17.12.2013 - 02.01.2014 25 °C
So by mid-December Tom had left us to fly back to the British winter he was missing so much, and we had left most of the crazies in Puerto Viejo. We first made reservations for Christmas at Jaco's wonderful Buddha House 'Boutique Hostel' where Tom ended his trip with us, and then we headed up to the mountains at Monteverde.
Monteverde is a pleasant little town tucked away in the cloud forest with views of the lush greenery all around. Due to the altitude the climate is a little chillier especially at night and so we felt quite at home once we arrived. Thanks to the cloud forest reserve Monteverde has endless wildlife and thrill-seeking attractions and seems to run almost entirely on tourism. Almost. The town was founded by Quakers who have left their legacy in the Monteverde cheese factory which provides cheese of an acceptable quality for Costa Rica and the neighboring countries (that's high praise considering what else is on offer!)
The main draw for our trip was the famous Monteverde 'canopy tours', which are supposed to be the best on the continent. Basically, you get strapped into a harness and dangled off a wire so far above the ground that your feet don't touch the treetops... and then they let go. Its about as terrifying as it sounds, at first.
Then there is the 'Tarzan Swing', they attach a rope to your middle and get you to jump off a tall platform - a pure adrenalin hit. The photographer was taking pictures of us watching when someone's swinging foot came into blunt contact with his cojones!
At the finale, we got to go tandem along a wire called 'Flight of the Quetzal' that was over a kilometre long (a quetzal is a rarely-spotted but very colourful and symbolic bird in Central America - its the national bird of Guatemala, but I think only because no-one else claimed it first!)
Straight after the canopy tour, our wobbly legs obliged in taking us as far as the Hummingbird Garden, where we relaxed by watching some of these beauties flitting about.
Aside from the canopy tour the main attraction in Monteverde is the wildlife. The next day we went on a tour of a butterfly garden where we saw butterflies from the many different habitats provided by the mountainous landscape. Izzie even got to release some butterflies fresh from their cocoons.
As an added bonus we were shown other creepy crawlies from the local area including scorpions, tarantulas, stick insects and a bug that disguises itself as a leaf to avoid being eaten (even going so far as to look like dead or damaged leaves). Turns out some of them have bad reps for no reason - there's never been a recorded death due to a tarantula, and a cockroach carries no more diseases than an ant. We played spot the stick insect and learned that their 'eggs' are designed to be picked up by leafcutter ants and protected as a part of the fungus they cultivate, disguised by pheremones so they are not detected as a foreign element until the moment they make their escape. We saw a beetle with such a hard shell that you couldn't smash it with a mallet, and learned all about the mating habits of scorpions (quite vicious!)
Then we went to see more butterflies...
We were considering a forest hike, but then we spotted the lazy man's option - this ancient little sky tram contraption! You just pootle round the track, pressing a button whenever you want to stop and look at something or step down at a platform and walk around. It turned out to be just the sort of pace we wanted that day!
The insects on the tree branch above just kind of move as a mass as you watch them - a strange sight.
Being away from home for Christmas turned out to be one of the more disorienting parts of the trip so far. No amount of decorations in the hotels and restaurants ever really evoked the feeling of Christmas as we were used to it (though seeing a Nicaraguan Santa Claus waving to passers by in the midday sun was a real treat - the woolly costume, like the concept, had probably been imported from the US!) Even so we bought a few decorations and stubbornly cooked up some mulled wine. With the wine and slightly cooler mountain air of Monteverde we enjoyed some Christmas cheer with a Canadian couple who were also disoriented by the lack of cold in Costa Rica.
Once back in Jaco the heat returned but we had cunningly bought a Christmas cheese board from the Monteverde factory. With cheeseboard secured and listening to Carols From Kings in the pool we kept the mood as Christmassy as possible! We even made more mulled wine which the receptionist at the hotel agreed was tasty though she didn't like how much it made her sweat. We tried to experience a Costa Rican Christmas, we really did, but its very much a one-day only family affair - the receptionist told us that many families go to church on Christmas Day, roast a pig for lunch and then go back to work, and she wasn't troubled by missing the whole thing (didn't sound like Izzie's cup of tea either!)
On Christmas Day we both got to Skype our families in the morning (their evening), which was fantastic. But we were then left with rather too much time on our hands to drink cheap wine in the pool ('Clos' is the cheapest wine available in Costa Rica at around $3 a litre - and its actually quite drinkable!)
On Christmas Eve we watched two huge iguanas fight in the garden (totally normal!) We caught one of them sneaking about in the laundry. And on Boxing Day, our first glimpse of some wild scarlet macaws!
We ended the year back in Puerto Viejo, which we were kind of dreading, but it turns out that around New Year its so busy that the visitors dilute the nutters a bit, and you start to see what the place is actually for. We treated ourselves to a great Caribbean-style curry meal out and then stumbled on a psytrance party with a pretty good DJ. At midnight we watched the fireworks on the beach and then went back to partying! We didn't take any pictures - its generally not a great idea to carry your camera around when drinking (and ours takes poor pics at night anyway, which is why nearly all of those we post are in daylight!) But we had a great night, and Puerto Viejo turned out to be just about the right place for seeing in the new year.
So happy new year everyone (only a month late!)