Friday, March 7, 2008

Costa Rica 37

The next day was Friday, August 5. Today was to be our first real adventure walk in a cloud forest, unescorted and unguided.

Cloud forests differ from rain forests in that they are higher, located in the mountains. And they are usually very wet because the clouds are in them all the time. Whether it has been raining or not, the vegetation is usually dripping with moisture from the dew contained in the clouds. Long range visibility is almost non-existent also. Not that you can see very far through the dense undergrowth and giant trees and vines anyway.

The larger, more popular cloud forest here is Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde. It can get very crowded and hard to really appreciate the true nature of the forest. So we opted to go to the lesser visited, but equally impressive Reserva Santa Elena. Even though it is smaller, it still has 12 km (8 miles) of well marked and easy to negotiate trails. There is also a large viewing platform for viewing the one good area that opens up for a panorama of the area. It was not very well marked, off down its’ own little trail, but we found it nonetheless!

We were standing in front of our hotel at the appointed time that our pre-arranged driver was to pick us up and take us to the forest. He arrived fashionably late, we climbed in and we were off. And what a drive it was!

This being very hilly, almost mountainous terrain, we wound our way up and then down and around vast hills. And no gradual grades either. They seemed to be either straight up or straight down. And in very bad repair. Since they are basically just paths bulldozed out of the hills, they are dirt and rocks. They are full of potholes and deep ruts where the rain water has washed down them. Our cab dodged and swerved the entire way. I was once again left feeling like my insides had broken loose from their moorings. A very unpleasant feeling. Thankfully the ride lasted only about half an hour.

We were dropped off at the entrance, bought our tickets and were on our way. Shortly after entering the first trail, there is a sign directing you to the various routes around the forest. Which one to take? They ranged in length from 4 miles to just over 1 mile. Knowing my stamina point, we opted for the shortest one. As we walked it, I was glad we did. It took three hours to get around it as it was. Lots of steps taking us higher and deeper into the forest. Of course, we stopped a lot to take pictures and just take in the awesomeness of our surroundings.

The vegetation did not differ that much from the rain forests but enough to make it interesting. Except here everything was wet and dripping with moisture. It was difficult to get any good pictures because it was so overcast and almost gloomy. I am tempted to say that if you have seen one rain/cloud forest, you have seen them all. But that would be unfair and not do them justice. Yes, they are all full of trees, vines, ferns and various other plants that foreign to us Northerners, but each one is still unique.

At one point, we actually crossed the Continental Divide. We had done this last year when we did our American Southwest tour but I was surprised to actually come upon it again in the middle of a cloud forest in Costa Rica! Unlike the USA, there were no souvenir shops or gigantic signs to indicate this. Just one little sign, kind of ho-hum about the whole thing.

We eventually made our way around the whole loop and came back to our starting point. Wet from the moisture and constant drizzle, but happy to have done the walk all the same. There was a little souvenir/coffee shop at the end/start of the trail and we relaxed over a welcome cup of hot coffee before having to start back to town. I was not looking forward to this since my insides still kind of hurt!

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