March 29, 2017 Costa Rica
Today we were going to take “A Walk in the Clouds.” It was to be a hike in the cloud forest, crossing several suspension bridges and seeing hummingbirds and butterflies.
Our guide’s name was Cristian, or Cris as he preferred to be called, and our driver was Gustavo. On our one hour plus ride into the mountains on narrow switchback roads, expertly navigated by Gustavo, Cris told us a lot about his country. I found myself feeling saudades* being back here, and how strange it was to be here for only one day!
Cris asked us what is the first word that comes into our minds when we think of Costa Rica. No one answered right away, so I shouted out “Pura vida!” Cris explained this phrase which has become the motto of Costa Rica. It is about the love of life and optimism that people here have. Cris showed this by his enthusiasm and appreciation for the beauty of Costa Rica’s many ecosystems. He has an advanced degree in ecological science so he is very knowledgeable about native plants and folk medicines.
It took 80 minutes or so to get to our destination. Before splitting up into two groups, we had a little time to do some shopping at the inevitable tourist store.
We were split into two groups because there were 39 people on the bus and there cannot be that many on the trail at the same time. The groups, one led by Cris (our group) and one led by another local guide, had to go in reverse order because only a maximum of 25 people were allowed to be on the trail at one time – the vibrations of so many footsteps scare the animals.
The first stop on our hike was a hummingbird feeding station. The tiny birds fluttered about rapidly, rarely stopping on a feeder long enough to get a good picture. I did get a few, but I think the best was a short video of the hummingbirds’ activity.
We then began a hike into a nature preserve with four hanging bridges. The trail itself was challenging due to the number of steps down we had to take. There was a taut cable – a railing of sorts – that followed the path and we all had bamboo walking sticks. These helped a little but nothing can really alleviate my arthritic knees so I felt unsteady. (I remember being in Costa Rica in July of 2004 when I was more agile and had no problems with places like this. It had rained every day, so I was glad that it isn’t rainy season now, or we’d be slipping in mud!)
At the end of our descent during which Cris told us about various plants, a stream rushed below and on a hillside coming down was a trickle of a waterfall.
Then the path wound upwards and we stopped along our ascent to see some interesting plants, including the “walking palm,” whose roots form a mass aboveground at the base of the tree.
As the old roots die and new ones take their place, the tree actually ‘moves’! In many years’ time, it will have moved about half a foot! Cris also pointed out a ficus tree with its light colored bark and spreading base.
We didn’t see any animals except birds, including a mockingbird – no monkeys!
We continued our climb and ended at a butterfly garden. Cris said they’d be attracted to us, because they can detect salt and sweet and might land on us to partake of our sweat! There was a butterfly that somewhat resembled the large blue morpho of the Amazon rainforest. This one, however, was smaller and its blue disappeared when it posed and closed its wings. The back of the wings provides good camouflage because they are mottled brown and black with a large circle resembling an eye on each side.
Cris said about a group of yellow butterflies flying together that when they fly in a line like that, it is males chasing females! Another pretty butterfly was a small black one with orange spots.
On the way back, Cris asked us if we knew the three top industries of Costa Rica. Surprisingly, coffee is NOT the most important industry. In fact, bananas are actually a bigger export than coffee. Here are Costa Rica’s 3 top industries:
1. Technology, including medical devices, which provides 30,000 jobs and most managers are women; and Intel, which is a big corporation here.
3. Agricultural products: sugar cane, bananas, coffee, orchids and pineapples
Someone on the tour remarked that we hadn’t really walked “in the clouds.” I explained that the highest elevation ecosystem is called a “cloud forest” with its own species. You can’t tell that now, because it’s hot and dry now, but in the rainy season, it’s much cooler in the higher elevations and with the amount of moisture in the air, you do feel as though you’re walking “in the clouds.” (Actually, quite literally, you are.)
Our final stop was at a shopping center/restaurant called El Jardín. In the back were beautiful landscaped gardens.
The exterior walls of the shops and restaurants were brightly painted with colorful murals of scenes and animals typical of Costa Rica.
We had fifteen minutes there, to sample Costa Rican coffee and liqueurs and take pictures or shop. I spent only about a minute looking at the gardens – unusual for me – because I was shopping! I was excited to find Café Britt products! I bought coffee (not Britt – too expensive!) and Britt chocolate covered guava. Also a small package of white chocolate covered coffee beans, which Dale and I snacked on. By the end of the day, they were gone!
We returned to the port of Puntarenas and the dock leading to our ship, where we encountered women dressed in feathered costumes who were dancing to the beat of a percussion band.
*saudades – a Portuguese word expressing a deep longing or nostalgia, a feeling of sweet sadness