The Cloud Forests of Monteverde and Santa Elena

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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Trip End Jun 21, 2005


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Flag of Costa Rica  ,
Monday, November 1, 2004

He Said:
Highlights:
1. The Original Canopy Tour
2. The whole Santa Elena/Monteverde experience
3. Mariposa Butterfly Farm
4. The amazing choice of food and accommodations
5. The Cloud Forest
6. Time standing still for us
7. The Roads

Lowlights:
1. Accidentally deleting all my pics from the Cloud Forest and the butterfly farm
2. The Roads
3. Getting a speeding ticket, which local Costa Ricans thought was pretty funny
4. The Construction going on at Arco Iris
5. Having a ping pong ball sized rock blast into the cab of our 4x4 from a vehicle that was passing us. I had to duck and ricocheted off the back passenger side window and hit Kayla in the head. (Freaky)

Well here I sit in the Tabacon Resort at the base of the Arenal Volcano, interesting place to have a resort to say the least. Monteverde is behind us but I want to make sure I capture the trip to Monteverde and Santa Elena while it is still fresh.
After Manuel Antonio we rented a 4x4 for the trip to Monteverde. We had initially planned on going by bus but the staff recommendation was to rent a 4x4 as we'd enjoy the trip a lot more. Boy, were they ever right! As it was it took us 5 hours give or take to make the journey from Manuel Antonio to Santa Elena. The last 35 K or so took us 2 to 2.5 hours over what can be barely called a road. The 4x4 was not required due to mud which is what I expected, but rather to navigate the holes, washouts, washboards and more holes. It was crazy.
You really begin to wonder just what is lying ahead for you in Santa Elena and Monteverde on the Cerro Plano. Oh yeah you go from Sea Level to about 4700+ feet as well so the whole trip is pretty much up hill and as you get higher up, where you to go off the road it would be straight down as well and probably at a much greater speed than you attained on the way up.
The road in no way prepares you for what awaits you at the end for what awaits you at the end is a community of 3400 people that is bustling with this Frontier type energy where Quads and Dirt Bikes are the preferred mode of travel, even over 4x4's although there are certainly plenty of those. The main street of Santa Elena is 2 blocks of cobblestone at the end of those relentless bumps. Along it is a Super Mercato, a few restaurants, a coffee shop, the bus stop and the bank. After that you are back on those roads. Whether it be up to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve or the other way to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (they are two sides of the same cloud forest). We stayed at the Arco Iris (Rainbow) Ecolodge which is half a block off of Main Street Santa Elena. It was a great little spot with amazing grounds, quaint little cabins, we were in the family unit with two bedrooms and a very friendly owner and staff. I must confess this is about as Rustic as I'd like to get, the rooms were very clean, the sheets etc. fresh and the grounds meticulously manicured and the rate reasonable, $80 US a night.
The real surprise was in driving around and exploring the area as the road from Santa Elena to Monteverde was full of hotels, inns, pensions with an equally amazing variety of places to eat. We focused in on Morpho's right in Santa Elena across from the Super Mercato, Sophie's on a side street/road on the way to Monteverde, Stella's Bakery (Lunch and Breakfast and a great breakfast they serve and Johnny's Pizza. Along with places to stay and eat there are a wide variety of things to do. We settled on the following activities:
1. The Original Canopy Tour (located at the Cloud Forest Lodge)
2. A Guided Hike in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
3. The Serpentarium
4. The Butterfly Farm
5. The Frog Pond

We selected the activities by allowing each of us to choose one activity to do. Tyler amazingly enough chose the Original Canopy Tour which consisted of a hike, climbing up to platforms in the canopy of the Cloud Forest and riding zip lines between the platforms then even repelling down from the trees on a couple of occasions. It also included a climb up through the hollow trunk of a Strangler Fig. This was the highlight of Monteverde for me and I think everyone else, we had a total blast and the kids were amazing. Kayla rode all the lines but one alone and Tyler got to ride with a guide but on a couple of the lines he got to zip 75 ft above the ground all by himself. The smile on his face on every line said it all, he loved it and so did the rest of us.
The other cool thing about the canopy tour was who else was with us, we had a couple of older ladies, sisters one from Laramie, Wyoming the other from New Hampshire. The older one was 67 years old, she was older than my mom, with bad knees and there she was climbing ladders, and riding the zip lines with us. They were amazing and inspiring, they were young at heart and embracing life. It was awesome to see.
Rounding out our great experience were the excellent guides who were well trained and great with the kids and the older ladies. We also learned that perhaps some of the other companies running canopy tours in the area did not necessarily take safety as seriously as they perhaps should.
Kayla chose the Serpentarium where we got to see a wide variety of Vipers that are indigenous to Costa Rica along with some non-poisonous snakes including the Boas which inhabit Costa Rica. They also had the coolest frogs I've ever seen, the dart frogs one black and almost a fluorescent green and the other bright red were tiny but poisonous, their bright colors a signal to predators to stay away. The other frog, whose name escapes me, had these huge red eyes and was larger. All in all it was very interesting.
The guided hike was also very interesting and a guide a must as without him we'd have not seen much and what we did see we would not have understood the significance of it. The Cloud Forest in Santa Elena gets 12 meters of rain a year and has almost 100% humidity, the other fact is that about 80% of the Reserve is not old growth forest, it is forest that had been rehabilitated over the past 27 years. It had been slashed and burned for farming and ranching. And while it is a mecca of flora and fauna many of the plants that existed in the old growth forest no longer exist they are lost forever. That said much of the forest is returning to the way it was but you can very clearly seen the difference when you are walking in the old growth vs. the new growth.
We also talked to the guide about life in Costa Rica and life, at least for him and Costa Ricans like him is pretty good. Work seems to fit into life here rather than life into work as is so often the case in North America. He has a good quality of life, makes a decent amount of Money and the cost of living is cheap. Income tax is 13%, phone and power maybe $20 month, he drives a motorcycle to and from work, so fuel costs are low, owns his own home, nothing like we might have in NA but then he does not need it. So, much of life can be lived in the open air, without the need for enclosed, heated spaces. Makes you wonder. That said I truly love our home and where we live but it makes you realize you could certainly get by with a lot less and still have as good or maybe even a better quality of life.
The Butterfly Farm for me was something I was not looking forward to and as it turned out it was probably my second favorite activity in Monteverde. We went to Mariposa, located on a side road off the side road that Sophie's is on. What a treat, the people there are passionate about butterflies and the lady we had guide us was informative, interesting and fun. We learned not just about butterflies but Tarantulas, Beetles, Roaches, Preying Mantis and a few other members of the insect family that are indigenous to Costa Rica. It was so very interesting and great bit of education for the kids, particularly Kayla as Creepy Crawlies were part of science this year. The whole butterfly thing was the best and seeing the different types of caterpillars and the chrysalis's that are part of the butterfly's cycle of life was truly amazing. I was personally blown away and I know the kids were totally enthralled as was Shannon.
I can't comment on the Frog Pond as I skipped that.
Overall the Monteverde/Santa Elena experience was a blast. You could feel the energy in the air as everybody was frantically getting ready for high season which hits around the middle of November. It was a cool time to be here and I think in a few years it will have lost it's frontier like feel. They expect the number of annual visitors to triple over the next 3 years or so. That means it will go from 250,000 visitors a year to over 800,000 visitors a year. I'm not sure that will be a good thing for the environment or the people but if you were looking to invest, now would be the time. I hope they can balance keeping the environment safe, keeping the area's energy positive and the people happy and pleasant. My gut says probably not, so I'm glad we came when we did. Paradise lost in the making... only time will tell.

