Going Green isn't cheap
Our first day in Monte Verde (aka Green Mountain in Spanish) and, boy, does it live up to its name.
1) we are going to have buns of steel after a few days here
2) it's so greeeeeeen!
Despite being only 90 miles from San Jose, it took over 3 hours to drive here. Mostly because the last section of about 20 miles or so was more an exploration of deep craters in a mud/gravel road than actual tarmac. Our driver lives up near here and has names for all the big holes :-)
Talking of which, our driver was just great. You hear about the Tico friendliness and their hospitality and Eduardo was a great example of what being a Tico is all about. There was no rush, we all stopped for lunch together and he even stopped to let us get some pics of the view. Thanks to Ali's Spanish we ended up in a 3 hour conversation in Spanish (with me mostly nodding along and asking the bits I couldn't work out) we also ended up being invited to his house for dinner this weekend with his family and becoming 'friends for life' it seems!
Here's a pic of Eduardo taking a pic of us as we take one of him. Meta.
We were told that Monte Verde was a 'whole other world' when we told poeple in San Jose we were heading here next. They're not wrong. 1) the weather is better (sunshine hello we've missed you!), 2) there's zero hustle and bustle (mind you we are in low season), and 3) to state the obvious, instead of buildings you have trees. Lots and lots of trees.
You also have lots of 'opportunities'. Opportunities to book experiences, opportunities to spend money on those experiences. Opportunities to get fleeced every possible way going on those experiences.
Which makes me sound a bit of a Scrooge. But, put it this way, we went for a walk just to check out the local area and discovered a place called the Children's Eternal Rainforest. There's a rather good story behind it, the short version being that a bunch of kids in Sweden decided to raise some money to save the rainforests in Costa Rica and it's ended up being the largest private reserve in the country funded by kids from over 40 countries worldwide (find out more here).
It was a good walk. It lasted about 1 1/2 hours. we got to see a lot of rainforest. There were some fun spots along the way with info to help bring it all to life and we saw some wildlife and birds that we'd never seen before. But it cost us $45 to go round it. And at times it just felt like we were walking around Newmillerdam (which is a lovely walk near home, which is free, gratis, nada).
There were probably two highlights of the walk.
1) the whole way round we could hear these bird calls that sounded like a creaking gate. They're called the Three Wattled Bell Bird and they breed in Costa Rica and migrate across Central America. Try as we might though, we couldn't spot one of the damn things as they live in the very top of the canopy. It felt like they were just taunting us. Then, about 10 mins before the end we finally spotted one! And its poop just missed Ali by millimetres. That was funny. I also just (and I mean 'just' as this was the extent of my zoom on my camera) caught a pic of one.
2) the other 'interesting' moment involved Azteca Ants. According the the (up until this point) useful and helpful guide for the walk, there was a tree trunk in front of us that, if we knocked on could hear it was hollow. It would also likely be full of Azteca Ants as that's where they live. Oh and they are notoriously aggressive and carnivorous. So the guide had basically said 'go wake up some crazy ants then run man run!'. Which we did. Luckily without being eaten alive by ants.
We were also lucky enough to see a Coati as we were leaving. Cue another stunning photo by me (don't worry I've pointed out where it is again!).
And we did manage to spot some fun bugs along the way (thanks to Esme's eagle eyes - I'd have probably just squashed them by mistake and carried on!).
So perhaps I'm being unfair on the Children's Eternal Rainforest. Our entrance fee would be helping them to continue doing the great work they're doing. And we wouldn't have had the chance to see any of these creatures as easily I don't think in the 'wild' (ie somewhere that doesn't have a handy online guide telling you what to look out for).
I think part of the grumpiness was because, on the way to the Children's Eternal Rainforest we'd spotted a sign saying 'Raiz' which looked intriguing. Seeing as we are adventurers now (ha ha ha) we decided to check it out.
Turns out it was another 'opportunity'! This time to pay money just to walk down a hill and see a tree.
It's a nice tree, I'll give you that. It's called a Ficus Tree (or Strangler Fig) and has a pretty unique root system. It grows on other trees, then, if they die, you're left with a sort of lattice set of roots that you can climb up or around. Or in the case of the one we saw, use it as a bridge.
We probably could have stayed a little longer and got some better pictures but it was muddy, we didn't know what we were doing and were worried we'd not get back up (yes I know, some adventurers we are!). So this is the best we could do:
Despite the general feeling that if something can be monetised here then it will be, we still had a really good day. We just have to remember that this is a country where tourism contributes anywhere between 5 and 15% of GDP (depending on which sources you read). And Monte Verde in particular feels like it has been directly set up for tourists. Every other building in the small town of Santa Elena is a tour operator. The rest are cafes or hostels. I think the pandemic must have hit them hard though, so fair enough for doing everything they can to build things back up.
One amazing thing to add about the area that I really really liked (and was also evident in San Jose too) was the amount of street art that you see everywhere! It adds even more colour to this beautiful place and just makes you smile. Here's a selection of what we saw:
And let's not forget the amazing beauty of the area itself! Which has the added benefit of being free!
Next up in Monte Verde is more trees. We're hoping to do the Sky Tram and Sky Walk in the next day or so, so expect more photos of greenery to come!