Experiencing the Real Costa Rica and the Ticos
Biodiversity can happen anywhere! In Costa Rica, special regions of prodigious biodiversity flourish with great frequency throughout the country. This occurrence places a great responsibility for preservation and conservation on the Ticos, the people of Costa Rica. Yet the benefits of preserving biodiversity are shared by everyone and this author believes that all of us bear a share of the responsibility.
Perhaps the most essential reasons for visiting Costa Rica revolve around this responsibility and the essential importance of experiencing this biodiversity up close and personal!
To do this, we traveled by bus from San Jose to Santa Elena, a small village high on the Tilaran Cordillera, to explore the Bosque Nuboso (Cloud Forest) de Monteverde. The trip was quite an adventure. After we turned off the Interamericana Highway, the pavement ended and the bus continued on the road, now of rocks and packed dirt, switchbacking up into the mountains. As we proceeded on, the temperature dropped, misty rain fell, and the wind sighed. Our progress was slow and the trip, now in the dark, seemed to go on forever. Arriving in Santa Elena, we found our hotel, El Sueno, then warmed ourselves with dinner.
In the morning, after breakfast, we rode a bus to the entrance to the Reserva Monteverde, paid the fee and followed the trail into the Cloud Forest.
We were surrounded by great trees, many covered with green moss and hung with vines, towering high with a rich understory of such variety splashed with the colors of occasional bright blooms, all dripping with moisture.
As we climbed up to the Continental Divide, masses of clouds rushed overhead, forming as Atlantic moisture laden air cooled as it rose over the mountain crest and disapating as they encountered warmer air on the other side.
We spent the day walking the trails:
By the end of the day, we had experienced an incredible concentration of biodiversity, an 'up close and personal' contact with the natural world.
The following day, we explored the communities of Santa Elena...
... and nearby Monteverde, a Friends Community and home of a excellent quality cheese making enterprise.
Both of these settlements gain economic vitality from their location so near the 'bosque nuboso'. We tried to comprehend the complex symbiotic relationship of humans with the surrounding environment.
The next morning, we were off to another of Costa Rica's marvels - Volcano Arenal. We traveled out of town by van on hard packed dirt/rock roads, with views back to the Gulf of Nicoya. Continuing through the mountains, we passed over the continental divide, past steep hillsides of green meadows with grazing cows and other hillsides planted with deeper green coffee bushes. Somehow, a young man driving an ox cart while talking on his cell phone, seemed to mirror the changes going on in Costa Rica today.
We finally descended to the shore of Lake Arenal, where we transferred to a sightseeing boat that took us across the lake. Another van took us into La Fortuna at the foot of the imposing Arenal Volcano.
Promoted as the "Epicenter of Adventure", La Fortuna was actually a charming small town that thrived on tourism. The available activities were many - from night tours to the active side of Arenal Volcano to watch the lava flows, canyoneering, river rafting, bungee jumping, and zip lines (an opportunity to ride above the rainforest canopy suspended on a wire). We quickly decided that the volcano tour was what we'd do.
Noting that the clouds were clearing over the volcano, we decided to take the 'Vocano Tour' that afternoon. It involved a van ride with guide and driver around to the south side of the volcano where the ongoing eruptions take place. We also stopped for the 'Coati Crossing' and for a hike down a trail through the rainforest to a waterfall. Many times we returned our view to the volcano to watch the lava boulders kicking up a trail of dust as they rolled down the hill.
As the sun set over the lake, we then continued on to the Volcano Observatory Lodge. The clouds cleared, and after dark, great explosions of red glowing lava could be seen spewing from the very top of the volcano cone and cascading down the side. Awesome !!
The next day, Arenal was cloaked in clouds and we realized what a gift the clear night had been. We spent the day relaxing in the rocking chairs on the porch of our hotel and wandering around La Fortuna. We envisioned this as a perfect retreat from the world with enough community life and international visitors to provide social interactions but not enough to impinge on one's peace of mind! Just a thought...
A bit reluctantly, we packed up and boarded the public bus to San Jose. The ride was long (nearly five hours) but the road was paved though curvy and only one lane each way. The landscape was lovely and green, the towns we passed through had nice plazas, iglesias and mercados, now added to the list of places to visit on our next trip. At last we crossed the pass and enjoyed views of the San Jose valley.
Relaxing in our hotel, we reflected on the trip - we had seen more of Costa Rica's natural wonders, and gained a better feel for the real Costa Rica. More importantly, we had gained a greater appreciation of the Ticos. They are friendly, helpful, hardworking, cheerful folks!
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