Unpaved roads to Monteverde
L: I think I’ve dislocated my shoulder.
D: Sorry about that.
L: Do you think you can get massages to realign all your internal organs?
L: Could you go a bit slower? Everything’s rattling. My teeth are coming loose.
D: Four wheel drives are designed for these sorts of roads.
L: How much further?
D: Err, 40 kilometres.
D: I’m still not sure why we’re going to Monteverde anyway.
L: Pothole! Everyone says it’s amazing. 50 years ago a few Quaker families from Alabama built a settlement up here, and set up the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to protect their land. Now there are several reserves, and lots of tourists. And hanging bridges through the forest. And ziplines and stuff.
D: (swerving) What happened to the Quakers?
L: They’re still there. Making cheese mostly. Owww! Slower, please……
D: (pulling the car patiently to a halt). You drive.
They set off again at a pitifully slow crawl, and are overtaken at regular intervals by hired jeeps and minibuses bouncing happily past them and leaving clouds of dust in their wake.
D: If the area is now so popular, I wonder why they haven’t paved the roads?
L: Inexplicably, I think they like it like this. It’s one of the Quakers’ last defences against the hoardes.
L: (musing aloud as they walk out through B&B reception) How come it’s raining out of a clear blue sky?
Reception guy: (overhearing and laughing) – Oh yes, it rains 500 days a year here – and do you know why? Monteverde is on the Continental Divide – where damp air from the Caribbean meets dry air from the Pacific. The result? All the rain in the world falls right there on that ridge top. And wind too – it’s always windy here. The wind blows the rain off the mountain straight down onto the village. Don’t forget to take your coats!
L: It’s raining. And we’re in the cloud.
D: It’s a cloud forest. It’s supposed to be like this. So, what’s the plan?
L: There’s a walk through the forest that we can do on our own, with hanging bridges high up in the canopy. It should be interesting to be looking at the trees from half way up or above, rather than just looking up from the ground.
D: Any wildlife?
L: Lots of birds, I think, including the resplendent quetzal which everyone gets excited about.
D: OK then. Good.
D: So shall we get out of the car?
Off they go, bundled into waterproof clothing.
L: My bet is that we see nothing.
D: What do you mean nothing?
L: Not a single living creature. Here’s the first bridge.
D: Lots of bromeliads. Fabulous trees – very atmospheric in the cloud. The bridge is quite bouncy isn’t it?
L: (Hanging over the bridge railing) Look at the amazing shape of those tree ferns, seen from above. And the mosses hanging from the branches up here. Shall we whisper so as not to frighten the wildlife?
10 minutes later….
D: (whispering) Does a fly count?
L: (whispering) No. And anyway I didn’t see it. We both have to see it.
15 minutes and 4 bridges later…
L: (whispering) It’s lovely, isn’t it? Hearing the rain patter down onto the leaves. Very peaceful.
D: (whispering) Does a beetle count? Oh, actually, it’s a leaf. False alarm.
Another 20 minutes and 2 impressive bridges later…
L: (whispering) What’s that whistling sound?
D: (whispering) A bird of some sort.
L: (whispering excitedly) Where is it? Can you see it? Is it a resplendent quetzal?
D: Hold on, it’s coming from….Oh.
D: It’s not a bird. It’s an American.
The bridge they are on wobbles as an elderly couple sway across it, talking loudly and whistling intermittently. Their voices carry into the forest as they disappear from sight ahead on the path ahead. They are followed by a cheerful and noisy group of Canadian teenagers, who step onto the bridge and then stop to carry on their conversation and photograph each other.
L: Well that’s blown it. We’ll never see a quetzal now. Let’s go and eat crisps.
L: Still raining out of a clear blue sky.
D: How’s this night tour going to work?
L: We’ll be taken to the Hidden Valley and led on a 2 hour guided walk in the dark.
D: Aren’t we quite unlikely to spot a quetzal in the dark?
L: Yes, but apparently all sort of other things come out at night.
D: I want to see a frog. A little red poisonous frog. One frog.
L: It’s so strange to be in the forest in the pitch dark. If the guide walked off we’d be lost in an instant.
Guide waves his torch around, high and low, looking for things to show his group.
Guide: Guys, guys, over here. See that?
L: I can’t see. What is it?
D: It’s a moth. Looking like a bit of newspaper.
They walk on carefully, in silence.
Guide: Guys – over here guys. See?
L: Where? Can you see it?
D: There, on that leaf. It’s a cricket.
They follow the light of the torch through the trees.
Guide: Over here guys. To me. See there?
L: Eek – big spiders in big webs. Run away!
Guide: And here guys, on the ground. These are leaf cutter ants.
L: (whispers to D) We see those all over the place.
D: Shh…he’s trying his best.
On they go.
Guide: Guys – up there. Do you see?
D: Not there, THERE, just above your head. It’s a little yellow and green bird, just sitting there, despite the torch lights in his eyes.
L: I see him. How odd that he doesn’t fly away. He can’t be asleep – his eyes are open.
They walk on. Suddenly there is a loud rustle nearby and someone says “Pssst”.
Guide (sounding excited): Guys, see over there, that’s a coatimundi!
D: (Whispers to L) I startled it and drove it towards the guide. Did you hear me hiss to warn him it was coming his way?
The group watch the pointy nosed, terrier-sized long tailed mammal snuff his way along the river bank and disappear. Everyone is pleased to see such a large animal.
D: (muttering) I found him first.
Guide: So, does anyone want to see a toucan?
L: Wow, yes please, that would be amazing.
Guide: Above your heads, guys. Who will spot it first? Errr, no-one? It’s just there! Where? There!
The group look doubtfully at a distant green smudge among some distant green leaves high in the canopy.
L: Where’s its head?
Guide: It’s sleeping, and so its head is tucked down, maybe under its wing.
D: (muttering) Not sure it counts if it hasn’t got a head.
On they go, into open ground, where they come to a pond.
L: We’re not in the forest any more.
D: I can see that.
L: No, I mean, I think we’re in somebody’s garden. There’s a hammock over there.
Guide: So you want to see a frog? There, amigos, is a frog.
D: (looking keenly for his scarlet poisoned frog) Oh. It’s brown.
He dutifully photographs the tiny dull looking creature.
Meanwhile the guide steps away from the group and talks into his radio in desperation, seeking tip-offs from other collleagues also stumbling around the area with tourists in tow. Suddenly his tone changes and he begins to sound triumphant.
Guide: Guys, guys, over here!
The torch waves excitedly and the group wander politely over. There in a tree just two metres off the ground is a very long green snake, knotted many times around itself and a branch, tail dangling. The mood lifts and cameras start clicking enthusiastically.
L: D’you think that our tiny underwater camera is perhaps not quite the best sort for wildlife photography? Everyone else seems to have simply enormous paparazzi cameras.
D defends the palm-sized orange device vigorously whilst proudly reviewing his blurred images.
D: What do you mean? We’re clearly ahead of the game. And it’s perfect in the rain.
Meanwhile, the guide is announcing his find to his colleagues who soon arrive with their groups. Job done. Time to go.
4 days later
Now on the coast, on being introduced to a retired Canadian couple:
Wife: So nice to meet you. We just got here too. We’ve had such a great time. We went to Monteverde. So amazing. No, no rain. The weather was wonderful and we just saw so much wildlife – even the quetzal. Yes. And the ziplining was simply awesome. Oh you must go there, you’d love it.
L: (opens mouth to speak)
D steps gently and deliberately on L’s toe.
L: (through gritted teeth) Wow, that does sound amazing. Unbelievable, in fact.
D: (turns to L with broad smile) We should definitely go there, shouldn’t we?