Monteverde

Well we had limited time in Costa Rica, but rather than bypass the place completely we decided to compromise by choosing one place to enjoy for a couple of nights. The place we decided on was Monteverde.
Wow, what a place we chose. There are enough activities to do in Monteverde to fill up a months’ worth of activities. It describes itself as the adventure capital of Costa Rica and it reminds me a little of Queenstown but with a Central American twist (and unfortunately some U.S. of A thrown in too).
The place first became famous for bird watching in the cloud forests and the adrenalin activities have materialised later. The town itself sprawls along the hillside and the road accessing the place is an exciting dirt road that results in the last 15km taking a hour in the bus!!
We arrived in the dark but we’re excited by all the signs for activities we were seeing and when we arrived at the hostel our host was truly fantastic in helping us sort out a plan for our day in Monteverde.
We started by hiking through the cloud forest at Santa Elena where we were meant to see the famous Quetzal bird. Alas we saw very little but the walk through the cloud forest was fantastic nonetheless. The temperature was just perfect and there was a natural mist in the air. It wasn’t raining it was just the fact that we were sitting at the cloud level.
The whole place felt very mystical and it was easily the most developed national park we had been in for quite some time. While it was nice having paths and signposts we felt that it did detract a bit from the nature. Either way we had a great morning covering most of the park and like I said while we didn’t see the quetzal we did really enjoy the cloud forest.
Now while Monteverde had lots of activities to offer they all involved a fairly hefty charge. In fact Costa Rica was fairly expensive (another reason we are shooting through). We wondered whether it was just tourist prices but apparently not. I can’t quite work out how people here are surviving when we found out that a the earnings for a job like being a receptionist in a hotel would mean that you earn enough to buy a pineapple every hour!!
Our host pointed out a spot in one of the forests where we could climb (for free) a Ficus tree. Having never heard of a Ficus tree before he showed us a photo so we knew what we were looking for. A Ficus tree is like a strangler vine and grows around an existing tree ultimately killing its host. When the host tree dies it decomposes and leaves the Ficus standing by itself. The result is a superb climbing frame that has taken 100 years or so to create.  
It took us a little while to find but it was well worth it when we did!
We were having such an exciting day we just wanted to keep going so we quickly squeezed in booking some bus tickets for Nicaragua the next day before we got picked up to go on a night walk through the forest.
Our aim was to see a sloth and we were told this was the place to do it. We weren’t the only ones in town with this plan and there were a few large groups going on the same hike but it seemed as though they knew what they were doing so with flashlights in hand off we went.
The tour started pretty well with a tarantula but unfortunately sightings became pretty slim after that. In fact at one point the guide claimed to be showing us all a green snake in a green bush 30 meters away in the dark. None of us were impressed, but all of a sudden that changed when high above in the branches we saw a sloth!!
We were all so excited that the rest of the tour, while interesting, was almost just filler. That is until the end when we were on our way back to camp and we came across a second sloth but this time only just above our heads. It was great seeing the animal in action as he climbed back up to the canopy above. They only move for four hours of each day and this one had managed to climb halfway down a tree and then back up! (I guess we all have days like that)
Anyway we were suitably excited and had had enjoyed our say immensely, time for dinner and then a couple of hours sleep before our bus to Nicaragua the next day at 4 am!!! T


Bus seats where the designer seems to have forgotten that you need somewhere to put your legs!

Some shots of the cloud forest at Santa Elena.





The Ficus tree.



Us climbing up the Ficus.


Brilliant local lunch. Cerviche and Doritos served in the crisp packet!

The tarantula from our night walk.

A scorpion.

A couple of shots of our sloth.  He wouldn’t turn to face us but was awesome to see.

San Jose

After another schedule check we decided to catch an overnight bus to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. For no other reason than it gets us closer to Nicaragua. 
As far as capital cities go San Jose has to be one of the worst. It doesn’t have the colonial old world charm and it has been over run by concrete buildings and just looks a bit blah. On top of that there isn’t the Latin American charm that other cities have as it is very Americanized. There is a McDonald’s on every corner and it doesn’t have the skyscrapers of Panama City to bring it into the modern world. It is literally an ugly concrete sprawl.
In saying that we spent the afternoon walking down the central pedestrian mall which was full of hustle and bustle and people selling everything from a bag of broccoli, remote controls and football shirts. So many sights and sounds!
We then had to walk to the bus station just around the corner to buy our tickets to Monteverde as there is no central bus station here, just a bunch of little ones that go to certain locations. We had read that the area around the bus stations were not that great and they were not wrong. It was in the middle of the day and we didn’t have any backpacks but we still felt a little uncomfortable. It was dodgy. We made it to the bus station in one piece and purchased our tickets and walked back a different way that seemed to be a little better. Though we decided straight up we would catch a taxi to the terminal with our bags tomorrow.
The next day we went for a walk in the central mercado which was awesome. It not only had restaurants but little stalls selling clothes etc. We then headed to the main attraction which was the jade museum. The modern building stuck out like a sore thumb among the others and the exhibition was really well done and the jade pieces were beautiful. I always thought jade was an Asian thing but apparently I was wrong.
Yesterday on arrival at the bus station when we went outside it felt as if it was raining ash. We just thought there must have been some factory around. But we found out this morning that one of the volcanos near by has started spitting ash! Walking around the city you would occasionally get a blast of ash that would get in your eyes. Not very pleasant.
All in all not a great start to our Costa Rican experience coupled with the fact that it is pretty expensive. We had been told that already so we were prepared. We have also been told by lots of people that the national parks and scenery here is beautiful so very much looking forward to seeing some of that tomorrow in Monteverde. S

The Main Street is pedestrianised and full of hustle and bustle .


The national theatre is a highlight, but unfortunately the square around it was having a major refurb so was closed off for us.

The jade museum.


One of the parks had this butterfly display.  It was a decent attempt to brighten things up.