Monteverde and the adjoining town of Santa Elena are, surprisingly, well-paved. This may come as a surprise to those who trudged up the bone-rattling gravel road to get here. Despite the lack of easy access, it’s quite popular with tourists, 200000 of whom make it here each year according to the guidebook. As a consequence, quite a few locals speak excellent English. The climate is also very pleasant compared to the lowlands.
The jewel of Monteverde is the Cloud Forest Reserve. It is the best known tropical cloud forest in the world. So we made it our first destination. I had been here in 2009, when a torrential downpour cut our hike short. This time we wanted to see more. The trail wound around what seemed like a tropical Garden of Eden. The canopy was so thick that sunlight didn’t make it through. We saw a group of hikers clustered around a big tree. All of a sudden, a leg appeared through a slit in the tree trunk and tried to wiggle out of it. Someone was inside the tree! It was explained that this was no ordinary tree but one that had taken root in the forest canopy and grown downward on top of another tree, using it for support while it grew to the ground. The victim tree eventually died and rotted away, leaving a holllow trunk.
As we walked by a glade, we saw a flash of turquoise feathers trailing two long tails. Kate got very excited and mentioned something about “kettle”. We kept our eyes and ears wide open at that point. Soon after that we spotted the mysterious bird, likely a companion of the one we had seen earlier. This one was a less flamboyant female sans the twin tails, but still hauntingly beautiful, almost mythical.
We heard thunder for the entire 4 hours we were in the cloud forest, but nothing came out of it. On the way back we heard rustling sounds in the tree top! I spotted a white-faced monkey staring right at us. Unfortunately he was extremely agile and bugged out before we could get another good look.
On a whim we stopped by the Hummingbird Gallery right outside the entrance to the reserve. Several dozen feeders hung from the branches, surrounded by a multitude of buzzing, darting hummingbirds. This must be what it feels like to hit the jackpot. Unfortunately, again it was quite cloudy and dark. Without a faster lens I wasn’t able to get great shots of these beautiful birds. Hopefully we could go back, pretty please?
We parked the car “downtown” and walked a block to Morpho’s Cafe, which was recommended by the guidebook. It was hard to miss thanks to the gigantic statue of a blue morpho butterfly outside the entrance.
Next stop was the ranarium. Our guide, Walter, was clearly passionate about amphibians. He spoke great English and even knew some German and Dutch. I’m not really into toads and frogs, but it was fascinating to learn from someone who knew so much about them. Walter, we learned, tried to build immunity to the poison of the poison-dart frogs by purposely injecting himself with small doses of the same stuff. “We crazy biologist guys”, he said. Not surprisingly, he hung out with another guy who tried to do the same thing with snake poison. The red frog with blue legs we had seen in Arenal turned out to be a so-called “blue-jean frog”. Its poison causes paralysis, but is not usually lethal to humans. The last frog was the green tree frog, which is also the national symbol of Costa Rica. It wears 6 bright colors.
Our fellow tourists at the ranarium were a Belgian/Dutch couple from Stokkem, Belgium named Peter and Cindy (hi guys!) We started talking and comparing notes. Turned out they had been touring much of the country, zipping back and forth from coast to coast. We met up over dinner later at a seafood restaurant. Peter was quite a jokester. They had some interesting stories to tell, ranging from being guided by a brilliant Canadian biologist named Ross Ballard who was particularly susceptible to tropical insects to attending an illicit “ping pong” show in Bangkok. From them we learned about the live tarantulas at the butterfly garden. If we hadn’t planned on going there before, we were sold at that point.