Head In The Clouds

Hairy Legs @ Monteverde

After 2 hours of corregations and pot holes we arrived in the small highland town of Monteverde. The shuttle dropped everyone off and lucky last we were dropped at the doorstep of Mi Casa Tica. We had booked a private room, but the young guy at reception informed us that unfortunately they were overbooked for that night and could only offer us a dorm and would move us to the private the next day. We agreed, especially seeing as the dorm was empty, only had 4 beds and was $5, what could go wrong?

Well it started when the kid who was giving us a tour said “you can drink beer or whatever here, I don’t care, I’m not your father I am not going to stop you” I kid you not he was 20 if he was a day. Then he showed us to our dorm which was up a rickety ladder onto as narrow mezzanine and into a kind of roof room where he gave us the “luxury” of choosing between a mattress on the floor each which were jammed under the roof so you couldn’t sit up, or a piece of foam approximately 2 inches thick on cardboard on sparsely laid out slats about 3 inches from the floor on a bed frame made of ply wood.

We then realised there was no lockers, no lock on the door, barely a wall and that there was someone sleeping on a mattress along the narrow, I want to say walkway, on the floor, covered by a sarong! To top it off, there was one bathroom for women, and one bathroom for men for about 30 odd people staying in this hostel. The kitchen was a tiny, hot mess. It was all a nightmare. We tried to tell ourselves that it was only a couple nights, that it was cheap and that we would barely notice as we would be out most of the time anyway.

We booked a night tour with a highly recommended wildlife guide Alice had found and headed into town. By the time we returned, the other two “beds” in our “room” had been booked. Great. We asked about security of our belongings to which the worker offered us a tiny little cupboard in the kitchen that he had lost the key for, but “this is a super safe place, really”. We reminded him that he had no idea who he was checking in daily and couldn’t make that promise.

Stuck @ Monteverde

That night we were picked up by Oscar, the top rated wildlife guide in Monteverde. He was booked out for three days straight on birding tours which we really wanted to get in on, although the cost being $150.00 so we had opted for the night walk instead.

We arrived to a private park about 10 minutes out of Monteverde town itself. We were quickly introduced to a lovely family who we would be sharing the tour with. Alice’s face dropped a bit when she realised there was two small American children in our group but they turned out to be the most polite and intelligent children possible. It’s always a bit of a worry if your night tour is made up of children, people that don’t care much about animals and just want a sloth selfie, too many people or loud people (Alice is loud but she walks around in silence on wildlife stuff, it’s bliss), they can really make a break a tour. Lucky for us, the parents were so friendly and their young boy (about 8/9 years old) was an aspiring wildlife guide/naturalist/animal genius! He knew everything! The daughter (about 4/5) was super sweet and so well behaved during the whole tour, (I swear at her age I was petrified of the dark!).

Ssup? @ Monteverde

We were lucky enough to see; two Two Toes sloths (one climbing along an electricity wire!), an Emerald Toucanet sleeping, a few lizards (also sleeping), a fully grown female tarantula (definitely not sleeping), two Side striped green vipers, crickets, millipedes and a Keel Billed toucan sleeping.

Lizard @ Monteverde

Whilst we were on the tour, we saw the tour group that we had nearly booked with because it was cheaper. At one point Oscar, although maintaining a super professional and calm deminer, was furious at the guide as he was so completely oblivious that he nearly walked straight into the snake that we were watching, then led his group past it stomping and yelling. There must have been 20 people in their group and they would have seen very little because they were so loud. As they walked past that were trying to take photos up close on the cell phones which made the snake angry and it started rearing up. Oscar was horrified and told them off. They stomped past it so loudly that it retreated into the darkness and the next small group that came along didn’t get to see it. We could not have been happier to have gone with Oscar, worth every centavos.

Back at the hostel that night was a nightmare. We waited an hour to be able to get into the bathroom to shower and an hour to be able to use the kitchen. At this point we decided we would do our best to find alternative accommodation the next day, it was just gross.

