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Costa Rica: Monte Verde

Climb every mountain... 
Our bus ride to Monte Verde was the worst of the whole trip.  It started out on the typical paved, two-lane, winding mountain roads that are the norm for Central America.  These well-paved roads are very annoying because although they serve as the main highways through the country, traversed daily by semi-trucks, Mack trucks, delivery vans, long-distance buses, and the average person with a car, they are a mere two lanes.  So the whole trip consists of being stuck behind a semi truck grinding uphill at a snail’s pace, eventually followed by a sudden, treacherous burst of speed downhill to careen around the truck before an oncoming vehicle could smash into us.  Long, eight-hour bus trips were like this, on winding mountain roads, with few bridges or tunnels to lessen the pain.  If there is a mountain, we must go up it.  If there is a valley, we must descend into it.  I can appreciate so much more now the engineering marvel that is the U.S. Interstate System.  I’ll never take it for granted again.

 When we were not too far from our destination, the bus stopped at a restaurant to give us all a food and restroom break.  I thought it was really odd for the bus to stop now, when we were so close to our goal.  That should have been a clue.  As soon as we started again, the road became narrow and rocky with steep hills, tight curves and deep potholes.  Zac, who was paying close attention to the signs because he had to go to the bathroom in an urgent sort of way, noticed a sign saying “Monte Verde 25 KM”.  He was relieved—only about 15 miles more to go.  How long could it take?  Dear readers, it took an hour and a half.  That’s a speed of about 10 miles and hour.  It was terrible and I didn’t even have to go to the bathroom.  There were times when the bus ground to a halt, far over to the right side of the road on a steep cliff to let another vehicle pass, and I would look straight down and think, “Maybe the bus will just roll off this cliff and put us all out of our misery.”

 Luckily that didn’t happen and we finally arrived at the top of our green mountain and what, to our surprise, was perched on top of this mountain?  A whole little town!  A very nice little town, in fact, was thriving at the end of that terrible bus ride.  I shuddered in horror as I thought that every single thing on top of the mountain, from the people to the bottles of water, had to be transported there via that road.  The people in San Jose had told us the trip would only take about 3 hours.  It had taken six.  We were exhausted and hungry.  A recruiter met us at the bus and tried to lure us to the Cabinas Eddy where we could bunk for a mere $5 a night per person.  We accepted this offer, since at the bus station in San Jose a woman had given me a flyer for that very place and we were already considering staying there.  It was quite convenient.

Cabinas Eddy

Cabinas Eddy

Monte Verde

Hunting in Las Vegas
Finding the accommodation acceptable, we soon headed back out in search of food.  This is another joy of traveling.  We travelers are like the primal people who lacked refrigerators or the ability to carry large quantities of food with them on their nomadic journeys.  Of course, we keep a small supply of snacks with us at all times since Shanu and I are prone to fits of starvation.  But for our daily meat, we must hunt.  That evening, we found it in a tree.  We dined on pizza and tea in the Treehouse Café, which literally had a giant tree growing up through the middle of the second-floor restaurant.

 It soon became clear that this place was a lot like Las Vegas.  It was a thriving town where no town ought to be, existing mainly on tourist dollars pumped in from elsewhere.  They lured you in with cheap hotel rooms, and then made money off of you in every other way possible.  At the restaurant, for a cup of hot water with a tea bag floating in it, they charged $1.25.  Consider the cost of tea to cost of room ratio.  Paying $1.25 for a cup of tea and $5 for a room is like staying at the Holiday Inn for $80 and paying $20 for a cup of tea.  That would be insane.  Laundry was $7 for a load, which was unfortunate since we were in desperate need of de-stinking our clothes.  And the real earner, the “gambling” of this destination, where they really made their money, was on the zip-lines.

 We had to justify taking that tortuous bus ride by doing something really fun in the cloud forests of Monte Verde.  And that really fun thing was the zip-lines.  We each forked over a whopping $37 for an excursion called “Monte Verde Extreme Canopy.”  The flyer promised, “14 cables of which 4 are extremely long,” a “Tarzan Swing” and “Rappel (90ft)”.  They picked us up from our hotel in a van and transported us over those tortuous roads to a small lodge in the forest where we suited up for our extremo tour.  They put harnesses on us, gave us some gloves and popped white hard hats on our heads.  Our group of 15 soon resembled a young and sprightly telephone line repair team.

Tree House Cafe

Extreme Canopy Tour Monte Verde

a sprightly telephone repair crew?

Monte Verde Zipline

Zip Lines
We trooped out into the forest where they had a short cable set up to demonstrate the dos and don’ts of zip-lining.  For example, do pull down on the cable with your gloved hand to brake.  However, don’t squeeze the cable or your hand will stay in one place while your body will continue to move and *pop*--there goes your shoulder.  I winced.  Our four guides had quite a sense of humor and took great joy in the sound effects of your shoulder popping out on a zip line while you’re suspended 450 feet in the air.  I guess they made their point.  Don’t squeeze, don’t squeeze, don’t squeeze…

 Without much further ado, we climbed up the metal stairs to the first platform and were soon zipping through the canopy of the cloud forest.  It was a gorgeous, lush forest and that bus ride was beginning to pay off.  After gliding tree-to-tree for a while, we came to a valley with a quarter mile long cable going across it.  There was a farmer and a cow far below, and I thought it must seem really odd to him to have all these tourists sailing through the skies all day long.  But sail we did, and oh, it was so much fun.  Between zip lines, we would sometimes walk through the forest for a bit to get to the next platform.  We enjoyed the slow pace of the tour that was enforced by having to wait for fifteen people to hook up at each zip line then glide across one at a time.  So there was plenty of time to just stand around in the forest and marvel at all of the green things.

 

Zac

Einstein's Theory of Relativity
Our tour mates were a rather diverse group.  There were two broad-shouldered football players, a middle-aged couple with two teenage daughters, a younger couple of which the wife was very frightened, and a group of girls from Slovenia.  It is easy to forget a place called Slovenia even exists, until you’re ziplining across a rainforest in Costa Rica with girls from Slovenia who, except for the language difference, act and dress exactly the same as semi-affluent college girls in the U.S.  That is another joy of traveling—you meet people from all over the world on the tourist circuit, so you get many countries for the price of one.

 The Tarzan swing was just that—a long rope, a platform, and a jump—then you were swinging through the forest and yelling like Tarzan.  Except that we were hooked on to the rope with our harness and didn’t need the ape-man brawniness required to hold onto the rope.  The rappelling wasn’t down the side of a cliff as one might imagine.  Instead it was just a straight 90-foot drop from a platform to the forest floor.  It happened so fast I barely remember anything other than the sensation of falling really fast.

 All too soon, we came to our last cable (actually it was three hours from when we started—which proves Einstein’s theory of relativity because three hours of zip-lining is much shorter than three hours on a bus trying to climb up to Monte Verde).  The last cable was the longest at 2,250 feet long, nearly half a mile.  The evening clouds were rolling in and were about the same height as the cable that stretched from hill to hill.  We bid farewell to forest behind us and sailed across the ceiling of the valley.  We enjoyed every second of it.  And I never squeezed, so my shoulder remained intact.

Tarzan swing

rappelling

Monte Verde Zipline Shanu and Sera
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