The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is largely the creation of George Powell, an American doctoral student who came to Costa Rica to study many species of birds found here. Once he arrived, it didn’t take long to realize that the forests were being decimated by various elements. Not only did he have substantial personal wealth, but he was also very persuasive and was able to get a mining company to agree to create the preserve on its land while he purchased neighboring parcels. The preserve was founded in 1972 and now contains 26,000 acres. A cloud forest, by the way, is a forest that is often or sometimes covered by clouds to a point where mosses and other moisture-loving plants can thrive.
For our tour, Anywhere Costa Rica hooked us up with Marcos Mendez Sibaja, who is a dual US and Costa Rica citizen. He has established a tour service named Pasion Costa Rica and is available for much more extensive hiking than just the morning trips that we were on. Marcos was the first of several truly excellent guides we met during the trip. His knowledge of the area is outstanding. He is very personable and works hard to make sure you see as much as possible, understand what you are seeing, and all your questions are answered. Plus, his English is easily understood. That’s Marcos pointing at the tree.
Here is the trail. Very nice.
There were only six of us on the tour and we were only minutes into it when we spotted our first monkeys and sloths. Then, the word got out among the guides going up and down the trail, that someone had spotted a Resplendent Quetzal. Well, you would have thought that gold had been discovered in a nearby creek. Considering that a half-hour ago we never even heard of this bird, we were all now desperate to find one. Here is why:
Well, I wish I could tell you that I’d taken that picture. Or, that we’d even seen one. Sadly, no. We did not find a male, but we did find a female:
Still a pretty rare find, we were told. By the way, if you go back up to that picture of Marcos you will see that he is carrying a field telescope. What he and several other guides did for us is, they will train the telescope on the subject, and then take your cell phone camera and take a shot through the lens. That’s how we got this one. Unfortunately, a little lens cleaning was needed, so the colors are not so bright.
Along with the quetzal, we also found a Red-bellied Trogan, another rare find apparently. However the picture was too bad to post. OK So, shooting through a telescope doesn’t always work.
In Costa Rica there are over 1,400 types of orchids alone, not to mention the thousands of other flowers that are literally everywhere. Here are a few:
Along the trail we also met a cute little guy, called an agouti. You will see his face below the red ears. They are kind of like big prairie dogs, about the size of a cat. They don’t care to be seen, especially by humans. Interestingly, we later learned that they are considered to be a delicacy by the various boa constrictors that roam the area.
Then we came upon a hole in the wall. Who lives there?
This young lady:
One of the most common trees in the forest, both up in the mountains and along the coast is this one, the ficus tree:
This is also called the Strangler Tree. The reason is, that sooner or later, an airborne seed from a nearby tree will land on its trunk somewhere. From that seed a vine will grow up and attach itself to the tree. the vine will also grow down and plant itself in the earth. Over time, the vines will circle the tree and slowly strangle it to death. Then it becomes a new tree. You can see the vines already at work on this one. Ah Nature!
Here is a young tourist daring the tree to strangle her.
Fortunately she escaped and found her way to this waterfall.
Our morning hike ended a place set up at the park to attract humming birds. These birds are everywhere in Costa Rica. Here is a VERY small sample:
What a GREAT way to spend the morning. If you’re ever up that way, Pasion Costa Rica, highly recommended.
Later that evening we arrived at a place called Hidden Valley for the night tour. Hidden Valley is a roughly 40 acre preserve owned by a young man from Boston who came to Costa Rica as a preschool teacher in San Jose. He found this place in run down condition, attracted some investors, and set off to create an eco-friendly place for tourists. Much of the lodging is still under construction, but some rentals are available.
He told us that the locals, when they found out what he was trying to do, were very friendly and helpful. For example, he found that he needed permits to build some of the structures, like observation platforms, that visitors would want so they could see the wildlife. He found that the permits would be expensive, but even worse, there is always a backlog, so that it might take a year or more to get approval. His friends advised him to go ahead and build what he wanted anyway. If he got caught, he would still have everything done and it would be cheaper to pay the fine. There is no substitute for local information!
So, anyway, there were only four of us on the trip, including the guide. By the time we got into the forest, it was totally dark. We were each given flashlights and off we went. Well, there is nothing quite like being in one of these forests at night. For one thing, the noise of the crickets is overpowering. And these aren’t the crickets we are used to in Ohio. These crickets look like this:
And, there is no shortage of them. So, we are looking under leaves and into bushes, trying to find some wildlife. It didn’t take long to find this:
Although this snake has the markings of its more poisonous relatives, this one is harmless to humans and actually is beneficial. It is called a cat-eyed snake and he enjoys strangling frogs.
We also came across this roughly ten foot high mound of dirt with a nylon pipe running over it. Turns out the pipe is temporary and the mound is an anthill of leaf-cutter ants. The ants were still quite active and we were told they never sleep. They just work till they die. More about them later.
We saw a few other things on this trip, but it was not apparently a night when the critters felt like stepping out. But, believe me, just being out there is experience enough. To top things off, we came to an opening in the canopy and it was a night when the stars were as bright as they are in western US. Absolutely beautiful.
Well, that was it for Monteverde. Tomorrow we would be off to the volcano at Arenal.