Monteverde to Pacuare
This was the final few days of our two-week holiday before returning to Canada.
We had arrived in the village of Monteverde from La Fortuna by crossing Lake Arenal to meet a mini-bus that carried us along a twisting, dusty road; crawling past remote ranches and coffee plantations for most of an afternoon. The sign above must be somebody's idea of humor.
All worth it, of course, to experience the famous cloud forests - hiking the mist-shrouded tropical hillside was a highlight of our trip. The Monteverde Forest Reserve is a number of unique densely-foliated mountainside areas northwest of the capital, San Jose, that have been set aside for protection from logging and resource extraction. A brief history of how this worthy program was begun, with impetus from cheese-making Quakers, can be read here.
Our itinerary took us to Selvatura Park. With its well-ordered parking lot, restaurant and gift shop, you might wonder just how wild and natural this place really is, but in the few moments necessary to round the first corner of the trail, skepticism gives way to wonder. You've entered another world - enveloped by soft, damp fog under a fantastically green canopy, surrouded by an orchestra of birdcalls.
A path of just over 3kms. winds in a great circle using a system of eight suspension bridges to cross the plunging ravines of this rugged terrain. Pack a sweater, it can be cool at these elevations.
Another night in Monteverde and then a return by the same excrutiating gravel road to La Fortuna to prepare for our final adventure: rafting on the Pacuare river.
We stayed at the same garden lodgings as our first stay in La Fortuna, catching a glimpse of toucans in the large trees. The little fellow on the right hung out with us during our patio breakfast.
As part of our deal with tour company, a van picked us up early at the hotel and drove us overland to the Pacuare River launch site.
I give high logistical marks to the rafting company for getting us to and from the launch site, preparing the meals, organizing the groups and ensuring safety, but in the end, for me, the military precision was a little too, well, military.
The attitude carried over to the rafting itself, with orders being shouted to paddle in lockstep, everything done to the clock. I was left with the sense of having my experience of this wild tropical river defined by impatient, arrogant guides.
We were assigned the same raft as three rednecky American sex-tourists. That didn't help. And I had to fight to bring my weather-sealed camera along. The rafting company sells back pictures taken by the guides and heavily discourages the clientele from taking their own. But the river was still beautiful and wild and they got us back to the airport.
All in all, we concur: Costa Rica really is a traveller's paradise: mostly friendly, accessible and affordable with a breathtaking variety of scenic wonders amazingly close at hand. In two short weeks we only saw a fraction of these. Which argues, of course, for a longer, future visit.