Saturday, December 19, 2009

Action Packed Costa Rica

For my time in Costa Rica, I booked a package that included activities such as white water rafting, kayaking, zip lining, and hot springs. White water rafting on the Pacquare River was first on the agenda. As it had been raining recently, instead of the Class II/III rapids that I had signed up for, it was Class III-IV rapids which was going to be a fair bit more challenging. And it was. But we had a great guide and a strong team on my raft, so we managed to make it down the river without falling out of the boat (although it seemed touch and go there a couple times!). We even had a few guests on our raft at one stage after rescuing a few people whose raft had capsized.
The next stop was Arenal, and as it happens a couple that were in my raft had also booked with the same company as I had so they were staying at the same place as me in Arenal, and then later in Monteverde. They were from the northern part of South Carolina and we ended up hanging out quite a bit.
Arenal is the location of the volcano and also the hot springs. My trip to see the volcano was a bust as it was pouring rain and the cloud covered the entire view of the volcano. Ironically I got to see a great view of the volcano a few days later when zip lining in Monteverde. As for the hot springs, I went to this resort that had dozens of different natural pools that were of varying levels of temperature. It was nice, but there really isn’t much more to say about it!
As I am learning on my travels, the trips between places provide as much, if not more of an adventure as the actual destination. Hmmm…sounds like a phrase I heard once or twice ;)
After Arenal we headed to Monteverde. The trip up to Monteverde was one such adventure. But first, a little background on Monteverde may illuminate you on the reasons ‘for the challenging journey. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia:

What is now considered Monteverde was founded by Quakers from the United States whose pacifist values led them to defy the American draft during the Korean War. These Quakers chose Monteverde for its cool climate, which would facilitate dairy farming, and due to Costa Rica's non-violent, army-free constitution. The Quakers stewarded and farmed a large tract of land, which they eventually set aside for conservation. This reserve, which was named the Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve), has become a major tourist attraction as has the Monteverde Nature Center.
In order to keep the town from becoming too overcrowded, the road to travel there is unsealed and at times steep and challenging. I would like to share with you comments from other bloggers and articles I have seen regarding this road:
“The road to Monteverde will take a couple of years off your life, but it's worth it.”
“Driving on the road to Monteverde isn't like driving in a van over an old mountain road full up wheel-deep potholes, it was like being inside a pop can being dragged behind a van driving up an old mountain road with wheel-deep potholes. I'm pretty sure I'm a few inches shorter from all the bouncing and compression on my spine.”
“At one point the van actually spun out in the gravel because the road was too steep. He turned around and asked three people to exit the van so he could make the hill.”
“The road is kept this way on purpose to deliberately discourage tourists -- at first glance a peculiar approach given that Monteverde's principle source of income is tourism.“
Case and point, at one point on the road, there was roadwork being done on a particularly steep portion, where they were using rocks to (I guess) improve the traction going up the hill. Now, one would think that the best vehicle to undertake this kind of trip would be a 4x4. And in fact, the trip that we were on is called a “jeep-boat-jeep” trip, the boat part because there is a lake crossing involved that we had completed prior to ascending on this road, but the jeep part? Apparently it used to be in jeeps, but now we are in these people-mover vans. Clearly not the most appropriate vehicle to undertake a journey like this.
Anyway, after having waited about 20 minutes for them to complete part of their roadwork to enable us to pass, our driver, having failed to get the van over the rocky and steep part of the road, reversed a fair way and then “gunned” it, enabling us to get over. I must say, I was pretty scared!
But then the van that was behind us wasn’t able to make it up the hill. So our trusty driver decided to tow him up the hill! I was having no part of this and told him to stop the van so I could get out, and subsequently the remainder of the passengers got out too.

And despite the challenging trip, the scenery was quite beautiful, with lush valleys and mountains to look at. Anyway, we finally made the 35 km in about 2 hours to arrive at a very serene and beautiful mountaintop. The view from my hotel room and the subsequent sunset was fantastic. Ironically, even though Monteverde is known as the cloud forest, the first two days were entirely clear, but on my last day there, I had the benefit of seeing clouds above and below, as if I was sitting in the sky.

During my time here, I visited a Butterfly and Frog exhibit. I liked the Butterflies best.
I also did ziplining for the first time, which I must say was pretty scary at first. Some of the lines were 700m high!

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