Posted by: stacylynn12 | December 26, 2011

Welcome to Costa Rica

It’s Wednesday morning. There is a fine mist blanketing the town of Monteverde. The boys are visiting the Bat Jungle and I’ve decided to take a break from the animal kingdom and do some writing. We arrived in Costa Rica 1 week ago and headed straight to the highlands in the province of Guanacaste. Our trusty guidebook says that this is the driest part of the country and it receives little to no rain in the dry season between November and April. Clearly mother nature has not read the book.  
 
After a 2 am taxi ride to the airport, a flight from the DR to San Jose, another taxi ride to the bus station and a long bus ride with two tired children, we arrived in the town of La Fortuna at the foot of Volcán Arenal, 14 hours later. We had a short walk to Gringo Pete’s – a shabby hostel on the edge of town. Within minutes, it began to pour. And I do mean pour. The kind of rain where you step out into it and in about 4 seconds flat you are soaked to the bone. We hunkered down and went to bed early, all 4 of us exhausted.  
 
The morning dawned and the rain still poured down. I was all too ready to leave the musty room at Gringo Pete’s behind so we packed our things and caught a taxi to the Arenal Observatory Lodge located inside the Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal. Our progress was slowed when we encountered a swollen river spilling over the road. In our low clearance compact car Randy did not feel comfortable attempting the crossing. Visions of being swept down river danced in his head. Since we were only about 1 kilometer short of our destination, we called the lodge hoping they could send a shuttle to retrieve us. Their response? Just wait. Excuse me? The rain was coming down in sheets now and showed no signs of letting up. Did they want us to camp out in our taxi until next week?  
 

 

A flooding river blocks our way to the Arenal Observatory Lodge  
 
 
Luckily a friendly couple with a high clearance vehicle arrived and after some hesitancy decided to attempt the crossing. It turned out to be no problem and they graciously returned to ferry us and our belongings up to the lodge. We spent the rest of the day inside watching the rain. Well, I should come clean. The adults watched the rain. The kids watched cartoons. Sometimes cartoons are very, very good.  
 
Our room at the lodge was in the Casona – the original farmhouse on the property now converted into rustic accommodations and located about 1/3 of a mile downhill from the main lodge. Under normal circumstances this would have been a pleasant stroll up (or down) the hill. But in a torrential downpour the 15 minute walk resulted in one drenched family. Since we are carrying only a few sets of clothes each, we cannot afford the luxury of changing several times a day. Therefore in order to go from our room to the restaurant we stripped the kids down to their underwear, took off socks and put on rain jackets. Randy and I rolled our pants up as far as we could, trying to tuck everything under our rain jackets. We packed our dry socks and the kids clothes inside ziplock bags and headed up the hill. This process was repeated several times each day until we were all just a tad bit weary of the rain.  
 
The following morning, though it was still… let’s see, what else can I call it? Precipitating heavily… we knew we couldn’t sit inside another day and decided to brave the weather and join the guided nature walk the lodge offers. Despite the rain, the hike was wonderful and due to the incredible skill of our guide we were able to spot several cool creatures… our first of the trip. We saw in no particular order… a Crested Guan (a large bird similar to a turkey), a Spectacled Owl and an Eyelash Pit Viper (who’s bite sends you racing to a doctor… you’ve got 4 hours to find one or it’s adios amigo.). We also learned about the citronella plant and smelled it’s aromatic berries. It was fascinating to me to see the source of something I’ve become quite accustomed to. (The bug spray we coated Josh and Bodhi with daily in the DR has citronella as one of its main ingredients.) Our guide also spotted a Chestnut Mandibled Toucan after the hike concluded and sought us out to show the kids. I’m not sure who was more excited, me, the kids or the guide!  
 
 

 
Family photo on our soggy nature hike  

 
 

As anticipated after the hike we were very, very wet so we headed straight to the pool and hot tub. Somehow this is a more acceptable kind of wet.  

 
So here’s the thing I’ve learned about the rainforest. It’s a RAIN forest! Hello! Dry season my tushie. After 4 days of solid, steady, heavy rain it did abate… a bit. It turned to a drizzle. We can totally deal with drizzle but the constant wetness does present certain challenges. Many of our things have been damp since the Dominican Republic as we experienced quite a bit of rain there too. Wet clothes don’t dry. You can hang them out for days (under cover from the rain) and they will still be as wet as when you put them out. Things like backpacks and hats begin to be covered with a black speckled mold. You can clean it off with bleach and soap but then you’ll have wet backpacks and hats that won’t dry. You may find that a peculiar smell is following you around. You’ll try to find the source of the smell for days and eventually it will dawn on you that it is your Chaco sandals. Let me tell you, the stink of shoes that have been perpetually wet for days on end is something to avoid if at all possible.  

 
 

 

The product of all that rain is one lush forest.

