And now for the final installment of my Costa Rica adventure!
Today was a very long bus ride to Monte Verde, but at least it was enjoyable. For a good portion of the drive we were going up a mountain, and the scenery was beautiful.
There were some parts of the drive where there was nothing but a sheer drop when you looked outside the window. There was no fence or anything blocking the road from the edge of the mountain. One wrong move by the bus driver would have had us plummeting down to our dooms! Very scary, but we had fun.
Monte Verde is a reserve (protected area) that contains the cloud forest which we would be visiting later. The reserve was started by some Quakers from Alabama. It has over 400 species of birds, 100 species of mammals, and 120 species of reptiles and amphibians. This cloud forest will be the wettest site we’ll visit – it rains pretty much every day. Cloud forests are generally 4500-6000 feet up (which is why we were doing the mountain driving), and precipitation is generally above 120-160 inches a year.
When we arrived and checked into our rooms, it seemed like heaven compared to Pale Verde! There were no bugs and we had our own bathroom with actual hot water (I had to take freezing cold showers in Pale Verde and lukewarm ones in La Selva).
After we checked in and had lunch (a pasta buffet that was delicious), a group of us went horseback riding through the cloud forest.
The horseback trip was so enjoyable and beautiful. At one stretch there was an outlook, but all we could see was white because we were in a cloud at the time.
We saw white-faced monkeys who came extremely close, entertaining us by doing their little acrobatics and trying to jump on our horses. At one point a monkey stole Damon’s hat, and he never did get it back!
It rained while we were out there on our horses. I ended up being completely soaked! It was a cold rain because the elevation at Monte Verde makes it a bit chillier. We were all a little uncomfortable, but it was still worth it.
I need to end this entry now because I am falling asleep while writing this. I’m also feeling a bit sick tonight but don’t know if it is allergies or a cold coming – either way I’m going to bed. I feel a low-grade temperature as well… Yikes! Anyway, more tomorrow!
Today we were going to hike through the Monte Verde National Reserve and Cloud Forest, a 10,500-hectare Costa Rican sanctuary where plants and wildlife are given absolute protection.
Before we went into the forest, we stopped at the hummingbird gallery/garden, which was terrific. It was smaller than I expected it to be but it was definitely neat to see so many hummingbirds all in one spot, especially thinking that before I’d been to Costa Rica, I’d only seen one hummingbird in my life. They were all eating and surrounding plants like the “hot lips” plant (a common plant in the cloud forest which feeds hummingbirds and butterflies) and is a member of the rubiaceae family (which includes coffee).
The trail we took ended on the continental divide at “La Ventana”. There is a high humidity and almost continuous cloud cover in these tropical mountains that form the “cloud forests”. This accounts for the lush mosses, ferns, lichens, orchids, etc. that are found here. The humidity and thickness of growth becomes greater as you approach the continental divide.
It was really a beautiful forest. It was misty and almost dreamlike. I was still not feeling well, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying my time when I was there.
We had a great sighting right at the beginning of our journey. We saw came upon a male and female resplendent quetzal, which are said to be among the most beautiful birds in the world. They definitely were pretty, though I don’t know if I’d say that they were the most beautiful. Before I could say that I would need to see every single bird that there is, and that would just take way too long.
Note from present: I didn’t get a picture, but here is one I found through Google:
Resplendent quetzals are frugivores (fruit eaters) which mainly feed on fruits from trees in the avocado family. When quetzals eat, they regurgitate intact seed from the fruit, at times quite far from the tree. Fruit trees often depend on them as a vital part of their reproduction.
We also heard (but did not see) bellbirds, which have a very unique bell-like song.
There are so many species of tree ferns in cloud forest environments. The cyatheaceae family has 14 species which are found in Monte Verde, and can reach heights of 10-12 meters and can live up to 150 years. While walking around, Professor L pointed out a strangler fern surrounding a tree. He explained that it likely started when a fig seedling growing on the trees crown (possibly dropped by a quetzal?) began to send roots down the trunk, eventually surrounding the entire trunk. This ultimately kills the tree.
