After stocking up on street food, we jumped on an early morning bus back to Rivas and then changed to get on a bus to the Fronterier (the border Nicaragua – Costa Rica) once there we changed up our Nicraguan Cordobas for Costa Rican Colones, paid our exit fee, got our passports checked then walked across the border – border crossings are such strange expeiences, never stress free, always some hassle to deal with.. On the Costa Rica side, we managed to get a bus that would take us to Irma, as i’d read online that, there’s a connecting bus that goes from Irma to Monte Verde. After two hours on the bus, we were dropped of at Irma, now Irma is literally a road in the middle of nowhere, and it just so happened the bus times had changed, so me and tom were quite literally stranded – Oh dear!
After trying to hitch a lift, to no success, and fighting off the taxi drivers who wanted in excess of $75 to go 22km – we ended up getting the bus to the nearest town en route to Monte Verde.. The town was called Las Junta, after arriving and roaming the streets for what felt like ages with the heat of the day and the weight of our bags draining all our energy, a policeman pointed us in the direction of a cabina (hotel), the only one in town…. basic but clean we dropped our bags and went out for a well earned Cerveza.
Our cabina owner told us the next bus to Monte Verde was the following morning at 09.45, so the next day after finding a traditional cheap breakfast (the cheap restaurants in Costa Rica which serve up traditional Costarican cuisines, are called Soda’s) bellies filled, we jumped on the bus, which took two hours, to go 22km, as we were heading far up into the mountains, the journey was steep and winding, and the road was literally a dirt road so it took quite a while. Now Monte Verde is famous for its cloud forest, biological reserve, as well as its canopy tours above the forest, we’d heard off a few travelers it was a must if you were passing through Costa Rica, so we added it to our list.
After checking into our hostel, we were greeted with bunk beds – Tom bagged the top bunk, it was like being a kid again.
The guy who worked there was really helpful and offered us lots of advise for our onward journeys etc, we booked onto a coffee, chocolate and sugar tour for that afternoon at El Trapiche, a Costarican family business, here the tour was split into three parts, first up was the coffee section of the tour. Here we were shown around the plantations, however the harvesting season runs November to February, so we didn’t get to see the red berries or flowers.. but we were explained and shown the coffee process of crushing, peeling and roasting the beans by hand and also through using their machinery.
Next we were shown a step by step cocoa processes and the different stages: starting with a brief explanation of how the tree develops, pollination of it, how to get the fruit – we were given the fruit to eat, however not realising we’d already tasting it before on a fruit plate we’d had in Leon, Nicaragua. We were also shown the seed fermentation, drying, roasting and grinding cocoa, as well as how to make chocolate – we off course got to sample plenty.
We were also shown the process involved in sugarcane cultivation, natural history and also the opportunity to taste the sugar cane and its derivatives, rum – my god it was like drinking nail polish remover! yuk… The juices from the sugar canes were boiled and we were shown the sugars, brown sugar, traditional costarican “perica” or “sobado”(fudge like) and caramel. The hot sugar liquid was placed on a traditional wooden surface and with a spatula we were told to mix heavily until it formed a paste and changed colour – once finished you had made molasses.We were also shown the process involved in sugarcane cultivation, natural history and also the opportunity to taste the sugar cane and its derivatives, rum – my god it was like drinking nail polish remover! yuk… The juices from the sugar canes were boiled and we were shown the sugars, brown sugar, traditional costarican “perica” or “sobado”(fudge like) and caramel. The hot sugar liquid was placed on a traditional wooden surface and with a spatula we were told to mix heavily until it formed a paste and changed colour – once finished you had made molasses.
At the end of the tour we were also given the opportunity to sample “gallo de arracache” a root vegetable that is only usually consumed on very special occasions, such as weddings – it was delicious, quite similar to ‘yucca root’ but sweeter, we also got to sample espresso and freshly brewed coffee..
The tour was great, and we even got to see a sloth just hanging out on the trees, and a beautiful Blue Morpho butterfly which had become trapped in one of the roasting rooms – so was set free..
The next day it was an early start, as we had booked a canopy tour, which has one of the most beautiful views of the area, where we could admire the rich natural beauty of the forest and its treasures. The tour saw us ride fourteen cables, of which four are extremely long: 1-1410 ft, 2-1275 ft, 3-1800 ft, 4-2250 ft, with the cables having an approximate height of between 225 ft and 450ft – you could do some of the cables with a partner, some on your own, and there was also an option on the highest and longest to do superman, where you were strapped in dangling face down – the thrill was amazing…
There was also the option to do the Tarzan Swing, on approaching, I was pretty nervous, after been harnessed up, you literally just have to jump off yourself not easy with the drop your facing, instinct takes over and tells you not to. Wow my stomach lunged and I actually let out a scream, something I thought I wasn’t capable of, after that feeling subsided you got the rush of swinging through the trees a couple of times, before being caught by an inflatable band that cushioned the land and stopped us swinging further…
At the end of the tour we got to see a parrot close up and personal – it didn’t particularly like it when i tried to take a selfie with it!!
