I don’t really have a lot more to say other than what I already have in the Monteverde post, but I did want to share some pictures of the Jeep-Boat-Jeep ride…
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Monteverde Horseback Ride Tour
My tour was due to start around 11am. As I sat in the common area of my hostel (Cabinas Eddy) I was surprised by a delicious homemade tamales that the Eddy family offered me, as well as to learn that I was the only one who had signed up for the horse tour! The people who ran the tour however were very good friends of the Eddy family and as such, Eddy the first and his wife opted to come along on the tour with me!
Eddy Sr and his wife didn’t speak a lick of English, and as I was still learning Spanish, communication was quite entertaining! But certainly not impossible as my knowledge of Italian helped a lot and hand gestures and charades made up for the rest. All during the ride to the horse facility Eddy talked about Monteverde explaining how the majority of the land is used for the growth of coffee beans and chocolate.
We reached the facility about a half hour later and were greeted with open arms. As mentioned earlier, the “horse” family and the Eddy’s were good friends so we were all greeted as such. We sat in the main lobby area as the two families caught up on each others lives, then we set off on horseback for the tour.
The tour was led by a girl about 12 years old who knew the land like the back of her hand. She was patient and kind and was very knowledgable about the land she grew up on. It was quite entertaining because there were several times when she would begin to explain something about the area only to be interrupted by Eddy Sr. who would continue the explanation as if he were the guide. I found this to be humorous as I could see that everyone was eager to share their knowledge of the area!
The horses are a much smaller breed than those found in the states, and since I had just come from a horse facility riding draft horses, it made these horses by comparison feel like ponies!! But nonetheless it was great just to be back on horseback!! It probably was a good thing that the horses were so small however as there were many areas that I literally had to throw the reins away and allow the horse to navigate their favorite path through the terrain! Parts were so narrow and muddy and slippery and on the edge of cliffs and through rivers that it honestly made me nervous until I just allowed the horse to do their job and get us through safely.
Over hills, through jungle, along hillsides, to the top of a small mountain we finally arrived and my-oh-my what a view!!! Our final destination felt like we had made it to the top of the world with a 360 degree view of everything around us!! You could see Monteverde, Santa Elena and all the way to the Nicoyo Peninsula including the Gulf!!! Though it was a little windy up there, the view was absolutely spectacular and honestly had it not been for the wind, we probably would not have been able to see so far!!
We got off the horses at this point and just spent time walking around enjoying the magnificent view all around us as the horses took a well deserved break, snacking on the grass around us. After we all had our fill of our surrounding views, we mounted back up and headed down a different path to get home. As some areas on the way back were safer to canter along, we did so enjoying the faster pace. You could tell the horses were once again quite familiar with their jobs as though they would never take off without instruction, they always slowed down when they knew they were coming to the end of an area that was safe for speed.
All sorts of day-critters were spotted along the path, including a large variety of butterflies and birds, and of course spiders and webs! Once we made it back to the ranch, I was shocked to realize that almost 5 hours had already passed!! How time flies when you are having fun!! I was very pleasantly surprised upon our arrival back to the ranch that we were greeted with a delicious homemade lunch!! Now, I’m not entirely sure if lunch was ever part of the tour itself or if it was simply that I was being joined by friends of the family that I was served lunch. Either way, it was delicious and I was very thankful to have had lunch as it had been a while since I ate anything as well:)
After our meal we all took a walk to their garden where we were shown a large variety of plants that they grow on their land including sugar cane and a very large variety of spices! Our young tour guide cut some cane down and led us to and old shack that had a hand-crank machine designed to crush sugar cane. She placed a bucket at the mouth of the machine and fed sugar cane bark through the machine as Eddy Sr. and I worked the hand cranks to make the machine work! After several feeds of the cane through the machine we had several cups of pure sugar-water entirely from the cane!! It was quite amazing to me how much sugar-water was squeezed out of only a few pieces of cane!! We all took shots of the sugar cane juice and cheered to a wonderful day!!
