There must be some sort of waterfall etiquette guide that will clearly explain what to do in the situation that you are attempting to reach a waterfall in the jungle and make it back out during daylight, but there is a pile of clothes on the trail signifying that someone is taking a swim. To justify advancing beyond an obvious “do not disturb” sign, it was a 20 minute downhill trek and this was our last chance of getting a glimpse of what was supposed to be a gorgeous sight, plus we were talking loudly in order to give advance warning - but didn’t have much time to spare as the final light was fading fast. Our last adventure of the year wasn’t the hanging bridges trek after all, it was a rapidly disappearing view of a waterfall and the scenic vista of a full moon – it would have been two full moons but we made it out before total darkness. Who wanders through the jungle at twilight in their birthday suit?
We made it back to the lodge before anyone sent out a search party: Krista, myself and the now-clothed Brit. The climb back up had been a muddy scramble, so it was a shower and a breather later that everyone started gathering in the lodge for dinner. We almost had the place to ourselves as the only other guests dining were the aforementioned waterfall enthusiast and his significant other, and the next three hours were spent enjoying good food and company while the rain and wind resumed its chorus outside.
Although we couldn’t partake of the more traditional Latvian New Year’s traditions, we availed ourselves of the modernized laimes liešana, the app that lets you predict your new year by interpreting the shape of molten lead which has been poured into water. We discussed lessons learned, celebrated a birthday, and offered well-wishes and advice to the new couple in advance of their wedding next July. The boys drifted off to sleep, one by one, until three little babes were snuggled in blankets on the couch. And we sang, as Latvians tend to do, a little louder with another wine bottle opened, until the New Year had arrived on the wings of the howling wind.
That first morning of 2015 we said a temporary adieu to the rest of our party who were headed south in search of warmer and drier temperatures, and I took to flying through the canopy of the cloud forest courtesy of Selvatura’s ziplines. It seemed rather ironic that the rain had somewhat ceased and the views had opened up – Lago Arenal, the lake at the foot of Volcán Arenal, was visible even though the volcano itself sat shrouded in fog. Ziplining was a much drier endeavor as well, and the views from the top were much better than the previous day.
Afterwards we ventured into Santa Elena, the gateway to the Monteverde reserve and the area’s main village. Monteverde is actually the name of the Quaker community originally from Alabama, whose members live in scattered homes in the forests below the reserve. It is the cloudforest, however, that has brought the region worldwide fame, partly in its role promoting ecotourism in Costa Rica, and partly due to the unique ecosystem sporting birds such as the rare resplendent quetzal. At an elevation of 4,600 ft, Monteverde’s rolling hills are pastures for the cattle that are the source of the area’s famous cheeses. The increased tourist traffic to the region has brought all manner of tours and attractions, from zipline canopy adventures to orchid gardens, frog ponds and sloth sanctuaries, but the town of Santa Elena remains a small village with plenty of charm. Our visit included a lunch stop at Tree House Restaurante & Café, an open air eatery built entirely around a giant ficus tree. The food was good, but the view grand.
Right across the street is a tourist boutique filled with local-made souvenirs for sale, and we paused to watch the glass artist at work before buying one of his tiny sloths, in hopes that we would still see one before leaving for the coast. And the last half an hour we had in town was spent sipping a quality cup of locally grown and roasted coffee at Beso Espresso & Roasters.
|Artist forming glass sculptures|
In hopes of seeing a few of the many animals that call the cloud forest their home we had signed up for a night tour. As a majority of the rainforest inhabitants are nocturnal and the rest elusive for a family with three young children, wandering around someone’s jungle backyard with flashlights was actually a good bet. Roberts insists the animals had been brought in, but I’m a little less skeptical, as snakes and spiders might be harder to corral than a few sloths. As we trailed our fearless guide in search of wildlife I was relieved how noisy the forest was, in that the boys weren’t scaring the animals away with their chatter and night vision-destroying flashlight use. We saw three sloths hanging out high in the trees, looking more like reflective furballs than the animals I had imagined. A colony of leafcutter ants was trailing back to its mound with pieces of leaves to cultivate the fungus used to feed the ant larvae. We saw a migrating Canada warbler, a giant stick insect, plenty of bats, a leech of sorts(?), frogs, beetles and spiders. By poking a stick into a hole in the ground our guide triggered an orange-kneed tarantula’s early warning system and we were treated to a good long look at this colorful species. And although the sloths may have been our favorite, it was thrilling to see a poisonous pit viper - of course we gave the bright green snake a wide berth.
|From left: two-toed sloth, orange-kneed tarantula, pit viper|
If we had an extra day in the region we might have visited the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, in hopes of seeing a resplendent quetzal and howler monkeys. However with our departure to the coast set for the following day we were quite happy with the tally, and easily convinced to cut our night tour short. We slowly made the now-familiar trip back up for one last night in the Monteverde cloud forest, and all three boys were soon fast asleep.