There were a lot of epiphytes in Monte Verde, and the leaf cutter ants made another appearance, though leaf cutters are not as prominent here as they are in other sites.
Monte Verdes “dry” season is during the months of December through March, though it is not exactly “dry”. Little direct rain falls during these months, but when warm, moisture-laden trade winds reach the Atlantic slope, they rise and cool, depositing moisture on all surfaces. This produces an almost constant drip from canopy to the ground, keeping streams flowing even when there is no rain.
The problem with deforestation here is that when the forest is removed, so are the condensing surfaces. The mist would be blown west where it vaporizes in the hot, dry air, causing the water flow to the lowlands to greatly decrease.
After all that, we went back to the hotel and then took a cab into town so we could check out the shops. The shops seemed pretty touristy so I decided not to buy anything. I figure I’ll save all of my souvenir shopping for San Jose. They had nice stuff there, and that way I wouldn’t have to carry everything around the rest of the trip.
Now… how to describe my two days here at Monte Verde? I was not able to absorb it as well as La Selva because we were only here for two days. Also, I was still sick, and we didn’t have the opportunity to wander around in the forest by ourselves.
Monte Verde was a worthwhile place to see though, it is very beautiful. It was a very welcome change of scenery – especially since we were just coming out of hell (better known as Pale Verde).
I really wish that I had been feeling a little better for this city because I definitely don’t feel that I took that much away from this experience, or at least not as much as I could have.
Tonight is my last night here in Monte Verde. Next we will be moving on to the beaches of Manuel Antonio. Once again, it’s exciting and sad at the same time.
We’ll see how it goes tomorrow!
What a long day.
The bus ride into Manuel Antonio ended up taking around 8 hours.
The ride down the mountain was just awful. It was bumpy and scary (I tried not to keep thinking about the fact that we might fall off the mountain) and I was uncomfortable the whole way down. But, we made it!
We stopped at a gator bridge, which is a bridge overlooking a river that is known to be highly populated with gators. I did see a lot of them down there!
After that we stopped for lunch at this nice little place on the shore called Steve and Lisa’s. The service was extremely slow but the food was good and the view was even better. The water here is a gorgeous blue. I can’t wait to go swimming in it.
When we finally got to Manuel Antonio, I was very pleasantly surprised. It was so much nicer than I expected! We got our rooms after lunch. The two Nicoles and I got a room right next to the bar – and I mean on one side of the wall (the inside of our room) there is my bed, and on the other side of the wall (the outside of our room) there is the bar. This could be seen as a not-so-good thing if any of us want to ever go to bed before the bar closes!
After settling ourselves in, a bunch of us decided to go for a walk on the beach. It was dark by then, which was fine by me, because I love the way the beach and ocean look at night.
We all took off our sandals and walked along the edge of the water. I was in SHOCK over how warm the water was. I had expected it to be freezing! After all, this is the Pacific Ocean, which tends to be colder, but there wasn’t even the tiniest bit of cold! Not one iota of uncomfortableness!
We walked along the beach for a little while and then we walked along the strip next to the beach to check out the shops. They had some nice things, like these beautiful bongo drums which I really wanted, but I couldn’t see how I would get them back to the states on the plane as they were much too big.
It started raining (of course) and we headed back for dinner, pointing out a few prostitutes to the guys on the way. Apparently, prostitution is legal here in Costa Rica. The prostitutes are all licensed and tested and all that jazz. It helps to cut down on the crime.
At dinner that night I sat with the professors and we had some good conversations. We ended up talking about the differences between the college students of their time and my time. It was an interesting topic. Dr. L was making the observation that my generation doesn’t seem to care as much as the generation of the 60’s and 70’s. At first, I disagreed, but then after thinking about it for a little while, it’s probably true. It’s very rare that you see a group of young people nowadays fighting for something they truly believe in. It happens, but not like it did in the 60’s when colleges staged walkouts and protests that actually happened, or took over the offices of the president in their school when things got really bad. Nowadays, you may sometimes hear about those kinds of protests, but it seems so rare and much more low-key. In my experience while in college, politics or other world issues was not what motivates the young people – it’s money and professions that do the motivating. I’m definitely not saying that this applies to everybody that I know, but it does seem to apply to a majority of them.