After our garden tour, I was asked if I minded taking a trip off the normal path of the tour and instead join Eddy Sr. and his wife on a trip to one of their friend’s house. Absolutely, I would love to join them was my response as any opportunity to see real life and real family life in different cultures is part of the reason for any of my travels to begin with!! We headed off on foot to their friend’s house (who I later learned was the family of our young tour guide. She was the eldest of the children in the family) where we were once again greeted with open arms and offered refreshments. I was absolutely taken aback by the beauty of where they lived!! The house was modest as all of them are, with only 3 bedrooms (to be shared by the parents and 7 children) and one bathroom, living room and kitchen. I loved the kitchen as though it was simple, it was the largest of all the rooms and was completely open with a large table in the center just welcoming family and friends to join. The roof was tin and as with most of the homes here the walls didn’t meet the roof but rather had a gap of about half a foot all the way around. I could just imagine how wonderful the sound of rain would be off the roof, echoing around the vast area!! How splendid!!
A better spot for the house as well could not have been picked as the land it was on had a phenomenal view of the mountains around them!! The sun was getting lower on the horizon and it simply lit up the land around us in a fantastic glow that changed in color as it set lower.
Just being with the family, listening to conversation, being present in their tremendous hospitality humbled me. There was nothing but love and fun radiating from them and though I couldn’t understand a lot of what was being said, the general feeling was of community. We headed back to Cabinas Eddy about an hour later and though it was technically still early, I was definitely exhausted and just relaxed the remainder of the evening. Of course I did make sure to thank everyone profusely for the fantastic day as none of it would have been possible without first the Eddy family joining me, and second for everyone’s amazing hospitality all along the way!!
Early the next morning, it was “on the road again” for me. I was picked up at the tour office and shuttled from La Fortuna to Lake Arenal, across the lake in a little boat and met on the other side by another shuttle that took us to Monteverde.
Ok, technically we were taken to Santa Elena which is right next door to Monteverde. Locals insist you use the proper name of Santa Elena, but tour groups and tourists call the whole area Monteverde.
When I arrived in Santa Elena I was dropped off at a place that some people recommended to me. If memory serves correctly it was called El Toucan. The reception staff however were not very helpful as when I asked how much the rooms were (private with a private bathroom if possible) they asked how much I wanted to pay instead of telling me the price. Red flag alert! I stated no more than $10 per night and they jumped on it! Red flag alert #2… I asked to see the room first (always a good idea for any traveler) and they seemed nice enough but I did notice that the place was practically empty and the “private room” I was to stay in had 3 other beds. So I decided to move along and see what else there was.
As I hiked up a teeny hill I spotted the tour van passing me, and the tour driver spotted me giving me a look of “what is that crazy tourist doing now?!?!” as I had just left where I was dropped off and was heading in the same direction he was driving! In any event, I noticed many people being dropped off at the Monteverde Backpackers so I decided to check it out. It was $16 a night and I don’t believe there were any private rooms left, so I opted to keep going. I was told there was another hotel/hostel just down the road so I went to check it out…
Enter Cabinas Eddy… I literally get chills thinking of this place and the kind hospitality and beautiful accommodations that I was provided during my stay here. I can’t say enough good things about the place and the people!!! Cabinas Eddy is run and owned by 2 generations of “Eddy’s”, the father and his wife and his son (Eddy) and his wife and child. For $8 a night, I was offered a beautiful and cozy private room with a private bathroom and HOT water!!! I almost passed out when I found out the price for it and scrambled furiously to get money out to pay before someone else came by to snatch it up!!! Well in all reality I first had to excuse myself politely to furiously get money that was stored in my bra out to pay, as I never travel with cash easily available but rather always store it in less likely places…
After signing in and settling in, I signed up for some tours. One jungle night walk for later that evening, and after making sure the place was a good one that took care of its horses, I signed up for a horseback ride.
