked into town while Linda relaxed and organized our clothes and bathroom stuff for the next few days. Santa Elena is a small town of about three blocks square with several restaurants, including one in a tree. Several hotels and hostels along with souvenir shops and guide offices dot each of the streets. The area is large enough to support two supermarkets, a bank, and several small places to see the local wildlife include a butterfly garden, a serpentarium, an orchid garden, and a frog pond. 

Our first tour was to the Santa Elena Reserve Sky Trek. While this includes some hanging bridges, we rode an aerial tram to the top of the forest here for some great views of the surrounding area and close-up views of the trees at that height. We also watch those zip lining down the mountain. After several minutes at the top we began our walk down to the base over several hanging bridges. After we arrived back at the base, I took a short trail and was rewarded with some great views of a beautiful hummingbird. We enjoyed the aerial tram ride and the time at the top even though it was cold and windy at that elevation. 
Each tree supports is own ecosystem in the sky

That evening after dinner, I went on a night walk through the forest. We saw some sleeping birds along with insects and a couple of snakes. One of the snakes was resting alongside the path, but the other was coiled in a branch right above the trail. This poisonous guy was in a perfect spot for me to have walked right into him perhaps leading to something bad for me. Fortunately I was not leading this walk so the small guide saw the snake before I made him angry. 

Snake on the ground where he belongs

Snake in the tree, waiting for me
The next day we rose early to ride about five kilometers to the Monteverde Reserve where we met out guide for the day. Samuel began by sharing his history. As a high school graduate, he knew he wanted to guide, but had no money so he began by working as a laborer at the Reserve. Eventually through classes and study and his work he was able to get a job as a guide. At the same time he realized that the preservation of the wilderness always relies on the next generation, so he began working with the schools to get the students out into the forests and learn about their ecological heritage. He started with the one school and today the program involves more than two dozen schools and hundreds of children. 

Resplendent Quetzel
Hummingbird Hangout
Emerald Toucanet
This turned out to be one of our best walks as we saw some great birds and enjoyed learning about the cloud forest ecology. We finished this tour with a few minutes at the hummingbird feeders before our ride took us back to the Lodge. 

Purple-Throated Mountain-Gem
On our spare time, we wandered the grounds of the lodge taking advantage of the several benches and resting areas where we could listen to the running water while watching the birds and monkeys flit through the trees. The monkeys also entertained us at breakfast. Of special interest was the butterfly garden. These are always fun to spend time watching the butterflies in all their colorful geometric patterns.

Chocolate in the making
On our last day at Monteverde we visited a chocolate/sugar/coffee plantation for a tour. Our guide was a high school senior who seemed much older. She was so at ease with our group, telling jokes and playing with us as she explained the entire process of creating the coffee most of us can’t get along without. Her goal is to be a full time guide. This work is an internship leading to that career. We told her there was no doubt she would be an excellent guide who earned lots of tips. Along the way we picked some berries. She divided us into two teams: one for the men and one for the women. After explaining how to pick the ripe berries and only the ripe berries she turned us loose for about five minutes to see who could do the best job. She was not surprised that the women had more berries and fewer unripe ones. We also got to guide some sugar cane through the press, so it was a fun hands-on tour. We finished up with some samples of their coffee along with some chocolate before we met the owner and boarded the wagon for the short ride back to the entrance and the souvenir shop. 
Our Guide
Picking Coffee
Linda having a try
Chocolate samples
Posing with the 80-year-old owner
Our ride back to the entrance
After our return to the lodge we wandered into town to check out the souvenir shops and have dinner before leaving the next day for Manuel Antonio National Park down on the coast.
This seems so simple and logical

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