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.
On one of my last days in Santa Cruz, I visited a beach (not hard to find) full of the marine iguanas (also not hard to find) native to the Galapagos Islands. These iguanas are special because they are the only known iguanas to live on land yet feed entirely from the sea. The iguanas use their thick tails to propel them through the water and have flexible arms with long, soft claws for streamlining. The marine iguana ingests a lot of salt water as a result of this feeding and gets rid of it through constantly ‘sneezing’ while basking on land. A sneeze causes salt to spray from an iguana’s nose and mouth, often showering a clan mate or two. The favour is quickly returned, of course. My gallery here shows these unique reptiles, as well as a beautiful sunset – a rarity in the usual grey evening sky over the Galapagos.
I have finally been able to upload the rest of the pictures from the first day from the town in San Cristobal. I had the pleasure to go snorkelling with some of these magnificent creatures over the weekend. They are great fun. With the curiosity of a person, they come right up to your mask, swim around you in circles when you dive, and seem to take joy from their abilities in the water compared to the clumsiness of the people. There are so many sea lions here. You can’t hang out in the beach without befriending a group of them. Aside from their barking, and their smell, they make pretty good beach mates. Goodnight from the Galapagos!