Having Agoutime @ Bosque Eterno de Los Niños

The next morning we woke up super early, left our packs in the hall next to the unlocked front door. Despite being promised this door would be locked, we had no choice to but to trust that people wouldn’t be shit and steal our belongings as we had to catch a bus to get into the park early as we were not going to be back in time for check out, and had to ”move rooms”. Annoyed, we headed out, just more ammunition and reason to move. We jumped on the 6.15am bus full of National Park workers and one other equally keen Japanese tourist with a huge camera and headed to Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Monteverde was founded in 1972, previously being home to the Quakers who had left the states to avoid being drafted into the Korean War in 1951. They chose Costa Rica primarily because it had just abolished its army some three years earlier. It was these Quakers who named the park Monteverde “Green Mountain” for the year round plant life that kept the mountain, you guessed it, green!

Humming Bird @ Monteverde

The Tropical Science Centre of Costa Rica became aware of the vast biodiversity and importance of Monteverde Cloud Forest and in 1972 and purchased 328 hectors of land from the leader of the Quaker community for less than a US dollar. The park started with 431 visitors in 1975, increasing to 2700 in 1980 and then to over 40,000 in 1991. The park now receives more than 70,000 visitors per year despite the endemic and best known species, like the golden eyed frog, now extinct due to a fungal epidemic.

Monteverde is home to the most amount of orchid species in any one place as well as over 2,500 plant species, 100 mammal species, 400 bird species, 120 reptillian and amphibian species and literally thousands of insects. It also now consists of over 15,000 hectors of land.

We managed to grasp most of this information from the very informative movie-come-PowerPoint that we watched for half an hour whilst we waited for the park to open. Once inside, we headed to a location where Oscar had said he knew of a couple “late nesting” quetzals. He had said that if we were patient and lucky we might see them. Well after an hour and a half I couldn’t keep Alice still any longer.

Centipede @ Monteverde Cloud Forest National Park

We spent a following four hours exploring the park, it was incredibly beautiful. Such a thick dense forest that, although highly visited, makes you feel as if you are there alone. We actually were as we were first in and only started to see other people after about two to three hours it was awesome. Whilst exploring one of the tracks Alice made this kind of inward gasping panic noise, no words, so I looked down to see a small ish, although still very frightening, black snake caught up between my shoes. Luckily enough he sorted himself out and slithered off, I say this because I was a wreck. Alice had wanted to shout to me to tell me to move/run but knew she would scare me so just made a weird noise. Reaching the view points on the tree top bridges was a bit of a disappointment as it was purely cloud and we couldn’t see further than a couple of metres, but it still in its own right was a spectacular sight as we were eye level with huge beautiful trees that had loads going on on their trunks.

Jungle Bug @ Monteverde Cloud Forest National Park

Orange Bellied Trogon @ Monteverde Cloud Forest National Park

Back at the hostel, we had managed to ring another accomodation who had space and were only slightly more expensive, not that we cared too much at that point. Also we had overheard another overbooking with another pair who had booked a private room so we knew the hostel was going to stay just as full. We pulled the young guy aside and very quietly explained (as the place was full there was no way of telling him privately without whispering) that we were going to move as we were pretty disappointed with the facilities but that he had been really nice. He was really good about it all until we mentioned the the fact that the were sleeping on mattresses on the floor as beds, to which he responded “what do you expect for $5”. As we had never expected to pay that, and had actually booked a private, we decided to leave it be. We were so tempted to be like “well, beds at a minimum if we’re honest, and a room with a door that shut and preferably locked, oh and not to have to wait an hour to pee and to trip over someone in the corridor who was sleeping”. Just as we were leaving four young British girls, newly arrived in Costa Rica, were shown to their “rooms”. One of the other staff members said in Spanish to the young guy that they only had two spaces in one dorm and that they would all have to sleep separately and there was only three spots. The young guy replied something like, oh right, great, here we go then. The British girls didn’t speak Spanish so they climbed the ladder bright eyed and we watched as two got put onto the floor mattresses we had just vacated, one into another dorm also onto a floor mattress on the other side of the mezzanine and the last one was told “I have something really special for you, I promise you- you are going to love it!”. He then helped her place her bag onto the mattress in the walkway only half hidden by a sarong! It was unbelievable, the girls looked so shocked and it was at that point we left. Mi Casa Tica, you have literally been awful.

