From Costa Rica and beyond

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fun in Costa Rica

Saturday night, I said goodbye to Maggie and was planning to hit the road to Monteverde the next day.  In the computer lounge back at the hostel, I met a German woman, Melanie, and the thought entered my mind that it might be fun to hang out the next day.  I was still wishing to see more of the city, but figured a Sunday would not be ideal for that.  But with a friend it would surely be fun.  The next morning, as luck would have it, I couldn´t find Melanie.  Bummer.  I loaded my bike, got it out of the parking area and was ready to go.  Just then, she returned to the hostel and was game for exploring the town.

Our walks took us to the urban park at the west end of town.  Lots of people were spending their Sunday there, relaxing in the shade by the ponds, enjoying the sculptures, jogging, and playing soccer.  At the far end of the park, a very cool (and big) soccer stadium.  Hunger led us to a sort of American diner complete with black and white checkered tile floors and shakes.  Then, back toward the center of town.  Walking through one particular neighborhood, I thought I heard my name but figured I was imagining things.  Nope.  Two Canadian women I had met back in Belize (and have since met again in Granada and San Juan del Sur) just happened to be going down the same road in their taxi.

Melanie and I had a great time sizing up San Jose´s architecture, judging the colors they painted their houses, being advised to get out of a certain neighborhood (too dangerous), searching for an open cafe, she giving me the scoop on local hospitals (she was in CR ten years ago) and I really enjoying one person after another commenting on her French accent in Spanish.  It was a really great day!

Monteverde became Monday´s destination.  I was a bit perturbed heading north.  It was the very first time I went backward in my southerly sojourn.  The ride up to this Quaker setttled mountain roost was very fun, though.  The road was hilly and curvy and the scenery reminded me of alpine farming villages in Switzerland - it was that clean, that ordered, that pristine.  I was glad I had decided to backtrack.  Monteverde, as its name suggests (just like Vermont), is very green.  It is famous for its cloud forests, which I´ve been told differ from rainforests in that they are higher in elevation.  The forests were indeed beautiful.  Exceptionally perfect weather with warm days and cool nights made it that much better.  The only hard part is not spending money.  Every trail or activity costs at least $10.  Where could I do something for free?  The first free activity took me on a short hike to an amazing tree.  A Strangler Fig Tree wraps its tentacle like roots and branches around a host tree and kills it like a boa constrictor kills its prey.  The host tree then dies, rots away, and leaves a shaft up through the center of the Strangler.  This particular tree had grown and apparently connected with another Strangler located about 10 ft from its own base.  I met four Brits at the tree.  Together, we entered the shaft and climbed up through the tree.  We mused about how this is every child´s dream come true.  Climbing as one would up a ladder, we got up to where the shaft opened up at the canopy.  There one could exit the shaft and climb out on the branches...a good 60 feet above the ground.  Amazing!!

The next day, a free hike took me up Cerro Amigo where the clouds lifted just long enough to gain views to the Pacific in the west and to Volcano Arenal in the east.

Today, I rode from Monteverde down rocky gravel roads through Tilaran and then over to La Fortuna.  It was a gorgeous ride.  Rolling green hills, sweeping vistas, wind turbines whirring in the wind, and then Lake Areal.  This long narrow reservoir is simply stunning.  The blue waters contrast with the very green countryside and a red-sand shoreline that slopes into the lake.  The east end of the lake is saddled by Volcan Arenal.  This lake has clearly been discovered by many world travelers.  Century 21 has signs all over marketing properties.  On the north side of the lake, there are restaurants catering to the many tourists.  I was drawn by a sign for a German Bakery.  I stopped and was immediately greeted by Tom, the owner.  He told me he has encountered many bikers, some who had traveled for many, many years.  I mentioned the book "Abgefahren" which I had just read about a German couple that had ridden around the world for 16 years.  He responded that he is friends with the authors, Klaus and Claudia.  Wow!  He promised me special prices, so I sat down to a very fine meal of beef tips and spaetzle and an apple struedel for dessert.  I had arrived at just the right moment, as about 10 minutes later, first one, then another bus full of Germans arrived.

The rest of the ride along the lakeshore was lovely.  A smooth, winding road with one great view after another.  As I approached the end of the lake, the clouds lifted (a rather rare occurance) and revealed the smoldering summit of the volcano.  Until last year, this mountain had nearly daily bursts of activity, jettisoning rocks and ash.  This has slowed, but the heat and potential are still there.

I am now in the touristed town of La Fortuna.  Tomorrow´s trail leads me to the Caribbean coast.

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