Monteverde/Santa Elena truly is a magnificent place! Nestled in the cloud forest of Costa Rica the biodiversity is rich and the land literally reminded me of the hills of Ireland!! Rich, lush and rolling, this area really was a beautifully magnificent sight to behold!! Now, I should mention here that I have never been to Ireland, but the land is what I would imagine Ireland to look like. Since being there I have met several people from Ireland whom have also visited Monteverde and have asked if it reminded them of home, and they have said absolutely yes! So I really don’t mind so much making that comparison even though I haven’t actually been to Ireland…
Anyway once again I’m getting off topic! I spent only 2 nights in Monteverde, which really unless you plan to do a bunch of tours is about the right amount of time. They are also quite famous in that area for zip lining and for sky walks as they are in the cloud forest. The weather while I was there was quite nice as it was sunny and warm in the day and got chilly at night! The winds even picked up for the second night I was there, which locals said was very unusual for this time of year (normal for December time). The cool mountain air at night was so refreshing and nice and made you want to bundle up making for some of the best night sleep I had had in a while. The food was fantastic as I was once again indulging in casados, and the people all very friendly! None as friendly as the Eddy family though as on my second day there they offered me a homemade tamales! It was so darn scrumptious!!
I of course did find time to do a little fiesta-ing in the town too and on my way back from one bar ran into some people whom I had noticed around town in La Fortuna. They were staying at the backpackers place which is where I ended up going and meeting a ton of other travelers. I stayed up till quite early in the morning talking and drinking and playing cards with my fellow travelers and the hostel manager. I know I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it really does still amaze me how many travelers are on the same path. There are so many who have just had enough of where they were and what they were doing and decided to simply pack it up and move on. One such case was of a guy from England I believe who was an architect there. He once loved that occupation but then just got burned out and decided to pursue his true passion: photography of primates! He has since been traveling the world in pursuit of every variety of primate! There were and are of course just your regular garden variety travelers on vacation or on a sabbatical, but quite surprisingly to me even more who left everything from their previous life behind to just travel and try something new.
The morning of leaving Monteverde I ended up on the same bus as the people I had seen in La Fortuna and in chatting some more with them realized that we were once again going to the same place: Manuel Antonio.
Monteverde Night Tour
Ok, here we go… There were pit vipers that were hanging out around the base of the trees, which we were told was a rather lucky sight as they are ususally much higher up during the time of year I was there. There were tarantulas; one female that was nestled in her burrow on the side of a little hill whom the tour guide tried to coax out with a stick (I had to use extra zoom to get a close-up picture without actually getting in close, hence why the photo is a little fuzzy) and one male who walked across my path and decided to halt directly in front of me!! Now, of course I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of everyone else because of my fear but then again I was so paralyzed that I couldn’t actually move. Luckily one of the other girls on my tour stopped with me to lend some moral support even though she too was terrified of the critter. Even more lucky was that another tour guide and group was coming by so the guide wedged the tarantula between his feet (not actually touching it but rather providing a barrier between it and me) allowing me to make a literal run for it!
Now one thing I did learn about tarantulas that made me feel quite sorry for the little buggers had to do with their worst predator… No, not humans in this case but rather wasps!! Wasps apparently will land on the back of a tarantula and inject it with a tranquilizer of sorts thus paralyzing the arachnid but not killing it. The wasp will then lay eggs on the back of the tarantula and as the eggs hatch, the newborn wasps will feed off the tarantula, eventually killing it after 8 whole days!! Being eaten alive… now that’s just NO way for any creature to have to die!! Poor little buggers!!