Emerald Toucanet @ Bosque Eterno de Los Niños

After a hot 8 minute walk we arrived in heaven. Hostel Cattleya is a relatively new place with modern and clean rooms, a big kitchen and tonnes of bathrooms. We were greeted by Jonathan who ran the place and he was super friendly and accommodating. There were three common areas, each having their own bathroom and 3 rooms coming off each. Then there was the kitchen and lounge room and a dining room. There was even tables, chairs and hammocks lining the outside of the house, It was fantastic.

That afternoon we headed to the Ranario (frog pond) and did a tour with a really young and enthusiastic reptile specialist who I want to say was called Pablo?! Anyway we did a little tour around a butterfly garden which was just ok but then he took us to the frog tanks. This was clearly his passion and we spent well over an hour spotting incredible frogs! A lot of them were diurnal so we were told we could come back at around 7pm in the evening to see the frogs that were currently hiding. It was a cool tour, pretty over priced but we enjoyed it.

Red Eyed Leaf Frog @ Ranario, Monteverde

The following day we headed to Bosque Eterno de los Niños, or the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. It is the largest private reserve in Costa Rica, spanning over 22,000 hectares. Most of this rainforest is inaccessible to tourists, apart from a small portion called “Bajo Del Tigre” which is the trails we walked. The park was started by a group of Swedish school children who wanted to make a change in the world in the 80s, mainly by trying to protect the rainforests that were being damaged. It quickly gained support from other schools, individuals, and organizations from 44 different countries.

Glass Winged Butterfly @ Bosque Eterno de Los Niños

On the walk in on the driveway, we saw an Agouti adult and baby. We paid our entrance fee (which was very cheap compared to anything else in the area) and the staff member showed us a resident three wattled bell bird near reception that we chased and then subsequently ran into a mot mot hanging out in a tree right in front of us. We were given a guide book, bird watching information and maps, all of which is unheard of unless you pay for a guide!

We walked the 4kms of open trails, during which we saw heaps of beautiful birds (including Emerald Toucanets, Three Wattle Bell Birds, Long Tailed Manakins And Lessen’s Mot Mots), butterflies and bugs. The forest was so loud with bird song it was so impressive. It rained a lot but we didn’t care it was amazing and we were as usual, the only ones there.

Wattle I Do @ Bosque Eterno de Los Niños

What What Mot Mot? @ Bosque Eterno de Los Niños

As we were heading for the bus back into Monteverde I heard a Keel Billed toucan (pretty much the only bird sound I can confidently recognise), saw it fly over but then couldn’t see it for ages, but could hear that it was really close. We waited for ages to try catching a glimpse of it, but as time wore on we became less hopeful. As we were about to give up, it flew out of the forest and onto a perfect branch. This has to be the best park ever.

We got home in time for the rain to really set in. That night we went back to the Ranario to see all of the nocturnal frogs. We got their at 7pm as instructed by our guide as the best time to go, were the only ones there and spent over an hour searching through the tanks to the point where they had to tell us they were supposed to be closing. We also saw three Lessen’s mot mots who had come in to escape the rain. The two guides left were really cool and enthusiastic and helped us find the only frog we hadn’t managed to see. A great night.

Frog Feet @ Ranario, Monteverde

Seeing Inside @ Ranario, Monteverde

We jumped on the 2pm bus to San José, we had planned an overnight stay in the capitol before heading south to chase the resplendent Quetzal and more wildlife! Time to get our heads out of the clouds.

Long-Tailed Manakin @ Bosque Eterno de Los Niños

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