The bus ride took us up and down the winding countryside of northwest Costa Rica – a beautiful drive through high hills that offered a bird’s eye vantage of meandering river valleys below. We passed beautiful rancher properties dotted with grazing cattle and horses along the hillsides. Deeper into the jungle we plunged as we arrived in the mountain town of Monteverde, home of the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Hiking the Cloud Forest with our friend Phillip
We shacked up in a small house converted hostel in the heart of the small town. Strictly dedicated to tourism and eco-adventure, this town was packed with backpackers and tourists looking to get into the wild. We chose to bypass the pricey tours and witness the jungle on our own accord. Paradoxically clear the day we went, we wandered through the cloud forest’s well-kept trails spotting strange birds, a family of white nosed coati, a bright orange tarantula and one black hairy monkey. The plant life was beautiful to say the least. We passed huge, towering trees with orchids that would fetch a fortune back home hanging from their branches. There were thick vines weaving among the forest canopy that could pass for fallen trees. Everywhere you looked, there was something spectacular. For the remainder of our short stay we walked around and out of the town, exploring different little forests, trying out the nightlife (karaoke, Summer of ’69), and eating mounds of burritos at the ‘infamous’ Taco Taco.
Cloud Forest suspension bridge
Putting in work at Taco Taco
Leaving our new friends, we set out on a long trek to the coastal town of Mal Pais. After a solid eight-hour trip that required two public buses and a ferry, we arrived. Hot, humid and sunny on the coast – a welcome change from the afternoons of rain we were getting in the mountains. Mal Pais and Playa Santa Teresa are notorious for surf. Everything in the town is geared toward surfing. We settled down (after a less than memorable first night in another hostel) at a cool place 5 minutes from the beach where the receptionist regularly dipped out on his duties to catch waves. An outdoor common area complete with hammocks, a pool and a couple dogs made for a relaxing and social week. The first three days were spent at the beach just walking around, admiring the waves and the lush jungle surroundings. The Pacific Ocean hugging Costa Rica’s west coast is fantastically warm. Aside from the beautiful breaking waves, surfers must be drawn to Mal Pais and other coastal towns because you can stay in the water forever and never get anything close to a chill. A place of endless summer.
Playa Santa Teresa
After a couple days of rain had us cooped up inside, a beautiful day came about and we took advantage of it. In the morning we took surfing lessons and I discovered what a challenge it is to move my body from a lying positing to a standing position and stay balanced. At times I got frustrated, but surrounded by surf, blue skies and sun I couldn’t stay mad for long. It wasn’t all bad, I managed quite a few good rides. Nicole was exceptionally good at getting up using her own unorthodox technique of getting onto one knee, riding for a couple seconds, then standing. That afternoon we rented horses with a guide and went on a jaunt through the jungle and down to the beach. The last time I was on a horse was maybe 15 years ago, if not more, so I had never really ridden a horse. Nicole, on the other hand, is a pro in comparison, so we asked for a couple horses that would be willing to run. I figured I could handle it. After climbing up to a gorgeous spot on top a hill to view the beach and the late afternoon sun, we descended to the beach to do some running. After learning that bouncing around in the saddle is just part of the job, I got a lot more comfortable (straightened my back, put my heels down, etc.) and when the horses went into full run, I had no reservations and went for it. Really fun, really fast. In the midst of my glory, my right stirrup broke and my leg came lose while the horse was in full run. Bouncing uncontrollably in my saddle, leg sticking straight out in attempt to counterbalance, I reigned in hard (much to the horses dismay) and got the horse to slow up in time before he had the chance to make me eat sand. That was the end of the running for me. As the horses walked through the streets of Mal Pais on our way home, the beauty of the day washed over me and I consciously decided horseback was the best way to view and experience the land. I hope to be back in the saddle soon.
Today marks the end of our journey to the coast and we are heading back into San Jose to meet up with some friends from our first days of travel. In a couple days we will part to go our separate ways, Nicole to the farm and me to Honduras to dive.
A great hike up the Volcano of Cerro Chato in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. The view of the lagoon was unfortunately less than spectacular due to the dense clouds. The hike was still well worth it. Here’s a glimpse:
The first couple days of travel are difficult. A long plane ride mixed with a new city and culture, along with sporadic sleep patterns makes the going rough. The first three days were spent in San Jose, a grimy city that doesn’t offer much stimulation to a traveler eager for the novelties of a new place. Large, sprawling, commercial, and dirty sums up the Costa Rican capital. The best part of the stay had very little to do with the city itself. It is the hub for all travelers of the country, so new friends and travel stories were in supply. It was an excellent place to meet worldly people from all different walks of life. We met great people in those first couple days, but the city had so little to offer we had to say our goodbyes sooner than we would have liked.
A five-hour bus ride took us to the town of La Fortuna. After the big city, it was a welcome change of pace. La Fortuna sits at the foot of Volcan Arenal, one of the many large volcanoes doting the Costa Rican northwest. This town became famous after the erupting Volcan Arenal buried its much smaller predecessor El Borio in 1968. After that, El Borio was renamed La Fortuna and was rebuilt. The glowing hot lava that leaked from the volcano attracted photographers from around the world and thus propelled La Fortuna to become a tourist magnet. This persisted until 2010 when Volcan Arenal fell dormant and lost its reputation as the most active volcano in Costa Rica. The tourism though still persisted.
La Fortuna’s town square
Learning to use the GoPro
We rolled into Gringo Pete’s Hostel on Saturday night and discovered a cozy place at about half capacity. No large dorm rooms here. Each group of friends or couple share private rooms for only $7USD a night. The vibrant colours and wood beamed ceilings create a bohemian vibe that suited us just fine.
The entrance to Gringo Pete’s Hostel
The next day, we found ourselves right in the middle of the Independence Day parades that literally run all day. 8am until well past 10pm. The major theme is music – in fact the only themes are music and dance. Community and school bands from neighbouring towns came to march down the main street banging their drums and ringing their Lira’s (a mix between a lyre and a xylophone). The days starts with the young nino’s slowly and unevenly banging away on their instruments while their mothers try desperately to keep them in marching formation – cute, if nothing else. At the end of the day’s festivities we joined about a thousand people around the community track while the best troupes of the evening perform epic marching band routines as light rains visit intermittently. The raining water only seemed to liven the energy of the bands and the crowds alike and by the end of the evening we seemingly floated back to the hostel, our heads ringing with percussion and brass.
Independence Day parade
On our final day we decide to tackle what is considered the most difficult hike in the area behind hiking to the top of Volcan Arenal. Cerro Chato is a smaller volcano (1,140m) that has been dormant for thousands of years. The ascent begins at a small hotel situated on the side of volcano. Sprawling open grassland makes for great vantage points of the small town below. Within a few hundred meters though we are quickly swallowed up by thick jungle vegetation. Our surroundings darken as the dilapidated mud trail guides us onwards and very upwards. Thick fogs turn to rain as we battle the uphill terrain. Over two hours later, we reach our destination – a lagoon that has formed in the volcanoes now sealed opening. Unfortunately, the day was cloudy up atop the volcano so the vast lagoon appeared to be a foggy swamp from the shore. Where we stood mosquitoes buzzed around the mud pools and tadpoles filled the shallows so swimming was quickly off my mind. As it goes, the journey was greater than the destination.
The fog in the trees