Moving on however, another spectacular sight was the mama sloth and her baby! The mother looked absolutely HUGE but apparently only weighed like 20lbs!! These sloths (2-toed) are all fur and have the look of being humongous but really aren’t. Her baby was really hard to see as unlike its mom, the baby was a dark brown color that blended in perfectly with the dark night. What really suprised me the most about this pair however was how active the mom and baby were! Sloths are named as such because of their slow movement and the fact that they sleep a lot. But apparently at night they do become more active as we saw as there was a ton of grooming and movement, especially by the baby!
The tour guides were amazing and were able to spot the tinniest of critters from great distances!! One such example was spotting a foot long walking stick!! We were all huddled looking at this dense forest and the guide kept going “look, there is a giant walking stick”… We were like “where?!?!?!” It blended in perfectly with the tree it was on and was only about 4 feet in front of us, yet it took a good 10 minutes for everyone on the tour to actually see what the rest were looking at!! Quite impressive!
Another area we visited was the nest of a colony of army ants. We were not able to walk on certain areas as putting too much weight on the ground had the potential for collapsing the Earth under us, plunging us into the depths of a million angry ants!! If I recall my stats correctly, scientists have estimated about 2 billion ants in this one colony alone!! What was most impressive about this spot was when the tour guide went to catch a soldier ant. These ants guard the entrances to the nest and are the most fierce of all. He picked it up by the body making sure to have a good grip on its head so it couldn’t bite him. Then he picked up a stick that was about 4 feet long… He put the tip of the stick to the pinchers of the soldier ant and it immediately clasped on! The ant was so strong and had such a good grip that it was able to hold on to the stick entirely on its own!! Even more interesting, the ants were used by Indigenous people as stitches! If someone got a cut that needed stiches, they would use soldier ants by making them bite on their skin to bring each side of the wound together and then they would pinch off the heads. The head of the ant would not fall off for 8 days!! Once they did fall off the wound was healed! Quite impressive of the indigenous tribes!! But also quite painful!
Perhaps the most interesting of all the things we saw on this tour was what we couldn’t see with out lights on… The tour guide picked up an old moldy piece of wood and stared at it with awe and fascination. He said it was the most beautiful part of the forest! We were all confused and wondered why an old piece of wood was so interesting, until we turned our lights off… Right before our eyes the wood began to glow!! It was covered in rare bioluminescent algae!!! We all stared in wonder and as we began to look around us in the dark, you could see all of the forest lit up in different areas by this spectacular algae! We also spent part of our time chasing after a rare cat who, like most nocturnal critters, hunts at night but is very fast and therefore hard to see! Even though we didn’t get to see it ultimately, the chase was rather fun!
Now for each tour it is never guarenteed of course that you will see a large diversity of animals, but again I would definately recommend it!
On to Monteverde Horseback Riding Tour
I arrived in La Fortuna the next afternoon and headed to the hostel I found on the internet called “Sleepers Sleep Cheap”. The word ‘cheap’ of course caught my eye immediately when searching for somewhere and the reviews seemed good enough.
About 100 meters south of the bus terminal, I arrived at the hostel which was set back a little from town than most of the others. For $10 a night, I got a private room with a private bath, hot water and breakfast! I paid for 2 nights and proceeded to get settled in. Honestly I don’t have any negative words for the hostel. It was a very basic set-up and nothing fancy by any means, but it was cheap, my room was clean, the staff were very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast area had one of the best views in my opinion… I will later divulge what that view was;)
Now, I wanted to state my opinion about the hostel before writing about this bit: interestingly enough, weeks later when I was in Bocas Town (Bocas del Toro), Panama, I met a couple who just happened to stay at the hostel at the same time that I was staying there! But they had a very different opinion of the place… Though they did agree it was cheap, they said they believed they had bed bugs and that their door wouldn’t close all the way so all sorts of critters would come in during the day and night. Their room wasn’t clean and they weren’t that thrilled with what was served for breakfast (toast, eggs, fruit and coffee). So, I guess it just goes to show you that not everyone’s experiences are the same!
