South America 2011-2012: Monteverde, Costa Rica


10 Mar, moving on from Montezuma to Monteverde
Apparently the stars have aligned or fallen from the sky - it's time to leave Montezuma, I think. Although I could as easily stay much longer. Whatever the case I'm on one of the "transfers" that are so popular with the tourists at 7 a.m. The theory is comfort and speed at $50 compared to probably $10 or so via public options. Comfort is higher, true, in a van with new-enough seats, A/C, and even - heaven forfend - seatbelts. But the speed part gets questioned when we end up waiting at a junction for an hour or so, eventually all buying drinks and such in a place most likely also owned by Montezuma Expeditions - who does the transfer regardless of which of the half-dozen companies you sign up with on the main drag of Montezuma. But then we finally leave the junction and head up through the hot, windy, and cattle-denudeed hills toward Monteverde. The greenery of Monteverde actually only hits when we precisely hit town - the hills give repeated admonition to eating much beef, the pockets of forest left so few and far between - but the wind doesn't in the least. As the ridgepoint between the Caribbean and Pacific, here the wind takes every advantage to complain about us trespassers. Those of us who have befriended each other can only do our best to scramble for lodgings when not getting blown off the hilltop, but allis soon squared away. We are briefed each in turn on the dozens of tourist activities before left to our own devices ... My devices are to hang out with the large Quebecois crew in the hostel and an odd foursome from various countries (Israel, Holland, Great Britain, Austria) who might be an incarnation of Jack Kerouac times four - somehow. In any event we drink a mild liquor (vino de cxxx) and a few beers as a guitar is brought out and I grab my trumpet for a bit of playing and yapping. It works a bit, if not to great ends, what with the limited knowledge of our Israeli guitarist - so I end up riffing a bit to popular tunes he knows. His efforts to force everyone to sing along are at times endearing and awkward, he's so earnest. Then there's a rap he does with about every swearword under the sun that I wish I could capture on video, all done with a heavy Hebrew accent that one couldn't write a script for. All the while he strikes me as awfully familiar, too, though I can't place him quite yet. Hmm. Then this foursome is off in hopes of an unlikely bar scene; I play several more tunes before we all call it quits with upcoming hikes in the morning.

11 Mar, Monteverde
Due to some kind of clusterfart, it turns out that the seven Quebecois will be joining my group (Portland, Minneapolis, Zurich) to head to St. Elena Cloud Reserve come this morning. Supposedly the better of the two nearby forest reserves - based on what I'm not sure, exactly - we get there within an half hour and it is as cloudy as one would suppose it should be. We immediately get treated to a pizote wandering around where the cars are - then that's about it for the wildlife. We split up a bit, the Quebecois heading one way and our foursome the other, and then it's several hours of very slowly hiking the Encantado trail and snapping picture after picture of greenery and flowers. And that's about it, too, even if "it" is pretty good. Wildlife will be limited to the odd bird we hear singing and a bright caterpillar that goes by the nickname of "the schoolbus" - for obvious reasons. I get a spotting of one other insect, what seems to be a cross between a massive dragonfly and the biggest wasp ever with its blue-black body and yellow-orange wings and constant fluttering sound, to fill out the full complement of fauna such as it is. The others then all leave to head back on the 1p.m. bus as I decide to linger on. I've decided to hike the other big trail, definitely getting some exercise while hopefully also taking a lucky photo or two - which I do, even as the rains picks up from a mist to a drizzle. Yes, this IS a rainforest, I remind myself, even as I take off my jacket because I'm too hot. I can take a little wet, right? Right. Thus it's more flowers and more greenery - but absolutely no views to the distance from the rare opening in the trees as the grey closes in. My uptick in wildlife viewing is limited to a lizard that rather oddly hops , plus a cluster of birds whose singing is enough to interrupt the iPod I've just clicked on. They provide a welcome if weird contrast to the tune I'm listening to, Mars - the bringer of war - from Gustav Holst's The Planets. Later in the afternoon I head back to town for a nap, happily doing so before we get about to some communal eating and a short night on the town at a club. There we cluster about a beer bong until it empties; the dance floor fills a bit shortly later. I'm too lazy to get off my ass and join in by now, however, content to watch the floor show of tourists doing odd dances that probably took a bit of drinking to get around to. So be it ... Meanwhile, and without pause, the wind howls. Apparently it goes for about four months like this, rattling every window and making it seem like the buildings are going to get knocked over. Walking the streets is a barrage of dust and light pebbles as jackets, shirts, and pants balloon with the air that is caught. At the hostel we run from place to place as we have to cut through the outside. Loud doesn't even cover it, either ... Do I see a sloth hanging from a tree in town? Yes, I do. And it moves as slowly as the name implies, this shaggy mini-Yeti that grazes on leaves ... Before the Israeli leaves, I confirm his identity as he also has been trying to place me. He was at the Bariloche, Argentina penthouse cult over Christmas just as I was, but an insider of the highest order: He knew the pretender to the throne back in Israel; he was also actively recruited by a staff member with whom he became, uh, familiar. He next spends some minutes muttering to himself how "This explains things!..." As my ever faithful research into the cult continues, the time perhaps has come to consider applying for grant money. Surely.