Today we went on a group hike through the tropical forests of Monte Verde. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the hike – it was not quite as beautiful as La Selva, but it did remind me a lot of it!
It was a nice walk but unfortunately because it was such a touristy area there was a noticeable amount of pollution (aka litter) and tree graffiti. I wish people would just clean up after themselves and leave the poor trees alone! No one cares if Jimmy loves Suzy or if Justin was here! We can SEE that you were here by your cigarette butts on the ground!
Besides that it was fun and we learned a lot. Manuel Antonio (a beach rainforest) is at sea level on the Pacific coast. The Manuel Antonio national park is one of the smallest parks in the national park system, and is a huge tourist attraction.
The islands that are seen from the shore are popular for migratory shore birds.
There are four main plants/trees that keep the beach tropical forest ecosystem held together: Mangroves, coconut trees, the “little apple” or manzanillo tree, and the wild almond.
Mangroves are very salt resistant, as they must be in order to live in this area. Some of the plants, in order to deal with ocean water, don’t allow salt into their roots at all – others let it in, but excrete it at the tips of their leaves. Salt water actually has a lot of nutrients if you find a way to get past the saltiness!
Mangrove seeds fall into the water and can float for months before they find a place to root, ensuring that their genes get spread out far – this is what the mangrove seed looks like:
The “little apple” is the most toxic tree in the area; it’s sap is quite poisonous and if it gets in your eyes it could easily blind you. Touching the tree would cause a rash/reaction worse than poison ivy. The little green “apples” that grow on it look a bit like wild almonds, but you don’t want to get the two confused!
Eucalyptus trees are also seen in this area, but they are a non-native (introduced) species.
White face and squirrel monkeys are common here, as are “mouthless crabs”, which are purple and yellow land crabs.
We walked along the beach and went swimming for a short while, but a few of us (myself included) had to hurry back so we could walk into town and get some money out. I did, however, get some nice pictures that day:
Ben, Kristy, Brady, and I left the beach and walked into town while everyone else continued to swim. I felt bad for Ben during this trip, it seemed like Kristy and Brady kept trying to lose him. I didn’t really like the idea of Ben being lost in a strange city in another country, so I kept trying to find him. Actually, it’s possible that maybe they were trying to lose me too! But, we eventually all made it back together (after some decent shopping).
Hmmm… Well, since I have nothing else to write about now and it’s still early, I think I’ll write a bit about what my thoughts are of everyone who is on this trip. I’ll give you their descriptions from my point of view, so if I ever decide to write a book or a story about this trip, I’ll have a good reference.
Lets see… I’ll start with one of my favorite persons on the trip.
H – H is just an all around great guy, possibly one of the nicest people that I’ve ever met. He’s always willing to do something nice for you. I have never seen him angry or do anything remotely mean to anyone. He loves yoga with a passion, and is always trying to get Nicole (a yoga instructor) to practice it with him. He is such a free spirit, and probably is the person who is most perfectly suited for this trip. He’s always looking, smelling, tasting, and otherwise examining everything. He isn’t (or doesn’t seem to be) afraid of anything, and he seems to really enjoy being in the forest by himself. He is extremely friendly, and I think everyone on the trip likes him. He’s also got a cool name (single letter names are a tradition for his family), and apparently he is a Quaker! That’s enough for H.
Blond Nicole – I’d have to say that she is my other favorite person on the trip. She’s sweet, and I think pretty much everyone on the trip likes her because she is so cute and adorable. She kind of reminds me of a little chipmunk! She is also very health conscious. She knows everything you ever wanted to know about nutrition. She had an eating disorder at one time, which is why she now knows so much about how and what she should eat.
Yoga Nicole – this Nicole is the yoga instructor. She’s nice most of the time, but she can be mean if you do something that bothers her, and she doesn’t really care what anyone thinks about her. She and the other Nicole became very fast friends because they seemed to have a lot in common. She also became fast friends with H, possibly because of the yoga thing. I like her because she’s a very strong and independent person, but I felt bad for the people on the trip she didn’t like (Jeff mainly) because she made it pretty well known. She also seems a little spoiled. It wasn’t uncommon for her to pout if she doesn’t get her way.
