We headed off to Monteverde a few days ago. This is a neat area founded by Quakers who left the US in 1951 as they wanted to leave behind the constant fear of war and the need to pay taxes to support militarism. They chose Costa Rica because it had no army and a big focus on peace. They came to farm but saw the need to create a preserved area focused on education and conservation of the cloud forest and thus the Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve was formed. Nearby the little town of Santa Elena is a funky/hippy/research scientist kind of place and where most hang out when not in the preserve.
Anyway our drive as to be about 4 hours and we knew the last two were over an unpaved road and heading up mountains. To get to that point it was supposed to be a 2 hour drive on Highway 1 — the Interamerican Highway that runs through much of these countries. We were going happily along (not that fast as much of it is only 2 lane) and were happy to see that we only had 15 kilometers to our turnoff when suddenly we ground to a halt. And there we sat and sat and sat. In fact we sat there for 5 hours – OK we did creep along about 4 kilometers or so and finally reached the problem which was a collapsed bridge that was being filled in with dirt. Each side had about 10 vehicles creeping across this packed dirt and the backups were hours long on either side. There were industrious folks around all this who walked up and down the traffic jam selling chips and frozen ices. And people got out of their cars and the buses and wandered around picking mangoes off trees and chatting to each other. Quite a relaxed group.
So after keeping children happy and content (we were not so relaxed as many) crammed in the car for that long we finally hit the dirt road and began our climb upwards. That was when I started saying to myself “what the heck was I thinking here?” The dirt road wound upwards with steep drop-offs down huge mountain sides and not a barrier or metal post in sight to stop anyone plunging over. In many places the road was only wide enough for one car despite the fact we would suddenly encounter a truck or even a big bus!
Halfway up our joy increased as it started to rain. The good part of this was that you couldn’t see how far down those drop-offs were. The bad part was we missed some of the incredible scenery. The road passed huuge sloping vistas of valleys and mountains in brilliant shades of green (hence the rain). Cows were all over the places; many of them wandering alongside the road.
We passed quite a few “cowboys” on horses and of course the ubiquitous dogs that are in every driveway and road here. We also saw goats and quite a few horses but mostly skinny cows that were often clinging to steep hillsides in positions that left you clueless as to why they didn’t fall off. Mountain cows!
Well we got to the top and found our hotel despite pouring rain. We stayed in great lodge/hotel called Arco Iris Lodge and since there were six of us we had the “Old House” which used to be the owner’s house and was a two story, three bed, two bath, kitchen beautiful wooden house. The bathrooms were granite tiles and open showers – very cool and the whole place was wood and airy. It was set in a neat little group of cabins and grounds. But the best thing for the children were the bounding dogs and friendly cats that they all bonded with. These were the friendliest folks running the place and helped with anything. We ate breakfast there and it was delicious.
The additional 5 plus hours of the drive meant Mark and older boys missed their canopy tour that day but since it was pouring with rain that was OK. It was quite good as they rescheduled for the next morning and it was clear and almost sunny. They had a wonderful time doing the Original Canopy Tour that had 11 platforms and two big rappels that were 45 and then 120 feet! The tour started inside a huge hollow strangler fig that you climb up. They were impressed but all three said “that was pretty scary!” What a shame I had to stay with the two little ones!
We wandered around the area but did not see a great deal of wildlife – well except for the big tarantula on our doorstep! Monteverde Serpentarium was a hit with the kids especially as we went at night and they gave us flashlights to shine inside the cages.
This is a neat area but gosh seems hard living. Last year it rained for so many days that we were told the buses and trucks couldn’t run for a couple of months. Sometimes it rains solidly for weeks at a time. Almost as bad as England (my home So recommendations are to go during the dry season and since we were right at the beginning of the wet I can see why. Still the Arco Iris Lodge and surrounding beauty was worth the drive (although I did better leaving after taking Valerian).
The road out of Monteverde heading towards Lake Arenal was again unpaved and took about two hours but thankfully did not have quite the same drop-offs.