Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Cloudforest Canopy - Costa Rican Adventure Part 3

Continuing our adventure in Costa Rica on Saturday 17th we tore ourselves away from La Leona and took the walk-cattle truck journey in reverse, stopped the night in a lovely cabin at Cacao Monkeys in Puerto Jimenez then on Sunday took the plane back to San José. From there we caught the bus to Monteverde, for the princely sum of $6, a distance of 144km, and though it felt almost entirely uphill we only rose around 800 feet.
Alternating with the clock at the front of the bus there was a readout of temperature and humidity. When we left at 2.30pm it read 35˚ and 34%. After half an hour it was 32˚ and 48%; by 4pm 30˚ and 68%. At around 5.30pm we left the tarmac and the final 21km took an hour, crawling up a single track road with only a few feet and a barbed wire fence between us and the sheer drop down the mountain. When we arrived around 6.30pm it was 29˚ and 71% humidity. Don't believe everything you read about the driving in Costa Rica, on these roads everyone was very slow and very courteous.
We spent the remainder of our trip here at Pension Santa Elena in Monteverde.
I was still waking up before dawn most days so just listened to the birds in the garden until the reception opened and the coffee was ready. I took mum a cuppa in bed and chatted to people at home on the computer for a while before anyone else was around, and waited to get our breakfast taco when the stall opened at 7am.
The next three days were spent almost entirely in the forest, firstly the canopy walkways at Selvatura, then the reserves at Monteverde and Santa Elena
There was no cloud the days we visited the cloudforest, I felt slightly cheated. It was warm and fresh, and, thanks to the start of the rainy season, practically deserted. The first thing you notice is how different it is from the forest by the coast. We are several thousand feet higher here, right on the ridge of the continental divide that runs all the way from the Rocky Mountains to Tierra Del Fuego. Because of the altitude and the prevailing winds this area of forest gets rain all year round, but not torrential rainstorms as elsewhere, it is more in the form of low cloud that drops a persistent fine mist on the forest. All the trees here are covered in moss, and although it is not apparent to the causal observer apparently they are not generally as tall as in other types of forest because they grow steadily all year rather than in spurts. 
We also found the forest noisier, more insect and bird noise, 
compared to Corcovado that was at times almost silent. The lower temperature obviously did not suit the lizards as we didn't see a single one the whole three days, and the previously ubiquitous leafcutter ants were also nowhere to be seen.
One new species mum identified immediately is the tree fern, which forms a new canopy of leaves as they grow, leaving the layer underneath to die off so you are left with a tall bare trunk with an umbrella-like fan of foliage on the top.
While the other visitors headed off to queue for the zip wires we had the canopy walkways to ourselves.

It was strange to be walking across something so engineered when in every direction all you can see are trees. At one point we passed within a foot or two of a tree branch and I was tempted to climb over into the canopy, but the hundred foot drop below me was a little intimidating.

We were taunted the entire time by the metallic squeaking call of the Three Wattled Bellbird, which we heard almost constantly but never saw. And we got tired necks craning upwards in hope of catching sight of a sloth, something else that we failed to see.
This tiny waterfall at the Monteverde reserve, with its so tempting but utterly inaccessible pool was the deciding factor in our decision to trek to the San Luis Waterfall (post to come later).
The exotic birds finally made an appearance at Monteverde. This is a quetzal, taken through the scope that the guide had. The group stood a long time watching the pair come and go from their protected nest site where they were feeding young.
We had seen a few hummingbirds at La Leona, but they flitted away very swiftly. Here there was a garden with feeders where seven or eight species hovered by the dozen, often fighting each other away from the perches. 
This one is a violet sabrewing.
The pathways at Corcovado had been cleared but were otherwise unmarked, we often had to pick our way over tree roots and fallen branches. The sheer number of visitors that come to the Monteverde reserve (over 200,000 a year) means that they need more robust and safer pathways. They were all laid with these concrete grille slabs that allowed the leaf litter to gather in the holes so they felt much more integrated with the forest, rather than slicing through it.
This picture was taken at the Santa Elena reserve and shows the upgrades that have to be made to cope with the increasing tourism in the area. The old rotting wooden bridge in the background has been replaced with a shiny new metal one.
Having planned initially to go across the lake to the Arenal volcano we discovered that it has not been active for several years so decided the extra travelling was not worth it. As we did the long hike around the Santa Elena reserve we came upon the viewpoint that overlooked the volcano. A small bench had been thoughtfully placed so we sat for a drink and snack and admired the view. The low cloud made it suitably volcano-ish.
More to come soon.


  1. What beautiful pictures! I love the view from the canopy walkway; that must have been amazing. We have friends who are missionaries in Costa Rica. I haven't had the opportunity to go visit them yet, but I hope to someday. I would love to get to see the gorgeous sights there.

    TaMara @ Tales of a Pee Dee Mama

  2. Hu TaMara, thanks for your visit. I usually get a bit of vertigo being that high but it was so absorbing to just look at everything it didn't bother me at all. It was fantastic to be totally surrounded by the forest.


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