Day 11: To Rinc贸n de la Vieja

05:00. The alarm clock sounds, and we know: it is time for us to get out of bed as we have a busy day ahead of us.
First, we will be picked up at the hotel at 05:30 for a morning bird watching tour, and after that we’ll have breakfast.

The tour takes place not inside the Monteverde Reserve, but just outside in a privately held piece of forest of which the sole destiny is to be turned around from secondary forest into primary forest. Along the way, naturalists guide tourists on tours to view the wildlife which is becoming ever more present.
This morning, it looked like the forest was completely empty! We heard some birds sing their songs, but they would not show themselves.
Until, in the final half hour of the 3 hour tour, a parrot!
Our very first in Costa Rica!
The guide had to sneak us into the adjacent property (a hotel) through some barbed wire sneaking around in the bush, but finally we got a good, clear view of it and we just loved the experience! It is a white fronted parrot, completely new to us!

Right after this, an Emerald Toucanette and even a female Quetzal showed up and made these final moments a real treat. What an awesome way to end the tour.

After breakfast, we checked out, jumped into our car and drove back to the entrance of the Reserve, to spend some more time with the hummingbirds at the Colibri Caf茅. We spent another hour and a half practicing our skills trying to take a picture of a hummingbird in flight or while hovering. That is really, really hard! We found out that the lighting conditions were better yesterday, but still think we managed to get some great shots today. Furthermore, the garden is such a nice place to be, as the hummingbirds are zooming around like bumblebees and because of the low season, nobody is there.

Finally, we decided it was time to go, and embark on the journey to Rinc贸n de la Vieja National Park which is about 120km or 3.5 hours away. The road took us over about 30kms of untarred, very bumpy roads, and the Panamerican highway which has been under construction over the length of 50kms for at least a year and a half. I guess that just is the way things work around here. 馃檪

After arriving at the B&B Aroma del Campo (which is really rural!) we decided today has been long enough and just relaxed at the B&B. They have a small pool, some resident animals, a few hammocks and enough space to just linger around and do nothing. Add a nice 35 degrees Celsius to the mix, and you’ll understand it has been a nice afternoon. 馃槈

Tomorrow, again a full day ahead of us! We are going for a walk in the park to see the park’s famed volcanic activity with fumaroles, mud pools and much more.

Day 10: Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

A new day, a new guided tour. This time it is after a dinner without Gallo Pinto, a first for me since we have landed in Costa Rica. Why, I hear you ask, is it that I didn’t have Gallo Pinto for breakfast? Well, that is simply because this hotel does not offer Gallo Pinto as a breakfast option. We could see the cook preparing it, but it was not for the guests.
And as we were in a hurry to get to the guided tour, we didn’t pursue this matter further.

At 07:30 the tour starts in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a fully protected part of the land which consists of a few thousand hectares of tropical forest on both sides of the continental divide. On both side there are both tropical cloud forest and tropical rain forest, depending on the altitude. The difference is mainly in precipitation: cloud forests typically don’t get much rain, all water usually comes from damp, fog or clouds rolling through. This results in a very dense, overgrown forest where all trees are overgrown with moss and aerial plants on top of the moss. The trees grow less tall than in a rain forest because of the lower temperatures and less sunlight.

The first thing our guide did when we entered the reserve was to say that we would be on the lookout for one of the most endangered and coveted species of bird in Costa Rica: the Quetzal. Officially the Resplendent Quetzal, it is usually very hard to see and find.
Today, we were incredibly lucky to get good views in 4 separate sightings of 2 female birds, and 1 male bird. Including the long and very sought after tail feather. This male only had one, some birds have two. The guide didn’t have a good explanation for that, and therefore me neither. 馃槈

We swalked for about 4 hours in the forest, trying to find all kinds of other stuff, like stick insects, toads, frogs, lizards, trees, vines, and whatever was available T that moment in time.
Thus we found a lot, including the Orange-bellied Trogon, some species of Tanager and more birds I cannot remember the name of.

As a true sweet dessert, he also took us to a place called Colibri Caf茅, a caf茅 located just outside of the reserve which is doing its name proud: the Colibri have taken their garden over completely, which is mainly to do with the bird feeders hanging there.
At least 10 species of hummingbirds could be seen at any given time over there, and we probably also have.
We also took way too many pictures of the hummingbirds, to get that one shot of the bird hovering in mid air. So far, we hope to have succeeded in that, but it is hard to judge without a monitor. We probably spent close to 3 hours lingering in the garden, taking pictures and waiting for that perfect moment. Now, that is dedication for you!

After all that, we decided it would be best for us to just go to the hotel and relax before dinner, and that was exactly what we did. Tomorrow, we’ll go on the final bird watching tour here in Monteverde, and after that we are off to Rincon de la Vieja!
Probably to view some more wildlife. 馃榾

Day 9: To Monteverde

Another early start as we leave the lodge near Arenal, this time without any flat tires. 馃檪
The journey today will lead to another well known location in Costa Rica: Monteverde.
Most well known of course is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which consists of, you guessed it, tropical cloud forest.

The 120kms again take about 3.5 hours to drive, of which the first 80 can be completed in about 2. The other 40 are again unpaved and will at least take 1.5 hours, if not more. We took on the Costa Rican style of driving, and just went down the road easily but steadily. Ma帽ana ma帽ana.

Monteverde actually is the name of the region surrounding the reserve, and the main town is Santa Elena, where most of the hotels, lodges, restaurants and tour operators are located. This is also the village where our hotel is, Claro de Luna.
Upon arriving, we immediately were given a large list of tours and tour operators of things to do in and around the town. We decided to book a night walk and, of course, a canopy tour.

The canopy tour was first, and around 2 we are picked by a small minivan which took us to Selvatura, a big park right next to the reserve where all sorts of activities are available ranging from a butterfly garden to the canopy tour.
Right after paying, we suited up for the experience in a harness and were given strict instructions on how to act and how to position your body during the tour.
As you are basically suspended above the ground on a zip line, thee is quite some science to the magic, but the guides instruct you well. This being the first time for me, I didn’t know what to expect, but it is great! Zooming through the forest suspended high above canyons is truly amazing.
The tour consists of 13 zip lines and a few pathways which takes you through primary and secondary cloud forest and offers amazing views to the participants. The longest two zip lines are 700 metres and even 1 kilometre, so there is plenty of time to look around you when you zoom along the tree tops.
Canopy tours seem to be the staple for any visitor to the country, so we had to try it. And we both loved it!

After this, we were brought back to the hotel for a short change of clothes. We also packed our cameras for the night walk in the forest with a guide, and were picked up a few minutes later.
Walking through the forest at night is quite something else, as all the noises are unfamiliar and you just don’t know what is making those sounds. Really interesting!
Unfortunately, the forest seemed to be quite empty as we were there. We did however spot a Mottled Owl, a Leaf Mimicking insect, and some glow-in-the-dark moss. The Kinkajou was nowhere to be found, and we searched long and hard for it!
The second and third unfortunate events of the night were that it started raining and that both Kirsten and myself found ourselves standing in the way of Leaf Cutter ants, we didn’t have any issues in trying to chase us away by vigorously attacking our shoes, pants and eventually legs. With the ant soldiers growing to about 2.5 to 3 cm, you can imagine this was not very nice. Quite the opposite actually…

Tomorrow is a full day of us exploring the region, we’ll see what crosses our paths!