Friday, 7 September 2012

The cloud forests of Monteverde - from above and below!


Gentle mists swirling through high canopies, the lush green stretching up into cloud cover and disappearing high above. Cutting through the white on a zip-line, and wobbling along suspended bridges at the tree-tops.

Monteverde was everything I’d imagined and then some.
Leaving the heat of San Jose behind, we’d headed north by bus, the temperature and humidity gradually dropping as we climbed to higher elevations and had our first peek at the vast forested areas. The town itself is calm and relaxing, filled with a mixture of chilled travellers who were staying longer than originally planned, seduced by the cool air and incredible surroundings (not to mention the best burritos I’ve ever had), and visitors on a tight schedule, squeezing in an adrenaline rush before moving on. We were part of the former group, realising very quickly after arrival that this was somewhere we wanted to spend some time.


The biggest draw, of course, is the wide array of extreme activities available in the area, and we were keen to take part – signing up the following morning for a combined day of suspended bridge walks and zip lining. There are a huge number of companies to choose from, each offering a different thrill. Some boast the fastest lines, others the highest. Some have many more zip lines included, others a Tarzan swing or Superman ride. Although the latter sounded tempting, I prefer speed and height, so we finally settled on a package that included 15 zip-lines reaching speeds of 65kph, one of which was the longest in the area. As we hopped on the bus to the centre, the heavy cloud cover seemed a little darker than the previous day, and by the time we arrived the seal had broken and the rain began in earnest. Although we were initially worried that it would ruin the experience, the rain coaxed the canopy into vibrant greens as we slipped along the hanging bridges, trying to keep our balance as the wind shook. Our guide pointed out the different properties of plants as we went, including a little tasting session, and by the time we returned to the centre we were wet but relaxed.

After a short break to dry off, it was time to climb into harnesses and start the second part of the adventure. The wind had really picked up by now, and the long, high climb up the first scaffolding was tough going. Emerging into the open far above the trees, we could see nothing. The cloud swirled thick around us, and as I was pushed off, the line disappeared and I was surrounded by grey. Far from being a disappointment, it was incredible to be suspended without seeing anything, zooming through the mist. Without the ability to judge distance, I didn’t know where to begin slowing down, and came to an abrupt stop as the platform rose out of no-where.

A few lines later, and the unrelenting wind finally did its job, sweeping the cloud away and allowing us to have the experience we’d imagined – zooming through the canopy, looking down into the thick foliage from high, high above and feeling on top of the world. The speed and length of the lines just added to the exhilaration, and I was devastated when we reached our final go. Although I’d been zip-lining previously, nothing could compare to this.

The following day we were ready for some hiking, and signed up for a guided nature tour through one of the more recent park acquisitions. Although most people come to Monteverde for adventure (including ourselves), I would whole-heartedly recommend staying longer to hike through the forest. We’d barely been introduced to our incredible guide before he was spying toucans through his scope, and passionately sharing his knowledge of the local birds. We climbed high along the path, flashes of reds, brilliant blues and green passing overhead and settling on branches to reveal themselves as beautiful birds. Moving on further into a clearing, we were faced with two sights – a view stretching out to the ocean, a soft hazy blue, and trees surrounded by hummingbirds of all colours and sizes, occasionally breaking away to whisk past our heads like bats in a cave.

Back in the forest, we came across a troop of my favourites – monkeys, watching them play and leap over our heads between trees as our guide spoke at length about the plants, trees and animals. Four hours passed quickly, and still only lunchtime, we stopped off for a bite to eat and made our own way back to town, a steep downhill walk that presented us with great views of the area and some amazing cake from a local bakery.
One final day exploring town itself (and indulging in delicious local ice-cream), a night hike during which we spotted our first sleeping sloth, raccoons and a rather large viper, and it was unfortunately time to catch another bus back south.

 

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