 

 
 
Hoping for sunshine we departed for Monteverde and the famous cloud forests surrounding the town. Over the next several days children and adults alike enjoyed the wonderful creatures of the rainforest. We visited the Ranario (frog pond), a magnificent living museum showcasing a variety of colorful poison dart frogs, tree frogs and Costa Rica’s unofficial mascot, the red-eyed tree frog. This is one cool frog. The Serpentario was a big hit with the boys and they oohed and awed over the live snakes, turtles and lizards on display. We hiked in the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve and saw absolutely nothing, but the lush, wild landscape was in and of itself enough and the remote possibility of sighting the fabled resplendent quetzal keep us alert and excited.  

 
One of the highlights of Monteverde for us was visiting the Bosque Eterno de los Niños (Children’s Eternal Forest). In 1987 at a small primary school in rural Sweden, a teacher was helping her class learn about rainforests and the animals that need them for survival. A student asked what he could do to keep the rainforest safe and help protect the animals. They learned about the Monteverde Cloud Forest and how deforestation was starting to hurt this beautiful area in the Tilaran mountains of Costa Rica.  
 
The class decided to raise some money to buy some of the forest. Together they raised about $1500, enough to buy about 15 acres of land. Suddenly other kids wanted to help too, and now children all over the earth are helping. With fundraising projects such as collecting aluminum cans and holding bake sales using rainforest ingredients (ginger, chocolate, and vanilla), kids everywhere have raised enough money to buy 50,000 acres . . . and counting! (http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/oriole/Children’sRF.html)  
 

 
 

 
 

Besides simply being a heartwarming story we loved the Niños Forest because on our hike there we encountered the most exciting wildlife to date… the leaf cutter ant. Seriously.  
 

“These incredibly facinating creatures cut leaves from plants and trees and grow fungus on these cut fragments. The ants use this fungus to feed their larvae. They are arguably the most well-known of the ants to the local people and foreign tourists in these regions, mainly because of their spectacular habit of carrying colored petals or green leaves in foraging lines that may stretch more than 250 meters from their nest!  
 
Leaf cutter ants have one of the most sophisticated animal societies in the world. This is because of their unusual method of farming (they are the only animal besides humans who grow their own food from living matter) and their extremely large colony sizes (up to 8 million individuals per colony).” http://www.blueboard.com/leafcutters/what.htm  
 
Last year in kindergarten Bodhi’s class studied leaf cutter ants. To conclude the mini expedition, his teacher arranged for a live video conference with a researcher in Panama. Using the wonders of technology the children came face to face with the leaf cutter ants. Very cool indeed but now flash forward a year and here we are, hunkered down on a trail in Costa Rica watching them live and in person. Does it get any better than this?  

 
 

Leaf Cutter Ant in action  
 

 
 

The other place we loved was… you guessed it, the local coffee shop. This time, in addition to the most fantastic coffee we’ve had since leaving Seattle, we saw more wildlife while sipping espresso than we did on any of our hikes. The coffee shop abutts the Monteverde Reserve and in the tranquil backyard we saw our first monkeys. The children were delighted and quite frankly so were the adults. There’s just no argument… monkeys are cute. The friendly cafe owner was also a passionate naturalist and the following day I strolled into the cafe for an espresso and some quiet time and he excitedly thrust a pair of binoculars into my hands and showed me a two toed sloth languidly moving through the trees! In Costa Rica it’s clear that the furry and feathered creatures upstage the bipedal homo sapiens and steal the show.  

 
 

 
 

Batidos and Espresso = one happy family!  
 

 
 

The furry attractions at the coffee shop – white faced capuchin monkeys  
 
 
A few days ago, on December 21st, we celebrated the official halfway point of our trip. It’s hard to believe and yet we knew it would fly by. We’ve got lots more adventures still to come and some exciting things in the works. Thanks for staying tuned.  
 
 
Feliz Año Nuevo…  

Happy Holidays…  
 
 
From our family to yours, we wish you whatever adventure suits your souls.  

Time here on this earth is short… Go make it happen. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

On the boat ride from Arenal to Monteverde across Lago Arenal 

 
 

Batidos at the Treehouse cafe 

 
 

Sorry… Another coffee shot… But isn’t it gorgeous? With espresso art like this you know the coffee is good! 

 
 

Hiking in Santa Elena Reserve 

 
 

Our friend the Green Spiny Lizard

 
 

Hummingbird

 
 

Randy does a little climbing!

 

 

Hanging bridges on the canopy tour

 

 

A green iguana

 

 

We finally tired them out!

 

 

White face capuchin monkey

 

 

La Selva es muy verde!  (The jungle is very green!)

 

 

🙂

 

 

P.S.  This post was drafted around the 19th of Dec.  Since then we’ve traveled to Montezuma, Costa Rica to join our friends Kelly and Seth (from Seattle) for the Christmas week.  It’s been good, beachy fun and I’m happy to report that the rain has stopped!

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Responses

  1. felicidades Stacy and family! costa rica is bringing back some good memories and is getting me warmed up for departure. Do you know what’s next? We land in Phuket on Feb. 8th and will head inland for a little jungle trek than down south to Krabi and onward. SE Asia is calling you!!

    Thanks for keeping us inspired,
    Jennifer

  2. Hi Stacie and family, I really enjoyed this follow-up. So colorful and the animals very interesting. Coffee looks GREAT [I love, love coffee] everyone looks healthy & happy. Happy New Year and keep the news coming. Lucette


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