In any event, after getting settled in it was about time to eat something, so I found a local soda that was recommended and that was just down the street from my hostel and had a fantastic fillet de pollo casado! I absolutely love those casados!!!
Waiting for my meal to arrive, two guys whom I had met on the bus showed up so we dined together. I spent that evening wandering the streets of La Fortuna with them, drinking beer in the central park. Since we had all arrived in the late evening, there really wasn’t much time to get our barring of the area, so at this point none of us really knew where the famed volcano was. Sitting in the park drinking, it became a little bit of a game trying to figure out where the volcano actually was. If the volcano had been active, it would have been quite obvious, but alas the volcano was dormant while I was there. And mind you, it had been dark since before dinner, so there wasn’t any way to see around us…
The next morning I rose early determined to check several things off my list. First off, I wanted to do a tour of the volcano and perhaps the hot springs and second I wanted to go to the famed La Fortuna waterfall and finally, I wanted to get a plan in place on where my next destination would be. Even though the purpose of my trip to Costa Rica was not to be a tourist, one really can’t help but do a tour or two once here! They can be pricey, that’s for sure but I did a lot of tour “office hopping” prior to settling on the final place to book at. And since it was the off-season, there were more deals available than not.
Red Lava, a tour office located at the bus terminal offered the best prices and most unique tours. Through them I booked a tour of the Arenal volcano that was 5 hours long, including a nature hike to a waterfall (not the La Fortuna waterfall but another one), a history of the Arenal volcano and finishing off with a night dip in a natural hot spring. I also booked for a Jeep-Boat-Jeep package that would get me from La Fortuna to my next destination of Monteverde via, well you guessed it: a jeep, a boat and a jeep:)
It was mid-morning by the time I got all my bookings complete and since my volcano tour wasn’t going to start until 2pm, I opted to spend my time in between by going to the famous La Fortuna waterfall. Since my motto on spending money was “the less you spend now, the more you will have later” I decided to walk to the waterfall, located inside a National Park, instead of taking a bus directly to the entrance of the National Park… I really should have just paid the darn $8 for the bus!!!!! But oh no, I decided to keep that money and hike there myself instead! Afterall, it was a paved road to the park so I figured a little exercise would do me some good! I have no idea what the temperature was outside, but the sun was shining and it was definitely humid! I had my little personal bag with me so I could bring my camera for the trip and take plenty of pictures. And I was off for my hike…
About 8 kilometers (about 3 of which were straight uphill- the end 3 of course) later I arrived to the park entrance red-faced and completely dripping in sweat. In fact I was so saturated with sweat that both my t-shirt and breathable pants were completely soaked through!! My bag, supposedly waterproof, even began to soak in some of my sweat so that the inside contents became damp! The very first thing I did when I got to the park entrance was go to the bathroom and practically bathe myself in the sink with my clothes still on! Thankfully I did have along with me my vapur water bottle and therefore was hydrated the entire way, but I still had to refill it twice before ever leaving the bathroom because of my extreme thirst!! People were looking at me like I was crazy, but all I cared about at that point was that I had made it!!
But then, I glanced at my watch… it was noon… there was NO way I was going to be able to actually get to the waterfall and back down to town by 2:00 for my volcano tour:( You see, I had made it to the park ENTRANCE but the waterfall itself was still about a kilometer deep into the park. And tack on the fact that if I wanted to even try to see the waterfall I would have had to pay the $10 entrance fee, well, it just didn’t make much sense at that point to even try for it. So I decided to simply head back down to the town, perhaps get a bite to eat and make it in time for my tour.
The walk back to town was much nicer!! All downhill with a little breeze to boot! The little breeze did wonders to dry my clothing on the walk down and by the time I made it back (about 1) I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the soda where I had dinner and get ready to meet my tour.
Oh and I promised I would divulge the breakfast view from my hostel… It was indeed the volcano!!! I had been staring at it all morning during the first morning while enjoying breakfast yet never realized I what I was looking at, lol!!!