Wednesday, 15 January 2014

False Advertising

Monteverde is aptly named- a great green mountain, straddling the continental divide.  However, the whole business of the "Cloud Forest" threw us.  We were there while the trade winds were sweeping through.  Despite the high elevation and promises of cool misty rainforest climes, we got hot, dry and really windy.

Still jet-lagged from France, I woke up pre-dawn and set off with my camera to walk the rainforest that engulfed the cabin.

It's a staggering place.  Dense and green and full of life.  Early mornings are best for birding, but it was so windy, I could barely hear the din of birdsong.

My new favorite tree:  a Strangler Ficus.  They start growing from a seed high in the canopy, and then drop down on huge, lacy roots, surrounding a host tree and eventually strangling it to death.  The host tree rots away, leaving huge hollows and intricate tunnels in these trees.    

You can stand inside of one and look up and see the sky in the hollows of the trunks.  

It was so clear and dry, you could see all the way down to the Gulf of Nicoya and Gunacaste in the distance.

So my rain gear never got used.  There are bigger tragedies in the fact I had to drop trou and pee every 45 seconds.  It usually takes a few days for the antibiotics to kick in and start to clear up a UTI, so I was pretty uncomfortable, but I was unwilling to let this ruin my time here.  This seems to be a theme to my travels lately, eh?  At least I had all my toenails this time?

We set off first thing after breakfast to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a rather well-known spot of virgin rainforest, lovingly preserved by private landowners and almost obsessively loved by all. 

Since we were on foot, we walked the 6km to the entrance of the reserve, where we had lovely views as we skirted the Children's Eternal Rainforest, a patch of land where all the "save the rainforest" campaigns sent their pennies to buy up land to save it or restore it from clear cutting.  

There's a lot of hotels, some shops and bakeries on the road, so we fueled up with tamales and fresh coconut water.  It was so windy that on a perfectly cloudless day, we would occasionally get hit by a sudden sprinkling of rain, blown from miles away up the mountainside.    

Right away, we decided to hire a guide to take us into the preserve.  While the trails are well-marked and mapped, the rainforest is just so foreign.  It's well worth it...I generally skip the guide and prefer finding these things myself, but Juan Carlos was on fire that day as he pointed out not one, but two of the resplendent quetzals that people come here to see.

Oh, my pictures suck.  Here.  Let me gank something from the interwebs to show you just how resplendent  these male birds are:

Fantastic, no?  They remind me of the Birds of Paradise.  I feel fortunate to have caught a glimpse.  They eat mostly avocados, so your best chance of seeing one is hanging out in an avocado tree.  The guides are wise to this.

While nighttime is the best time to spy forest creatures, we saw a fair share.  I was not disappointed at the giant rodents.  Agouti are huge rats that forage the forest floor, darting about on spindly legs like tiny racehorses.  

A giant caterpillar, munching away at a leaf.  

An incredibly tiny Scintillating Hummingbird, motionless and silent while incubating eggs.

I found you had to be fast with the trigger if you wanted to capture creatures here- between the super dense foliage and the dim light, it was really hard capture much of anything.  White-faced monkeys, sloths, anteaters, tapirs.  So elusive.

So many plants though.  Since water is really no big deal to compete for here, everything is going for sunlight.  Who can grow taller, who can grow wider.  There are trees growing on trees and orchids and bromeliads everywhere, coating the surfaces of trees.  It's an amazing place.

Finally, clouds!  We hiked up to the continental divide, where the exposed ridge was getting battered by wind and a sprinkling of rain driven sideways.

The views were lovely.  It was too cloudy on east side of the divide to see far, but you can sometimes see all the way to the Caribbean sea, and if you look west, the Pacific.  Costa Rica is a narrow little country, with a spine of mountains and active volcanoes down the center.  

There are lots of hanging bridges attractions in CR.  They sometimes get you well above the canopy so you can glimpse the trees and animals that are almost always hidden from view.

It's fairly incredible. 

You could spend a full day hiking here.  While there are some steep inclines, it's fairly easy hiking, with large, well-marked paths.  

Just outside the park there's a cute little cafe with a hummingbird garden.  I had seen and heard hummingbirds all day, but capturing them is SO HARD, so I set up with a tripod in front of the feeders.  You really need a strobe flash to capture their wings, but it's fun to watch them dart about.  They are territorial, noisy and bossy little things.

They were oftimes moving so fast, the images came out looking more like watercolors rather than photographs.  It was hard to capture how brilliant and iridescent they are.  Oh, and I got too close to one and it peed on me.  

And finally...something nocturnal that showed itself during the day.

A Kinkajou, a relative of the raccoon.  It was going to town on the sugar water before darting back into the canopy.  

Being close to the equator, you don't get much variation between winter and summer daylight hours- 12 hours of night and 12 hours of day.  Still, I couldn't help feeling like I wanted this summery-weather day to go on much later than it did.  

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