Ellie – She seems like a nice girl on the inside, but she is kind of loud and obnoxious and very “me-me-me”. She doesn’t think of others as much as she thinks of herself. A lot of the people on the trip don’t seem to like her very much because of those qualities. At least one of the guys didn’t like her because he thought she was flirting and making him think there was a chance when there was not. It’s not that I think she means to act like that, but when you are raised as an only child you almost can’t help but be spoiled. Also, her father is a rabbi. I don’t know what that has to do with anything; I just thought that was cool.
Jamie – She was someone I didn’t really get to know all that well… She is best friends with Ellie and she is the second biggest drinker on the trip. She seemed kind of unhappy at times, but she was pretty fun. I think she had a thing for Damon. She also is kind of a tomboy – she was better than the boys at soccer, and she will usually be up for pretty much anything!
Ben – Ben. What can you say about him? He’s definitely an odd character. He can be pretty annoying at times because he’ll ask some questions over and over again, yet he has a photographic memory about other things. He is also constantly cracking corny jokes. He says he was an alcoholic at one time, and now he’s recovering. When people are looking for somewhere to drink and party, he’s looking for an AA meeting, which is admirable. He does sometimes get into these moods that really irritate me because he gets cranky and rude. I’m don’t think people don’t like him on this trip, it’s more like he’s a joke. I do feel bad for him, but at times I think he does these things knowing what kind of reaction he’s going to get. I think he’s enjoying this trip less than anyone else. He seems pretty homesick, and I think he’ll be happiest when we leave.
Jamie Lee – Hmm, I’m not sure how I feel about this Jamie. She’s got beautiful hair; she’s in graduate school for substance abuse (the latter made me think she was a more intellectual type, but I’m not so sure anymore). She kind of gives off the impression that she thinks she’s better than everyone else. Maybe she’s not really like that, but that’s the impression I got. She is very easily excited, and any kind of animal sighting sends her into raptures of delight – especially puppies and sloths. I guess it is endearing, but it can also be a bit annoying!
Kristy – she is young, and her attitude shows it. Fresh into college, she came to Costa Rica more interested in the bar scene and getting a tan than anything else. She’s always looking to drink and party, and she has a thing for H which is cute. She is best friends with Brady, they came on the trip together.
Brady – She is a lot like Kristy, except she is more athletic and Kristy is more girly. I found out that she has an eating disorder, which worries me about her… I hope she’ll be able to get through it. Nicole is going to talk to her about it, since she has been through it once herself. Brady also repeatedly gets drunk to the point of being sick, which I don’t understand. Why would you willingly put yourself through that? She didn’t really seem to care as much for this trip as an educational experience as she does that it is a tanning/partying/drinking experience. These two girls (Brady and Kristy) were never very nice to me, right from the beginning. I overheard them talking rudely about me early on (I’m not sure what I did to deserve it) so this may be part of my reason for the harsher descriptions of them. Kristy and Brady were the ones I had to room with at the beginning of the trip.
Damon – Damon is a character. Honestly, at first I didn’t like him very much. He seemed to always be trying to get with girls and compete with Jeff. But after we went on our hike together in La Selva I thought better of him. He acts different by himself than when he’s with the others. He was very sweet, but not in a “I’m hitting on you” kind of way. He was very excited about seeing all the things we saw (the ant eater and that giant killer bee thing that scared us) and I think he enjoyed the nature part of this trip more than he shows when he’s around Jeff or the others.
Jeff – Jeff pissed me off a lot in the beginning. He’s an arrogant, spoiled little rich kid. He was constantly in competition with Damon (usually he loses) and he was always trying to get with the girls. He’s mean too – but after listening/talking with him a few times, I realize he’s not as bad as he makes himself out to be. At least he feels bad about doing the things he does, but that doesn’t excuse everything!
Today we had a free day. The two Nicoles went out to take surfing lessons, which I would really have liked to do except for the fact that I am a bit short on cash. But I guess you can learn to surf at any beach, right? I also could also have gone deep sea fishing, which would have been really cool, but that was way too expensive.