She Said: Pura Vida!! From Cloud Forests to Active Volcanoes
Monteverde:
I can't even begin to describe this adventure....we thought we had hit a pinnacle in Manuel Antonio only to experience a completely different world only a few hours away. After many STRONG recommendations by locals, we decided to rent a 4X4 to journey to Monteverde, Costa Rica's Cloud Forest. An adventure is such an understatement for what awaited us. I will let Mark describe the road conditions, as men seem more in tune with appropriate adjectives for four-wheel ventures on virtually no roads at all! Suffice to say, as I looked at the lack of people and rudimentary nature of the few 'farms' we saw on the way, I thought we were completely taking ourselves out of civilization! Imagine my surprise to all of a sudden arrive at this bustling 'Banff-like' community albeit much more of a frontier, indigenous feel to it.

We had a magical time exploring this incredible area, so completely different that Manuel Antonio. The cloud forest was so mystical with the amazing mist permeating thru the dense foliage - it had a magical Lord of the Rings feel to it to me. There was a buzz in the air as people prepare for the 'busy season' starting in Nov. A flurry of construction, painting and general repair is everywhere, everyone trying to complete the work before the influx of visitors arrive - this is no small task as Costa Rican's are not noted for their speedy work ethic ("Manana" - tomorrow).

We ramped up the educational component of our trip with visits to the Serpentarium (Snake Zoo), Frog Pond and Butterfly Farm. We knew they would be great for the children, but were pleasantly surprised about how interesting they all were, as guides took us thru each one explaining interesting facts and antic dotes throughout the tours. The Butterfly Farm was particularly a highlight. I have always loved the metamorphosis of these lovely creatures, but as she explained the process from caterpillar to chrysalis to beautiful butterfly I couldn't help but see the metaphor for my own life. Not to be too philosophical, but I truly do feel that the majority of my life has been in the caterpillar phase, just meandering along striving for societal norms of success, accumulation and selfish interests. Only in the past few years, did I allow myself to enter the chrysalis phase - the dark, introspective (and often painful & lonely) time to really understand myself and get in tune with more intrinsic, deeper relationship with myself and my God. I feel myself emerging as the butterfly, more beautiful from the inside and focused on things that matter - deeper relationships, emotional health, spiritual connectedness. Though this trip is an integral part of my growth journey, I'm not sure I would have been prepared for it without the chrysalis work. I do feel so incredibly blessed to be able to truly take in the wonders of this world, to live in the Now, without being distracted by things that don't matter.
Highlights:
1. Flying thru the top of the cloud forest across ziplines - even better watching Ty & Kayla do it fearlessly. At times you're >75 feet up... going fast!!
2. The atmosphere in Monteverde - now this is Pura Vida! (Life is good!)

Accomodation:
Monteverde: Arco Iris Ecolodge - beautiful grounds, quaint cabins, friendly owners & staff, reasonable prices. Could have used a little upgrading tho' major construction was underway

Restaurant review:
Monteverde:
ˇ Stella's Bakery - great bakery, good lunch & dinner options
ˇ Morpho's - good food, neat atmosphere, played jazz one nite which was a nice change
ˇ Sophies - upscale Neveau Latin cuisine - beautiful décor, great service & great food
ˇ Johnny's Pizza - great pizza & pasta (in Central America, come on) fun atmosphere

Kid's Said:
Highlights:
Tyler & Kayla -
a. The Canopy Tour at Monteverde
b. The Frog Pond
c. The butterfly farm
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