12 Mar, Monteverde
I dutifully do my part to support the steroidal tourism that is on display at Monteverde: I walk out of town to the greater of the butterfly exhibits. My captive audience - literally - waits for me in four enclosures as I snap away some pictures that I have no idea will come out or not. My camera is now in such a desperate condition that the viewscreen is completely obliterated, I don't know which functions I can use (such as deleting), plus I have to shake the camera when I turn it on and the lens comes out a little before grabbing it in the split second it does before retracting to get it to open all the way. This is amusing, apparently, to bystanders - but I will prevail! In any event, the day of the spontaneous photo has come to an end with this device -and the butterflies are nevertheless beautiful and enjoyable, pictures or no. Their levels of camouflage are impressive, as are their sizes and colors. In the process of this photo adventure I inadvertently catch snippets of a tour that coincides with my wanderings. I listen in on tidbits about pheromones, how wing colors suggest poison to prolong a butterfly's life, mating rituals, etc. Then I immediately forget it all and concentrate on their beauty again, that only before finally leaving to celebrate with a fine falafel (Monteverde's restaurant choices are good, it's worth noting, a proper match to the tourist bent of offerings) and a coffee that promises to help out the farmers harvesting the beans. Hope that's the case, anyway ... The rest of the day is sufficiently covered by playing some trumpet with a view at the hostel (behind large glass panes to block that %(*#& wind), nearing the end of the marvelous book The Green House, then trying to find any life in the nonexistent nightlife of Monteverde. My German and French get some pathetic workouts. A banjo player arrives at the hostel to fiddle around with his instrument - which sounds nice - but it doesn't look like he'll be a good candidate for collaboration ... And does the insane, howling wind ever stop? NO, it does not. I give myself only a couple more days before heading to the calm and beaches of the Caribbean ... Today's sloth-in-the-city is a child, I think. Or that's my best guess since it's huddled into a small ball on a tree limb and is sleeping the entire day away.

13 Mar, Monteverde
I decide on a hike to the top of Cerro Tres Amigos, one of the few things in town that doesn't have a price tag on it. It's only a matter of time until it does, surely, but for now I figure it's a good substitute to the blah feeling I get when I walk over to the frog-a-torium and decide to give it a pass. Somehow it feels closer to a zoo than the butterfly place, but maybe I'm just not giving the insects as much of their due for possibly having a brain or the first inkling of emotions. In any event the weather's a bit sketchy, yes, but when isn't it in this town? So I head out of town, soon turning off from the main road to head up sharply - and then up some more. Seriously steep this sucker is, even if it is a dirt (clay) road that I'll be following all the way to the top. Unquestionably only 4x4s can make this grade, though, and from the look of the ground - with its deep ruts and slide marks - they don't always have an easy time of it. I, however, more or less do - making it up in about 1:15 when I was told to expect a good two hours. On the way I only see some fat black bumblebees and that large blue-black dragonfly-like thing with yellow wings for my trouble. Both near and then at the top, the mists roll in just as I top out at the TV towers. Next I walk to the end of the road, all the way to the last of the several towers - where I find a worker who suggests I just take the road back down instead of trying to find any of the trails I've heard might exist. Some workers I eventually spot near the first tower are more positive, though: One gives me a couple of pieces of candy and some water as another tells me that the trail near where we currently are should more or less be fine. It is, too, and for a bonus I'm the only person I spot on it the entire time. There aren't any views the entire way, either, as the mist seems to be rolling down the mountainside right about at the same pace at which I'm descending. It doesn't matter - I'm far more interested in watching my step to avoid a muddy slide when I'm not gawking at all of the pretty flowers (of which I assume most to be of the orchid family). With the sun now on the wane, I decide against music to see if I can spot something in the quiet of dusk. This pays dividends: Aside from the random hummingbird, there's a black-blue-ish pheasant/ducklike bird I see in the trail at one time, too. But the crowning moment of the hike is when I hear an animal that sounds like it is sobbing. Eventually I track the sucker down, a black rodent that could be a large vole, mole, or god-knows-what that is trundling around near the base of the tree. It patters about and then eventually finds its way into a hole when it realizes that I'm like all of a foot away. Hmm. Then I get back to plugging along down the trail as the mists continue to roll through and I hear various bird calls that give no idea as to their origins. No complaints, however, about a stellar little hike that entails a good deal of exercise. I thus reward myself with another falafel and maracuja fruit juice at the same place as the previous day. The wind meanwhile keeps a-going, now accompanied with a little drizzle that does nothing to turn down the volume of the sound ... I finish The Green House, a book well worth a re-read someday if only to admire the novel way in which the story's threads are intertwined on a level I've never seen before, at times on a sentence by sentence basis.

14 Mar, Monteverde
A final day in the locus of all that is eco-tourism, if not only for Costa Rica then the world. The downside is that there is an intense amount of propaganda everywhere you look to do an activity. Even every bit of terrain seems somehow shoehorned to fit in another property to cater to tourists anywhere near town. On the other hand, this is the first country in Latin America where I have no trouble using the larger bills they have. In this case it is 10,000 colones, which is about $20. It IS a relief not to have to go through the rigamarole of questioning whether I possibly have smaller change or having to wait an eon as a proprietor runs down the street to some mysterious person that actually has change. As for the uncountable number of misspellings and incorrect grammar usage, THAT is something that the large expat community should take themselves to task on while they are putting the shovelfuls of $$$ into their bank accounts ... The day is summed up in a short walk, some trumpet, some writing on the blog/travelogue, coffee and, well that's about it! Time to blow this wind tunnel!

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