Earlier this month, our family set out on our last adventure of 2020. We visited Costa Rica, and I must tell you- everyone should experience this magical place at least once in their lifetime. Our last trip of the year was filled with more angst than normal. I learned the government of Costa Rica was requiring Health Passes before entering the Country, which means you better have good health insurance, and proof of that insurance submitted to the Costa Rican Embassy no earlier or later than 48 hours to arriving in Country. During the scramble to get the required paperwork from our insurance company, it struck me that this trip was a goodbye to our old world. I was in the liminal space between past and present, floating as witness to a rift in time. It seemed appropriate for us to visit one of the places on our Bucket List, while we could.
While there wasn't a single place I didn't like during our visit, the place I loved the most was the Monteverde Cloud Forest. First I must tell you, visiting a Cloud Forest has on my bucket list for a very long time, then after sharing a little bit about Cloud Forests the rest of the family jumped on board adding it to their bucket lists too! I think my wanting to experience a Cloud Forest started when I purchased a canvas photograph in my twenties, of one of the rope bridges (no longer rope bridges now) in one of the Cloud Forests... because there are actually 6 Cloud Forests in Costa Rica. But the photograph was beautiful, mysterious...just like the real thing, but the real thing is MUCH better!
So first things first...I had to first navigate how to purchase a guided tour of the Cloud Forest in Monteverde. For whatever reason our phones converted to Spanish as soon as we arrived in country. So that was a fun learning curve. I only know swear words in Spanish and our oldest son Aiden has 2 years of Spanish under his belt, so it was the blind leading the blind most of this trip! But that's what made it fun. Once I was able to purchase tickets in advance, we set out early the next morning for our 2.5 hour drive to Monteverde.
The other fun part of our adventure was the Google GPS doesn't work in Costa Rica. So we had to download their version, Waze. Which fun fact, took us on the back (dirt roads) of the Costa Rican jungles! Typically I think most parent's would be somewhat nervous, however we embraced it, my husband often saying "We were supposed to go this way for a reason, maybe there is something we are supposed to see". I won't lie, there were a couple times I wasn't so sure it was a good idea, and in fact we did get lost. Then all our children decided the winding jungle roads weren't what they had planned for, yes even being from Colorado- so we made several stops because they all got car sick.
Once we did arrive atop this amazing mountain in the town of Monteverde, we realized how we were not prepared for the weather! It was cold, windy, and raining. The weather in Monteverde is strongly influenced by moisture-saturated air currents that enter the country from the northeast (trade winds). When ascending the Cordillera de Tilarán, orographic rains originate because of the cooling they experience, or fog, which characterizes the predominant Cloud Forest in the area. These conditions generate a marked rainy tropical climate; where seasonal variation in temperatures and rainfall is minimal, both remain high throughout the year. Likewise, the persistent cloudiness causes the particular conditions for the development of the so-called Cloud Forest.
Not only were we cold, we were also starving. I guess getting carsick will do that to you. We ended up finding this cute little cafe, 'Stellas'. I have to tell you, should you ever find yourself in Monteverde, Costa Rica- YOU MUST STOP HERE!! Not only is Stella the owner so welcoming, her food is amazing (even though there wasn't a single meal we didn't enjoy the entire week) and the ambiance was MAGICKAL!!!!
Fun Fact: Monteverde hosts 2.5% of the world's biodiversity. The 10% of its flora is endemic. Meaning the plants here are ONLY found here, no place else on Earth has some of the plants we saw. (I talk about this later) and 50% of flora and fauna of Costa Rica is in this paradise.
We were the only guests in this cute little cafe, that smelled like chocolate and coffee beans. As we sat down at our table we noticed the set of sliding glass doors to the back of us, that led to the most amazing garden I have ever seen. In the center of the garden was a tall bird feeder surrounded by birds of every color in the rainbow. I have never seen so many different species of birds in so many colors!!! As I stood in awe, Stella approached me and pointed behind me, as I turned around, right at my feet was a Coati! Close enough for me to touch, completely unbothered by my presence!!! And of course me being me, tried to pick it up, but he waddled off to look for food. Shortly after, a Toucan landed on top of the bird feeder to snack on the banana Stella had placed out there. Several resplendent quetzals showed up for lunch too.
Next, the most beautiful looking squirrel ran up the feeder, scaring away the birds, to help himself to a snack as well. After it was his turn this weird looking creature approached the bottom of the feeder to eat what the birds and squirrel knocked off onto the ground. It was as if these animals made this a daily ritual, and were completely unbothered by humans. Our family just stood in such awe and amazement of what was happening. I could have stayed there all day watching all the animals. However, we were late, and ended up getting lost for the second time trying to find the Cloud Forest. We ended up missing the guided tour, but we were able to venture out onto the trails and bridges alone.
Fun Fact: More than 100 species of mammals live in the park, including howler and capuchin monkeys, all five species of cats, deer, tapir and sloths. A total of 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles live in the reserve, including venomous and non-venomous snakes, frogs and toads
We started along the very muddy path and within minutes approached the longest and tallest bridge in the park, Bridge 6 (236m (774ft) long and it's height being 70m (230ft)). You can tell instantly that they designed this park so the trails and hanging bridges are designed and maintained to cause the lowest impact to nature, trying always to keep the forest intact for everything living in it. You are instantly overwhelmed by nature. There is literally life at your feet, around you, and above you. The bridges you cross (6 in total) are perfect to appreciate Costa Rica’s magnificent biodiversity admiring nature from different perspectives.
Then something happened halfway through our trek through this beautiful forest. It was as if nothing was outside of us. No world, no COVID, just complete awareness. Nature has much to teach us about the present moment . Nature also teaches us how life and death are a beautiful dance, but humans do a terrible job at facing both.
Fun Fact: Extensive plant collections have been conducted in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. An ever-growing list of plants above 700m details more than 3000 species. There are more than 750 species of trees alone, representing 92 plant families. Each type of forest or “life zone”, from the lowland rainforest to the elfin forest, has its own set of characteristic tree species.
As the lockdowns from the virus continue on, many of us are stuck in our homes, yet there are still endless opportunities to visit nature and what stories she has to share with us. Yes, we share funny videos on social media, and show off our latest recipe creations in the kitchen. We are reconnecting with old friends, since now a phone call out of the blue is socially acceptable. We help our neighbors, donate, volunteer, and ask if people are OK. We say hi to neighbors and strangers. All of these things are important, but during this collective deep breath, we need to find the space to reclaim a small part of our lost humanity. Nature provides that space. Nature is also a lot like a time machine that takes us back and pushes us ahead to confront our own mortality, as well as giving us renewed gratitude for all the times we are gifted here amidst so much beauty and love. I cannot tell you how long I stood in front of some of those gigantic ficus trees. hundreds of years old realizing we all exist now in the ether, the neither-here-nor-there-ness of awaiting the unknown. That the hundred daily griefs can compound into our inability to move or function. However, the force that can allow motion through this time of in between is in the very actions that have bound humanity since our beginnings some 300,000 years ago. Being in nature opens up a part of your soul, opens up your senses which are our new survival superpowers during this time of pause. It's helps you feel more alive.
What we learned that day is death feeds into life perhaps most spectacularly here among the giant ficus trees, the strangler figs that wrap themselves so fully around a host tree that the host dies and rots away and the ficus becomes a tree itself, spreading up into the sky and out toward other trees so the process can begin again.
Monteverde had gifted us a heightened perception, and a month later, I feel ever so much more alive than when I first walked into that Cloud Forest, transformed by the hands of something much bigger than all of us, something not even COVID can take away...G-d.
Click on the gallery photos below
Author, Candance Toscano
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