I think I might actually get two trip reports in this week. Maybe even the rest of them!
The wife got quick sick in the middle of our last night in Arenal, and she was in rough shape the next morning. We were supposed to take a boat across the lake, then take horses most of the way to the Monteverde lodge. The wife tried to get me to still do the horse part, but I figured that would not be the best course of action with one of us having to take regular bathroom breaks. We did the taxi-boat-taxi transfer instead, which would have been really nice in other circumstances. The trip across the lake was chock full of great views of the water with the volcano billowing smoke and ash in the background.
The rolling hills on the van rides were one of my favorite parts of Costa Rica. The verdant hillsides were teeming with life, with roiling rivers running everywhere you look. Farms filled with coffee plants and other crops I didn’t recognize intermixed with rain and cloud forests. I tried to get some shots of the coffee farms growing up the hillsides, but the entire road was lined with barbed wire that obscured a good bit of the view. I did manage to snap off a couple, but figured the other van passengers probably wouldn’t have appreciated stopping every couple of feet for me to run up the side of the road for my picture obsession.
The lodge in Monteverde was the Monteverde Lodge and Gardens, one of the nicest in the area according to the guidebooks. We rolled up to lodge and I must say I was impressed with the grounds. The whole area was surrounded by tropical gardens, with paths running through the different areas, and even a path running to a nearby ecological sanctuary. With the wife not feeling well, we went straight to the room and laid down for a nap. Well, we actually went to the room, realized how crazy hot it was with no air conditioning, and switched to a room on the lower floor with a good 15 degrees cooler temperature. Then we took a nap.
While the wife was sleeping, I went to the front desk and got some information about the local parks and activities. One that piqued my interest was a night hike in the ecological sanctuary that was connected to the park, so I signed us up for that. Before the hike, we wandered around the grounds for a while, seeing what kind of plants and animals they had living there. Not many critters other than birds were there, but plants with brilliant colors (occasionally even not green!) grew in every nook and cranny they could.
Time for night hike came, so we headed down the path to the sanctuary, doing our best not to fall on our asses thanks to the slick rock, steps, trails, and every other surface moisture could cling to. At the sanctuary, we were paired up with a guide and a few others and started strolling down the paths to see what we could find. Our guide was again excellent and very knowledgeable about the area’s flora and fauna, pointing out interesting sights that my gringo eyes would never have seen without him. He even had a custom modified MagLite with a wire running out of the back that connected to a huge battery pack so he could run the thing constantly on a two hour hike. It was nice to find a kindred flashlight spirit in the middle of the Americas.
We found all kinds of creepy crawlies on the hike thanks to the guide’s skills and also the fact that the guides all hike the trails before their trips so they can find anything interesting before the tourists get there. Without the guide, we would have seen a lot of trees, and maybe an ant or two. With the guide, we were stopping every few feet to look at some poisonous snake or creepy crawly. The guide proved his worth and made me vow to always hire a guide when I can if I actually want to see anything that doesn’t jump out at you, and even better, to see things that jump out at you before they jump out at you.
Leaf cutter ants cut paths all through the forests back and forth from their massive mounds. The visible part of their mounds would be a good 30′ across, with who knows how much more underground. They would take the leaves back into their lair and use them to grow the fungus that they subsisted off of.
Speaking of ants, our guide told us that if we felt or saw an army ant, that probably meant that we had another 20 on us. Now that I have some army ant experience, I will have to say that he was grossly underestimating the number. I would say it was closer to a million that would be on you if you felt one. One of the girls on the hike started screaming and freaking out, so we all shone our flashlights on her to see what was wrong. Ants were all over her legs and were starting to bite her, so, of course, we started wondering if they were on us as well, which they were. After some running down the trail, jumping up and down, and smacking an ant or two hundred, we continued on the hike.
Tarantulas were especially prevalent once you learned how and where to look. I probably got a little closer than I should to try to get some good shots, but the flash seemed to do a good job of stunning them so they did not jump out at me and eat my face off.
We saw a good bit of other critters, including some sleeping bats, a couple of porcupines that lived in the trees, and the largest green eyelash pit viper that the guide had ever seen. There was also the skeleton of an unidentified mammal that probably creeped out a few of the other tourists, especially when I started taking up close pictures of it. Ah, the things I do in the name of our photo assignments.
After the hike, dinner was had at a decent local restaurant with the couple from Marietta that we had met at Arenal and a couple of teachers we met on the night hike. After dinner, it was back to the lodge for some sleepy time.