Saturday, May 26, 2007

2. Heading to Monteverde (5/26/07)

Saturday, May 26, 2007 (continued)
Took the Pan American Highway, never more than three lanes wide (middle lane for passing), but well-paved. We were in the Central Valley of Costa Rica, between the mountain ranges of Cordillera Central (made up of the volcanoes of Irazu and Poas) and the Cordillera de Tilaran (including Arenal Volcano and reaching 5,500 feet in altitude in Monteverde). The Central Valley has fertile soil created by volcanic ash over the last 2 million years. About half of Costa Rica’s population lives in the Central Valley. 
We passed coffee and sugar cane plantations, and mango and banana orchards. The mango trees were full of still-green fruit. Cecropia trees (Cecropia obtusifolia, a pioneer species) with foot-long bean pods were pointed out. Linda spotted a Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa). Boy, can she spot the wildlife, by catching sight of a tail or beak!
We left the highway and started climbing into the mountains on gravel and dirt roads. As we zigged and zagged, we had views of the Golfo de Nicoya, an arm of the Pacific Ocean. We arrived in cattle country populated with mostly a Brahman (Bos indicus) and Zebu (Bos primigenius indicus) cross. Both breeds have greater skin area to better tolerate heat, with a back hump and loose skin on the neck.
Cattle in pickup truck
Living fence
Saw all kinds of living or live fences, some using the Naked Indian tree (Bursera simarouba), but most using the Gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium), where a cut branch can be stuck in the ground and it will grow. Many live fences also used corn plants (Dracaena fragrans) and yucca (Yucca aloifolia). We saw crotons that had become trees and lush bougainvillea in purple and pink. There were flowering trees in orange, pink, purple and reddish hues. Lots of hibiscus and angel trumpets. Also crape myrtles.
A Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus)! We were to see many birds with a dark back, yellow front, and black stripes on the head. And they weren’t all kiskadees. What a challenge for a non-birder!
Along the road was a man walking a calf on a leash. The bus had to drive around a dog lying in the road before he moved, then the dog returned to his spot in the middle of the road!
Our driver Enrique pulled the bus to the side of the road. HE had spotted a falcon in a tree way off in the distance! Okay, I see a bird silhouette. Through binoculars I see the creamy white front of the bird and his black-masked face, a Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans)! Enrique also spotted a grey hawk in flight and a motmot. Motmots are characterized by their tails from which they pick out feathers so that the long tails end in a "tennis racket" shape. 
Termite nest
We noticed large dark brown masses "growing" on trees. They were termite nests. There were horses and dogs and cattle, sometimes within fences, sometimes on the road. Saw young oxen being trained to a yoke, pulling a man on a bare-bones cart. Spotted a large 6-foot long green iguana (actually grayish tan in color).
We sat in the back row of the bus and could really feel the bumps on the eroded dirt road. Sometimes we were lifted off the seat. I think it was worse for those sitting directly over the wheels. Made one pit stop. Several dogs were wandering around, but they appeared wary and did not bother us.
It was dark as we approached Monteverde, high up in the mountains. Until now, the town had purposely not paved the roads, especially after a 1983 National Geographic article on the quetzels, when tourists starting pouring into the area. But apparently they have given in to the idea that tourism "drives" their economy and have paved the main road. Unhappily for the residents, a big resort hotel has perched itself on the mountainside, an unnatural glow in the dark in this area that prides itself on organic farming and use of alternative energy resources.
(Photo by Linda)
We arrived at the Hotel de Montana Monteverde in the locale of Cerro Plano at 7:00 PM. We drove through lots of rain in the latter part of the four-hour drive to Monteverde, but our luggage was safe and dry under the tarpaulin. We received the keys to our rooms which were at the furthest extreme of the hotel. Walked down a steep walkway in the misting rain. Our luggage was driven down! 
The hotel opened in 1978 as the first high-end accommodation in Monteverde and it was recently renovated. Kent admired the woodwork in the rooms, with precisely mitered corners and perfectly spaced joints. And there was cable TV!
We unpacked our raingear and hiked back up to the restaurant for dinner. Anything on the menu was included in our tour package! We started with "creams" (cream soups: excellent vegetable and mushroom). Brynne and I had tenderloin with chimichurri sauce that came out as a T-bone with pesto sauce, accompanied by mashed potatoes and cold mixed steamed veggies. Kent had seafood pasta and ordered a Costa Rican Imperial beer, which was forgotten, but brought with apologies at the end of the meal. We believe there was one cook who prepared each meal one at a time, but we were told to get used to the Latin American pace of life. 
Okay, so we went to bed at 9:00 PM!
Next: 2a. Monteverde FYI.

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