Breakfast included blackberry and papaya juice. I love this place! We bid farewell to our avian and reptilian friends. There was some commotion on the other side of the dining hall. Our waiter, like other Ticos always eager to point out cool things to us gringos, motioned us to come over. There was a caiman sunning himself just on the other side of the river. He also gave thumbs up to Monteverde’s ranarium and butterfly garden; even though he had never been to Monteverde, he learned about them from the hotel’s tour leader. Later on we would concur.
Next stop was going to be either the spectacular Catarata Rio Fortuna, or a wildlife refuge. I’ve already seen the former and the phrase “wildlife refuge” was like trigger words for Kate, so the decision was easy. Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge is in Los Chiles, roughly 70km straight up Highway 35. The road was very good, courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineer who built them in the 1980s to support the Nicaragua Contra War. The road ran through endless plantation lands, mostly pineapple but also some other crops we couldn’t identify.
Los Chiles is almost right up against the Nicaragua border. We followed vague signs to end up at the “harbor”, which was really just a small dock. While there were lots of colorful river boats being moored, this must not have been peak season because we were the only tourists around, gringo or non-gringo. A Tico who must have been some sort of coordinator moseyed over. He didn’t speak any English so more broken Spanish ensued. We inquired about the “barco” and he wanted $80 total for a 3-hour boat tour. “Mas barato?” “No…” “Sesenta?” “(Thinking) Ok, setenta” “Sesenta cinquo?” “Bueno”. We were told to pay about $4 for some sort of municipal fee to another guy who sat a small desk by the bathroom. He also said, “I watch your car”. Good to hear!
Our guy got on the mobile and told us to wait for “el capitán” who were to arrive in 10 minutes. Not long after a boy who looked no older than 14 pulled up on his mountain bike. They had an exchange and the kid went down to a boat tied up at the dock. We looked at each other. The captain! We paid the guide about 33000 colones, using an exchange rate that was a little high but which made it easier to pay in cash.
Our kid captain was particularly adept at locating things we wouldn’t have noticed. He would slow the boat down and pull up to some bush, motioning and speaking in staccato Spanish. Luckily we didn’t have to resort to the phrasebook, but only looked at what he was pointing. This river is known to be teeming with wildlife and we were not disappointed. Soon we spotted anhingas, also known as snakebirds for their long, snake-like necks, prehistoric-looking kingfishers, some sort of ibis, green geckos, herons and caimans! Dark shapes with dangling arms high among the branches turned out to be howler monkeys taking a nap. We even saw some humans, swimming in caiman-infested water. Yikes. Gradually we also got better. Kate spotted a caiman lying among some logs which the captain completely failed to notice. We cut the trip short after 2 hours because there was still a long trip ahead, but we saw plenty. Unfortunately, we didn’t try the chilies in Los Chiles.
Driving back the way we came, we decided to grab a late lunch in La Fortuna. Bypassing the fancy restaurants with English names, we went to a soda at the edge of town. It was pricier than the other soda we went to, but the food was excellent. We each had 2 glasses of fresh mango juice. I couldn’t get enough of this stuff.
The sun was going down around 5pm, and the specter of driving to Monteverde on rugged terrain loomed large. The drive along the Lake Arenal at sunset was beautiful, but we got to Tilaran as fast as as we could on paved road. Rather than reaching Highway 1, we decided to cut across to Monteverde. On my last trip, the worst road I drove on was that to Rincón de la Vieja National Park. This road was just as bumpy and the darkness made it worse. It was also so steep in some places that we had to downshift to first gear. A couple of times the road looked like it was washed out, with water rushing down a big jagged hole in the middle. My mind went through visions of the car plunging over a steep, pitch-black cliff. Still, the little Suzuki that could managed to pull through. We made it to Monteverde with all the pieces in tact, albeit with a numb lower body.
Everything in this resort was huge. The ceiling on the ground floor must be 30 feet high. We had dinner in a cavernous restaurant and wondered whether the Coopers made it over the mountains.