In the afternoon we took a bus up to Santa Elana Cloud forest, ironically it was wet and rainy and warm, however we decided on the 3.5 km trek through the park, however we only managed to spot a giant centipede, a hummingbird and a few butterflies….
The next day we took a bus from Monte Verde to Puntarenas, then from Puntarenas to Quepos, then we jumped on a bus to Manual Antonio, the whole journey took around five hours. Manuel Antonio is an area of rain forest where you really can get up close and personal with some marvelous wildlife. We’d booked an apartment through Airbnb for two nights, which was in walking distance to the national park, a stones throw from the beach and situated within some the outskirts of a jungle, for this reason we were told not to leave any food out on the balcony, or leave the kitchen door open, as the monkey’s will be in, in a flash running off with the food – of course we intentionally left some food out, as we wanted the monkeys to come….. but, they didn’t come… However, on the last morning, we were awoken at around 5am to these loud bangs, which sounded like they were coming from the roof, I went out to inspect… On the balcony there was a pack of white faced monkeys (like Maurcel off friends) they were fighting on the roof, and swinging from the trees, it was great to watch and I managed to grab a quick photo (although not in great focus)
We booked onto one of the night tours around the Si Como No Resort Wildlife Refuge , as most of the creatures are nocturnal, so they come out at night, therefore it’s the best time to see them in their natural habitat. On arrival, we were given flash lights, and a quick run down on safety etc… our guide, had worked for the National Geographic and was extremely knowledgeable, throughout the tour, we saw the red eyed tree frog, which is native to Costa Rica and takes prime position on the front cover of most guide books, and one of the creatures I was most keen to see. Other sites included the most deadliest spider in the world, which we were told not to get bitten by as there is no anti venom in Costa Rica, it was called the Brazilian banana spider, it was grey in colour and about the size of my hand, it was lying around on a banana leaf would you believe… Next up was an abundance of other frogs, the rain frog, the XXX frog, we saw a yellow snake, albeit only small, a tarantula, lots of insects, a sloth and a Kinkajou, which sort of resembles a raccoon cross between a monkey – very cute.. During the tour he told us to turn our flash lights out, on readjusting our eyes the whole floor was lit up in patches, we were told it was bio luminous fungi, it was beautiful, just like the scene from Avatar. Other aspects of the tour included seeing snapping turtles, Caimans and crocodiles…
The next day we wondered around Manuel Antonio park, when you stood still the heat seemed to intensify more, and you were quite literally damp and dripping with sweat in an instance, the camera was even steaming up as well as my sunglasses… During our walk we saw howlers monkeys, white faced monkeys and cappuchin monkeys, wondering onto the beach there was a hype of activity, we saw numerous packs of howler monkeys, raccoons and even an Agouti – it was great, we got some good photos too, albeit it being quite tricky in the dark.
Wanting to sample Caribbean life, as we’d frequented the Pacific coast the most on our travels, about from our taster in Cuba, we planned out our bus journey – it was long! The bus included, a 30 minute ride from Manuel Antonio to Quepos, then Quepos to San Jose (the capital) then San Jose to Puerto Viejo – in total, I think it took us 9 hours. On arrival it was pitch black, but it was lively and straight away you got that Caribbean vibe…
The weather was overcast, rainy and of course, as always, humid, after all it was the rainy/hurricane season! So I am afraid we didn’t get those fabulous travel brochure pictures, however from the photos below, you can get a flavour for what the Caribbean coast looked like… Idyllic…
The people were extremely friendly, a memory I’ll take away from Puerto Viejo is the chilled out beach lifestyle, and rastas leisurely cycling around on cruiser bikes, their baskets filled with bananas.. We found some authentic food places and gorged on Caribbean foods, coconut chicken curry, beef creole and coconut rice – just delicious – we could get used to life here!
We had heard from several backpackers en route, about this amazing animal sanctuary in Puerto Viejo, called the Jaguar Rescue Centre – a non for profit business. Most of the animals their have lost their mothers, or gone through traumatic experiences, and they nurture them back to health and then release them back into the wild – some of the stories we were told, reduced me to tears. It was amazing, the work they do is second to none, it inst a petting zoo, so you can’t touch the animals… On entering the sanctuary, we were arms length away from a two toed sloth, just hanging from a branch in one of the trees, then we saw a pelican who was just walking around, toucans would fly past within centimeters of your head – it was fabulous.. We saw an abundance of animals, baby sloths, monkeys and snakes.
The piece de la resistance, was… watching as one of the sloths they had taken care of, was reintroduced back into the wild, it was fantastic, a real pleasure to see..
Summarising on our whirlwind trip to Costa Rica, our caviet is that the places we visited were the most touristy, or on the pack backer trail, therefore in the short time we were there, six nights, we didn’t stray off the beaten track, as we went to do certain activities, see certain sights, so we were well aware that these places were going to come with hoards of tourist and hiked up prices – which they did. Rounding up our trip to Costa Rica, it is was a great place, and the sheer abundance of wildlife and rain forest was something to be seen..