Instead, I spent the day at the beach and searching for souvenirs for my family.
The water on the ocean today was beautiful. My roommates met up with me at the beach and we all relaxed for a while and then went swimming (I was a little nervous about the water because I kept being warned about how strong the undertow was and how easy it would be to drown. Luckily, I didn’t drown – I’m still alive and kicking!)
The undertow didn’t seem that bad to me, though Kristy was freaking out a little when people went out too deep. She was afraid that the undertow would sweep us all out to sea. She told us that it almost happened to her earlier that morning.
By mid-afternoon (around 2) we’d had enough. Despite my SPF 50+ sunscreen, I was starting to burn! We all had lunch at an interesting restaurant by the water. It had a great beachy atmosphere. Instead of pictures, they hung surfboards on the walls.
I ate with the Nicoles and Ben; the professors, Kristy and Brady sat at a table next to ours. It was one huge lunch party, it was! The food and conversation were good, though Ben was being a bit cranky and irritating.
After lunch, I went shopping on the strip next to the beach. The stuff didn’t really interest me that much, but I did buy a sarong because I’ve always wanted one, and it was much cheaper here than I could have gotten anywhere else. So now I am the proud owner of a beach sarong!
When it was dinnertime, the whole group went out to eat at the same restaurant that we went to for lunch (paid for in full by our lovely professors, how nice!) It was hilarious to see how crazy our waiter was going. It was quite obvious that they don’t usually get this many people at the same time. He was talking a mile a minute, and zipping back and forth between tables like a bumblebee in a field full of nectar-less flowers.
The food was delicious, and afterwards, those of us who felt like going clubbing went out. That was fun, the dance floor was a bit tiny but H found a way around that. He was a dance MACHINE!
While H was tearing up the dance floor (and Jeff was trying to score) the rest of us found a table to sit down and chat. That’s when Kristy started to complain that her feet were BURNING and that she had to go home. H ended up walking her and Brady home, and the rest of us stayed to take his place on the dance floor.
Later that night the Nicoles, Jeff and I got into a conversation about why he can be such an ass sometimes. It turns out that he was really hurt by a girl recently, and by being an ass to other girls it made him feel a little bit better about it, though he admitted he only felt better for a little while before he started to feel really guilty. He said he couldn’t help being a jerk. He would say things and then regret that he said it after it was said, but there was nothing he could do to take it back. I guess he doesn’t know how to apologize! I guess I keep realizing more and more that Jeff isn’t really all that bad of a guy. Maybe I shouldn’t always be so quick to judge people.
We stayed at the club until it closed, around 2:30. Somehow, blond Nicole lost her shoe on the dance floor, and even though we waited until everyone was gone, it was nowhere to be seen. So she walked home half shoe-less. Haha, that’s actually really funny thinking about it again now.
Well, that is pretty much it. We went home, and everyone went to bed. Tomorrow I think I’m going to try to even out my tan on the beach. We were granted an extra hour before we had to head back to San Jose again, so we don’t have to leave until 9:am. That’s late for us!
OK, it’s bedtime now.
Well, after a long bus ride, we’re back in good ol’ San Jose. The two Nicoles went straight to bed (they aren’t feeling very well – I think they caught what I had) and I realized I forgot two people in my descriptions! Steve and Val! So, here goes:
Steve – He’s definitely the clown of the group. He went on this trip last year and liked it so much that he had to go again. He always seems to be looking for approval. He makes a joke and then looks around to be sure that everyone else thought it was funny. He laughs harder at his jokes when others laugh… and whenever he says that something is cool, he adds a “right?” to the person(s) that he is talking with, to make sure they agree. He’s usually pretty sweet, he’s a teddy bear on the inside but I don’t really know about the way he treats Val (his girlfriend). He treats her like she’s a piece of meat. I think he probably really loves her, but I think he’s just so proud of himself that he has her that he puffs out his chest and treats her how he thinks a man should treat a woman: like an object. She doesn’t seem to mind though, so I guess it works for them. Steve also has an obvious drinking problem. He drinks every day and night, it’s the first thing he does when we aren’t having any kind of classwork. I would think it was just a young college kid thing, but he’s 27 years old! He really needs to get in control of that. He gets very cranky if he finds out he can’t go drinking.
