Costa Rica: Saturday & Sunday: Monteverde

More good hotel luck: Hotel Montaña. Here’s the view from the little patio off our room (yes, we threw bits of granola bar onto it trying to attract birds).

We got up bright and early to get to the Cloud Forest. It was definitely more (ostensibly) damp than the area around Arenal, and more overgrown as a result. Denser, I guess.

This tree is one that grows from the canopy down, basically suffocating the tree underneath. This one has been here long enough that the old one has died and rotted, and now it’s hollow inside. We ran into a group that was taking turns crawling inside.

Naturally we had to crawl inside too.

Here’s a bit of the beginning path.

I like how this tree has grown at a perfect angle to reach up toward the sunlight.

The one thing I really hoped would happen during this vacation was spotting a Resplendent Quetzal. I am reasonably sure I saw a male fly past us, but we definitely stopped and watched this female for as long as she allowed.

Again with the major, major camera superiority of Yen. Isn’t she beautiful?

Here’s Yen for scale around these huge trees. He’s taking a photo of me to accomplish the same point.

See, I didn’t even need the translation for this one. Thank you, Sesame Street!

I love a boardwalk no matter where I roam (‘cept maybe the Jersey shore).

Another view.

Once we got around to the top, we discovered we were standing on the Continental Divide. What’s curious to me is this sign was only presented in English.

The view from the top. You can see why it’s called the Cloud Forest.

After we left the Forest, we saw a sign telling us about a free hummingbird gallery. Who are we to refuse? These two aren’t actually hummingbirds, just free-loading banana birds.

Hummingbirds just can’t help being adorable.

This guy, though, was quite a bully. He kept going around to the feeders knocking the other varieties out.

After all those hummingbirds, it was definitely time for some lunch.

Before we left, everyone kept telling us, “You don’t go to Costa Rica for the food,” as if in warning. Even Yen said on his previous trip he didn’t enjoy it. But we had great meals.

After lunch we decided to take it a little easy and went over to a frog exhibit. Our tour guide, Walter, had all kinds of great information about the frogs, including this little guy.

Walter alarmed us a bit, though, by explaing his project to make himself immune to frog poison by slowly exposing himself to it. I’ll say no more.

During the tour, we met a couple from Belgium. Once again, traveling with Yen paid off: after we talked with them about other places they’d been, he suggested dinner, something I never would have done. We all agreed to meet again in 90 minutes, and Yen and I set off on a little walk.

Which was when we discovered that a cloud had descended.

It looked like the most dense fog I’d ever seen, but the locals were undeterred, and it moved on again without a fuss just an hour later. I guess you get used to things like that.

Peter and Cindy (who knows whether I’m spelling their names correctly – they’ll let me know, I’m sure), were one of the nicest surprises of the trip. Hilarious, adventurous, they told us all about their exploits in Thailand the year before, and we offered a few suggestions for their upcoming trip to San Francisco.

Oh, and dinner was great as usual (seafood this time).

One of their suggestions was for a butterfly garden with… a surprise.

Let’s stop a moment and review my crippling arachnophobia. I like to think of myself as a sensible girl, I really do. And brave. I’m pretty good about just tackling what comes my way. But as long as I can remember, I have had an absolute terror of spiders, even photos of them. But when Peter and Cindy said we could hold a tarantula at this butterfly garden, I got it into my head that maybe doing this would help me deal with this fear once and for all.

And so I did it.

I really, seriously, honestly did it.

I don’t know that I’m cured. I will say that once I settled the hell down, I thought they were pretty interesting to look at (I held a zebra tarantula and a red-knee). They were calm, weighed much less than I expected, and never once lunged at my face and started macerating it (which I sure appreciated). Later I did see a “wild” spider on the wall and jumped a little, but I made myself go back for another look. We’ll see how things progress.

Next up were scorpians. Our guide, Alan, lifted the top of the box, looked around, and then announced, “I guess someone left the lid loose and they escaped in the night. I’ll get more tonight.”

Another pause, sorry. The Monteverde Butterfly Garden deserves a special plug. They had a great collection, but the time and detail that Alan spent giving us a tour of the spiders and beetles was just wonderful. We were both fascinated by it all, and I insist that you pay them a visit when – when! – you visit the area.

Please only eat the beetles the guide tells you you can. Seriously.

The butterfly gardens were good too, although I am not a big fan of this plant. It smells like rotting seafood.

Here’s our guide showing us the “snake” on the butterfly. See it? I didn’t for ages. I don’t have a Gestalt brain.

These, my friend, are stingless bees. Just because they’re stingless doesn’t mean they don’t climb into your hair. What a mess.

Banana flower (and bananas). Raise your hand if you find it so obscene that you feel like a 12-year-old boy?

Yen was incredibly taken with the hummingbirds, so we paid them one last visit before we headed back down toward San Jose.

We’re told that Costa Rica has 26 different varieties of them.

Yen took some really incredible photos of them.

We couldn’t leave town without lunch – it’s just such a long journey. And we couldn’t have lunch without a beer.

It rained like crazy while we ate. The road outside the window turned into a small river.

You can see people waiting for the bus in it. (Also, yes, I’m amused by a sushi restaurant in landlocked Monteverde.)

Now we began the journey back down the road and realized why people were so impressed by Yen tackling that drive at night.

But small, unpaved roads don’t stop tour buses.

We took the Panamerican Highway for quite a while, then the GPS sent us on a different road. We doubted for a bit, then took her advice. It was a great route, taking us along the coast so I could see a black sand beach.

Then it left the coast and wound through densely forested hills. One of the prettiest drives I’ve ever taken (and I’ve driven to Whistler, remember).