exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Rainy Cloudforests and Cloudy Rainforest
I've enjoyed Costa Rica's beaches. I've explored a couple of volcanoes. But to get the full experience, I needed to head Northwest.

Friday morning, I and three companions got on the early bus to Monteverde. It was a long and bumpy ride. This is said to be the second most popular spots for tourists, but the roads to get there are the absolute worst in Costa Rica. Oddly enough, this is by choice. The locals (including a large population of Quakers) don't want to compromise their natural resources for the sake of busloads of tourists. Good for them. Good for the cloud forests. Bad for my butt.

Upon arrival in Santa Elena (gateway to Monteverde's forests), we were greeted by hoards of hawkers handing out pamphlets for tours and hotels. We rushed past them to check out a few places from The Book (Lonely Planet's guidebook). After being disappointed, we went back and followed a hawker to a cabina that turned out to be rather nice. Lucky us. The rest of the day was spent exploring the town. It reminds me a bit of Gatlinburg, TN - a mountain town attempting to maintain its charm while still catering to tourists. And much like Gatlinburg, the attempt has failed and charm has mostly given way to tourism.

We visited the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve the next morning, where we ponied up the cash for a guided tour. This is a private (though non-profit) scientific reserve, making it slightly more expensive than a national park. But we were treated to an entertaining and knowledgeable guide who educated us as we strolled through the misty forest. Unfortunately, one of the first things we learned was that November is a horrible time to visit Monteverde due to the wind and rain. Animals take cover during this time. Tourists get soaked. But still, the forest itself was amazing.

Monteverde - 32 Monteverde - 11
Monteverde - 36

More Monteverde pictures.

Sunday, the ladies caught the early bus back to San Jose. I, the essentially unemployed bum, took this opportunity to continue my journey over to La Fortuna. This is an interesting trip because the bus takes 7 or 8 hours, but a Jeep-Boat-Jeep transfer takes only about 3 hours. The name, though fun to say, is misleading. The "Jeep" was actually a minivan. Bumpy, but it got me there. The boat ride is a short skip over Arenal lake. And the final minivan made the short jaunt to La Fortuna's center. I got there in plenty of time to hunt for hotels, which is good since many of the options listed in The Book were either full or closed for remodeling. Finally I found a nice little place run by a friendly, helpful Tico family.

If Santa Elena / Monteverde is Gatlinburg, then La Fortuna / Arenal is Pigeon Forge, TN. This town makes no attempt to hide its touristy agenda. It openly begs for foreign money with big flashing signs. But, oddly enough, I enjoyed it slightly more than Monteverde. Sure, the weather still stank (warm, but rainy and cloudy). And the tour that my friendly, helpful Tico hotel owner convinced me to take was a wash since the volcano stayed covered in clouds.

La Fortuna & Arenal - 02 La Fortuna & Arenal - 04

But there was one thing that made it worthwhile: the waterfall. Sick of tours, I decided to simply walk the 7 kilometers to the waterfall on Tuesday. It was possibly longer. It was uphill. It was rainy. But it was absolutely stunning. The whole area was beautiful, lush and pastoral. I'm so glad I went.

La Fortuna & Arenal - 28 La Fortuna & Arenal - 17
La Fortuna & Arenal - 10 La Fortuna & Arenal - 22

More La Fortuna pictures.

Although the weather was less than ideal, and the towns were overly touristy, there were certainly some good points to this 5-day trek. I enjoyed good company on both towns, with my friends in Monteverde and some travel buddies I met in La Fortuna (two guys from Utah and a young lady from Germany). I saw some spectacular sights. And I'm now able to put a real "face" on all the fuss about saving the rainforests.