Val – Val is a nice girl, but I think she has pretty low self-esteem. She says she can’t go anywhere without makeup because she feels ugly, which usually does point to low self-esteem. That might explain why she doesn’t seem to care when Steve treats her like an object. She is very smart, but she should just have a little more faith in herself. If she stays with Steve, I hope she can help curb him of his drinking!
Well, now I must go shopping for souvenirs… more later!
OK, my souvenir shopping is all done. Tonight we all (minus the professors) went out to dinner at a very authentic Costa Rican restaurant. It was really cool, they even served the food on plantain leaves (or was it banana leaves?) Again, Ben was really pissing me off. He kept insisting that he was the one guy in the world who had the ability to drive drunk. He said he did it often when he used to drink, and he knew he was good at it. He admitted that some people could not drive drunk, he was certain that HE could.
Even though he no longer drinks, it still really angered me. I hate when people drive drunk, and his attitude was so ignorant! At first, I thought he was kidding around, but it quickly became obvious that he was not. He usually admits the joke if it upsets someone, but he kept insisting this was true. I know he really believed it. Steve was getting a big kick out of us arguing though – I suppose it’s nice I could be of some entertainment. I’m seriously glad that Ben doesn’t drink anymore.
When we got back to the room, we didn’t do much. The Nicoles went to bed early and I just felt like sitting downstairs at the Café and writing. While I was down there, I saw a lot of young prostitutes coming in and out of the hotel with old men. Tonight was a big night for prostitution! I think Damon is seriously thinking about getting himself one. I doubt he really will, but he was sitting down here with Jeff and he started wondering out loud if he could get one, and how much, and where they all are… Hahaha! Tomorrow is rafting day, can’t wait!
Rafting was AWESOME! My guide was awesome – he had a great personality and loved what he was doing. He was also FUN! The rafting was scary, but a good scary. Our guide was happy with how we all worked together, so he made sure we went on all the hard rapids. When the head raft guy made a command for him to skip one, he went on it anyway, at the risk of getting in trouble. No “chicken runs” for us!
In my raft it was Damon, Jeff, Ellie, Jamie Lee, Jamie, and myself, and the guide was in the back. It was an unbelievable experience, one that I would most definitely do again.
We had lunch in a little shelter area (because it was raining we couldn’t eat outside). The food was delicious! We had fresh fruit, sandwiches and cookies – and we were all so hungry that it tasted even better. After lunch we got back to the raft and finished the trip, with one more short break to go swimming.
After it was done, they offered to sell us a CD with all the pictures on the trip, and of course we bought it. There were some great pictures! In our entire group, only one person (Brady) fell out – but she was OK.
After we got back, Brady and Jeff had to leave for the second part of their study abroad. They were doing an intensive language study for 6 more weeks in San Jose, tears all around.
As we were saying goodbye, we saw an interesting guy yelling in Spanish and waving around the bible at everyone in the street. He was talking too fast for me to understand what he was saying… I caught Diablo (devil) and a few other things. He didn’t have many teeth. I gotta go for now, more later, maybe.
Well, people really annoy me sometimes.
We’re working on our final (everyone divided up the questions so we would all do some of it), and I had my questions done pretty early (as did Damon), but no one else did. And, silly me, I was the one who volunteered to collect all the answers and put them together, so I ended up having to do so much extra work. By the end of the night, everyone did SOMETHING, but some people did very little and barely answered the questions so I had to make up for it and fix them. I was in such a bad mood by the end of the night. Some people did such a half-assed job on their questions and I hated that my name had to go on it too, but what could I do? I didn’t have time to re-do everything. I’m usually a perfectionist and I really didn’t like handing something that wasn’t perfect. I regretted agreeing to work on this as a group.
I guess I also kind of snapped at poor Ben too. He was doing a lot and helping a lot, but he kept asking such ridiculous questions! And asking them over and over again! Sigh. I’ll have to apologize to him. Right now, bed.
TIME TO GO HOME!
And for your reading pleasure, see some of the below scanned papers (pdfs).