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2008-02-10 - 7:08 p.m.

Tue 8/1: Another early start, this time for our journey from La Fortuna to Monteverde. We were taken in minibuses down to Lake Arenal, where we then took a boat ride part of the way, followed by about 2 hours on horseback through rainforest and rural areas. Those who chose not to ride horses stayed on the boat a bit longer, took another bus and met us at the end of the trail.

The horseriding was fun, although there were definitely times during which I wished I'd had less to drink and gone to bed earlier the night before. I wasn't particularly confident but it felt more natural as the ride went on. I don't know if I've mentioned just how crazy Costa Rican weather is but in the 2 hour ride it rained hard on us, then got hot enough to get dry. And then less than 5 minutes before the end they took us through a river and we ended up drenched.

The road to Monteverde is widely accepted to be the worst road in a country not generally known for the quality of their roads. I think it was more noticeable when we were leaving Monteverde, but it was pretty bad nonetheless. We stopped at a coffee plantation, where one of the larrikan hosts wanted to dance with all the girls, and soon found out that the place we were staying was in the middle of nowhere. It was Monteverde when people started to get a bit tense. Our guide was getting frustrated because despite her best efforts things weren't always going quite to plan. Joanna's bag went missing, probably because she wasn't listening when Silvia said that all the people riding horses needed to have their bags in a certain part of the boat so that they knew which bus to put them on- but in the end it turned up at a hotel not too far from where we were. People weren't ready at 10am to decide what they wanted to do at 5pm, even if one of the things they were considering had to be finalised by 11am.

We were all exhausted when we got to our lodges, but it was hard to find time to sleep and organise what we wanted to do the next day as well. I was all for ziplining (a high speed flying fox across the forest canopy) except that it clashed with the hanging bridges that I also wanted to do, and when I woke up the next morning I wasn't really in an adventuring mood anyway. Jo is not a big fan of hanging bridges or thrillseeking, so she opted for a coffee tour instead. But this was all the next day. On the Tuesday evening we all headed into Santa Elena, which is pretty much a base for all the people keen for adventure tours in Monteverde. Catrina, Michael, Margaret and I decided to go to a frog farm, while everybody else decided drinking was in order. The frog farm was... a bit of a let down but I guess still worthwhile. They were all so tiny! Apart from the cane toad, which is found in parts Costa Rica (I knew we got in from somewhere), most of the frogs were smaller than the size of my thumb.

So by the time we got back to the pub, many of the group were in high spirits, not that I needed another night like the last. On the bus/taxi home I was convinced to relive my singing of the previous night, which I may have done a little over-enthusiastically, and I may have encouraged other singalongs including "Khe Sanh" (as it turns out I was the only one who knew the words). We had the most uncomfortable bed in the world (which we worked out the next night just needed the slats rearranged), and Jo in particular had a lot of trouble sleeping. And the wind- I thought our lodge would be blown off it's stilts (yes, stilts) and down the steep slope to the small lake below. The wind is what makes the cloud forest what it is- it rushes in from the sea across the plains and Monteverde is the first place it hits, making the whole area quite chilly, and very different from the rest of Costa Rica.

Wed 9/1- accepted by both Jo and I to be our 5 year anniversary. As the story goes, Jo at least hadn't been to sleep yet on the 8th at the time, but it was 4am and I did say I wanted to talk about it a bit more when I saw her the next day, so at some point we decided we would recognise the 9th. The whole group knew, and it was kinda sweet all these people we hardly knew wishing us happy anniversary. As much as I'm always worried about missing out on something, I definitely wanted to just have dinner with Jo that night, while the rest of them bought groceries and had a bit of a party back at the lodges. The restaurant we went to wasn't particularly romantic or anything, but they did do a good tenderloin steak. But before all that, we caught a minibus from our lodge in the morning to the Monteverde Cloud Forest biological reserve. The day was unusually warm, and the thick cloud cover that usually infiltrates the forest was nowhere to be seen. It meant we got to see white faced monkeys (there were plenty of them to come in Manuel Antonio) who usually find it a bit chilly at the park entrance, and we were lucky enough to see a Resplendent Quetzal, a bird of mythical proportions in Mayan Lore. The few pictures I have don't do it justice- it really did look magnificent flying from tree to tree. The morning in Monteverde was a short (although we spent a lot of time looking at the Quetzal) guided tour, from a friendly and very knowledgeable guide. Mid-morning was when we were all deciding what we were going to do in the afternoon (and when a few people kept changing their minds), and then we went back down into Santa Elena for lunch.

So in the afternoon, Ursula and Joanna went ziplining as expected, Jo and Catrina did the coffee tour, and the rest of us did the skywalk (another guided tour with a lot of cool suspension bridges. As we were buying our tickets, Emma, Ian and Deb decided they weren't going to get the guided tour- which I think stressed Silvia out a bit (I understand where they were coming from- sometimes it's nice just seeing things for yourself, but it was another last minute decision which is what stressed Silvia out). Margaret realised very early on that there was a bit too much climbing for her, so she stayed at the ticket office with Silvia, and that left Michael, Robert, Bruce and I. The guided tour did get a bit same old same old, but we saw a tarantula, and I liked the bridges so it was all good. And I didn't wind up regretting not ziplining- it just wasn't going to happen that day- maybe if I ever go back there...

In the evening I wound up doing a nightwalk by myself (well, of the 12 in the group- there were other people doing the walk). Like the frog farm the night before it was a bit of a let down. Quite a few sleeping birds, but even when they're toucans a sleeping bird isn't *that* exciting, and not enough mammals (although we did see a sloth actually moving for the first time). And then I met Jo who was hanging out at a bar with Silvia, we had dinner, went back to the bar with Silvia, and took a taxi home together.

All in all, I think most of the people on the tour would agree that Monteverde was their least favourite place, but I think it was still an important part of the big picture of just how diverse Costa Rica is.


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