Up the Mountain, Down the Cloud Forest

Thursday, February 16.

Zoe gets up. And she’s ooookay!

So we pack up, have a decent breakfast, and board the tourist taxi to Lake Arenal.

The taxi – which is more like a mini-bus – is packed. The three of us wedge ourselves amongst folks with an adventure tour. There are a few older couples, and it’s fun listening to them tease each other. There is at least one couple from Vancouver. Unfortunately we don’t speak to them. But I do chat briefly with a man from Atlanta.

We transfer to a boat that will take us across Lake Arenal. We’re there for a while, as the boat operator has to make sure the boat is entirely filled with tourists before it can depart.

Jenn and Zoe sit in the seat behind me. And for a while, it seems, no one wants to sit beside me. One woman boards with her two young sons – and they don’t want to sit near me, at all. They end up sharing remaining space with two older folks just adjacent to me.

At one point, I make contact with the young woman in front of me and (half) jokingly say, “What? Do I smell?”

In the end, an older gentleman takes a seat next to me … which (for the moment) allays that one insecurity I carry as a traveller of colour.

Then, we’re off. The scenery during the approximately 40-minute ride is lush, green and lovely.

During the trip, Jenn, Zoe and I get to talking with the woman with the two aloof sons. Turns out she’s from New Westminster – a teacher who’s on a four-month sabbatical, and managed to pull her kids out of school for a two-week trip before she continues with her travels.

On the other side of Arenal, we leave the boat in an orderly fashion, with our bags intact.

Jenn, Zoe and I grab another (much smaller) tourist taxi … and the lady from New Westminster and her two sons are amongst the passengers in our cramped vehicle … along with an older couple (whom, Zoe later deduces, are from Israel).

The two kids seem to have loosened up at this point. Perhaps seeing their mom talk to us, is the green light they need to be a bit more friendly. One of them offers chocolate-covered peanuts, and even shows us how to fasten the seatbelts (proof they’ve been in the country longer than we have).

The trip to Santa Elena – the actual town located in the area known as Monteverde – is a slow, very bumpy ascent upwards into the Tilaran mountain range. At one point, it’s actually so bumpy, the rocking motion of the taxi rocks me to sleep.*

We finally arrive at our hotel, and take a look at the scenery it overlooks. It’s nice and comfortably cool. The view is breaktaking.

Our hotel complex is small – with six cabins in all. After checking in with the Spanish-speaking lady who runs the place (in very broken English; her German/English-speaking husband is in town), we set down our things, and meet our temporary next-door neighbours … two couples from Ottawa!

They give us suggestions on where to eat dinner, explain why the beef tastes so good in Costa Rica (apparently, it’s the type of cow they use for eating), and provide the low-down on the ziplining we’re about to experience.

We’ve been at the hotel barely 20 minutes, when another tourist taxi comes to whisk us away to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Upon arrival and check-in, we’re invited to have a complimentary glass of juice and a cookie.

We then make our way outside the information centre, where we meet our tour guide, Daniel, for the walk around the cloud forest.

He’s really informative and entertaining, showing us all sorts of trees, plants and flowers – including the smallest species of orchids we’ve ever seen.

We even have a (very brief) hummingbird sighting, thanks to Zoe’s eagle eyes.

We also cross several suspension bridges during the course of our walk in the cloud forest – each one seems higher above the ground than the next.

While on one of these bridges, I look out across the forest and catch a glimpse of one of the zipline platforms.

It’s far away, but close enough for me to notice that it’s much higher than the bridge our group is crossing. This is when my nerve almost completely evaporates.**

By this point, though, it is already too late to back out.

Daniel concludes the walk, depositing us back to the starting point at the centre, where we kill 30 minutes before our Big Canopy Experience, a.k.a. the Sky Walk.

There are five of us doing the Sky Walk – all of us, women. We’re fitted with helmets, harnesses, and the metal parts that will attach us to the wire cables above.

We waddle outside, where our two guides – Leonardo and Antony – introduce themselves … and us, to the practice zipline. They explain the basics of what to do (and not do), when zipping along the cables.

As soon as I complete my turn on the practice line, my initial panic back on the suspension bridges, subsides. Temporarily.

The next leg involves riding the Sky Tram (big metal cages with seats), UP over the canopy of trees …

Then getting off the tram, and climbing a tower – I’d guess 20, maybe 30 feet high – for our first real run.

My throat literally goes completely dry as we ascend.

Hoo, boy. This ziplining thing was my suggestion. And Zoe never wanted to do this from the outset.

What have I gotten us into?

The first couple of runs, I am still suffering from nerve-inducing dry-mouth. It’s also getting increasingly windy, which doesn’t help.

But then, on the next run, we get to do a tandem run – two of us to a line. Zoe and I decide to partner up, while Jenn partners up with one of the guides.

As the two other women on the ziplining trek – Spaniards – whirr off into the distance, I suddenly get a bit of inspiration on how to conquer my nerves and allay Zoe’s.

Then, we’re up. We get into position – Zoe in front, me behind her – and as we leave the platform, I open my mouth and start singing:

“I BELIEVE I CAN FLYYYYYYYY …” ***

Despite the wind in my ears, I can hear Zoe laughing. That’s when my nerves completely disappear. We get to the platform on the other side with no problem.

The subsequent lines become easier to navigate, and the whirrrrrrrrr! of the cable as we each zip across no longer makes me nervous. By the end, I feel the adrenaline – or endorphins – in my system. But I’m also pretty happy to finish.

After we’re freed of our helmets and harnesses, we take a stroll nearby, looking for hummingbirds, but we don’t see any. It’s probably too late in the day.

We get a ride back to the hotel, with a number of the staff who have finished work for the day.

That evening, we go into town for dinner at a place our fellow Canadians hotel had recommended, called Morpho’s. The food is fantastic, but filling.

We walk around Santa Elena for a bit, but the wind picks up, and the cold temperature forces us to call it a night and grab a taxi back to the hotel.

None of us stay up late that night. We’re exhausted. And in any case, we have to leave early the next morning for La Fortuna.

The wind knocks at the windows and door throughout the night. But all of us are too tired to care.

*Fun fact # 1: Fun fact: Given enough time, I can fall asleep in almost any motor vehicle.
** Fun fact # 2: I am uneasy with heights. I’m even more uneasy on bridges that swing.
** Fun fact # 3: Singing the chorus to this song lasts as long as a zipline across 1300 feet of rope.

Ziplining picture, courtesy Jenn Hadfield.

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