28th October MONTEVERDE CLOUD FOREST RESERVE
The towns of Monteverde and Santa Elena sit between two cloud forests which straddle both sides of the Continental Divide. Warm and humid winds from the Caribbean sweep up the mountain slopes where they cool and condense into clouds, blanketing the area with moisture. Sitting at an altitude of 1440 metres, the private reserve of Monteverde is a cloud forest, with a year round humidity of almost 100%. Our drive down to the reserve takes us past one zip-lining company after the other and then along a heavily rutted 6km track which brings us to the entrance of the park, arriving just before 7.30am.
After paying $18 entrance fee, we meet our (slightly eccentric) guide who is armed with a huge telephoto lens as he leads us through the quiet lush green forest which is filled with gigantic trees, strangler figs, tree ferns and epiphyte plants (plants which live on trees or other plants in order to reach the sunlight).
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On route, he points out a tiny hummingbirds nest in the leaves of a plant. In a tree trunk root, we find an orange-kneed tarantula.
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We walk a loop trail to a waterfall where we rest and spot a hummingbird through our guide‘s lens and find a couple of elusive resplendent quetzals (one of Central America‘s most famous and striking birds) sitting high up in the branches.
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The hummingbird gallery is fantastic, all kinds of varieties including Green-Crowned Brilliant and Violet Sabrewing buzz around our heads in a tiny whirl of colour and energy. Attracted by the nectar feeders, they are very entertaining to watch.
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After our guided tour, we take another walk up to the 100metre high suspension bridge via the Wilford Guindon trail (named after the preserve‘s founder) where we literally walk through the misty clouds looking down over the ethereal cloud enshrouded forest.
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The clouds hover overhead before condensing on the leaves of trees then drop to the plants below providing life-giving moisture and promoting huge biodiversity within a complex eco-system.
We sign up for a night walk hike which doesn‘t give us long to rest in between! Wildlife wise, it‘s better than the day tour as we hike through the dark jungle paths in the pouring rain with our torches lighting the way. We are glad we came prepared with rain jackets as some of the other people in our group are getting a soaking!
The animals we see include a sloth, more a big ball of fur high up in the branches of a tree, so he is quite difficult to see, venomous eye lash pit vipers curled up on top of a leaf and another further along the path wrapped around a branch close to the ground.
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We see sleeping hawks and toucans, a kinkajou walking along a tree branch, an orange kneed tarantula, stick insects, crickets, spiders, a scorpion and poison dart frogs.
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Our next destination is the city of Alajuela 156km away to get the car serviced; they grease the universal joints and clean the brakes. Trying to leave Monteverde, we find the main road blocked and no diversion signs so ask a local which direction to go in. In the sunshine, the steep and potholed roads afford gorgeous views over the countryside.
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The detour adds around 50kms onto the journey and then we find ourselves stuck in a traffic jam for around an hour. We see two police officers trying to push the offending car off the road, but they are struggling and one of them slips, falling on one knee. They wave to the cars at the front of the queue who jump out to help.
4 and a half hours later we arrive in Alajuela driving the narrow streets of the busy city centre in the rain, where they start work on the car.
31st October VOLCANO POAS NATIONAL PARK
The 76km drive to the active Volcano Poas takes us 1hr 40minutes on slow winding roads with a long road leading up to the park which is lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. The place must be absolutely packed in the dry season. There are a few people holding out boxes of strawberries for sale on the roadside.
We park up and pay $10 each entrance fee and also an extra parking fee. The short walk takes us to the 1.3km main crater overlook but unfortunately we can‘t see the bubbling sulphuric crater lake. Standing on the rim, there is quite a strong sulphur smell in the air but all we see is a cloud and fog covered summit!
The 2704 metre volcano last erupted in 1953, forming the enormous crater and is one of the largest active volcanoes in the world. The main crater continues to be active to varying degrees, but in recent years, has posed no imminent threat.
Yesterday, Volcano Turrialba, located a little further south from here, erupted, raining ash over parts of central Costa Rica, including the capital San Jose and Alajuela, prompting the evacuation of several nearby communities. The blast had caused the side of the crater wall to collapse and was Turrialba‘s biggest explosion in more than a century. The volcano began rumbling and producing seismic activity the previous night. Volcanologists are assessing the situation as it could also possibly be the precursor to lava emission.
We walk around the interesting visitors centre with its history on the volcano and various exhibits. We consider walking back to check if the cloud cover has cleared but we still have a long drive to Puerto Limon, so continue on. Next stop, the Caribbean coast!