A walkabout is a rite of passage- a person will go out into the wilderness to discover his or her identity and purpose, and then return home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Weekend Trip #5: Monteverde

This trip occurred the weekend of Friday, November 6- Sunday, November 8.  We only were out of town through Saturday, though.

Monteverde is best known for its famed cloud forest.  The town itself is actually called Santa Elena, but they're essentially two names for the same place.  Lindsay and I decided to go to Monteverde in order to accomplish a specific goal: zip line!  We'd heard from multiple other travelers that the zip lining course there was gorgeous and really fun.  While Lindsay had zip lined her first weekend here [the one trip she took without me], her experience was lackluster, so I managed to convince her it'd be fun to try again; I, on the other hand, had never been.

We figured this weekend would be a good one to hit Monteverde, because our services as volunteers were required in Atenas Saturday afternoon, so we could only stay over some place for one night [we'd promised the volunteer coordinator we'd help set up for a major dance recital she was putting on through the community center].  Since we'd booked a 7:30am tour for Saturday morning, we felt confident we could both fit in zip lining and helping with the recital....  Yeah, to assume things makes an ass out of u and me.

Let the Chaos Commence
By this point, it's a given that our carefully researched transportation information would fail us, so Lindsay and I barely glanced at the route from Palmares [where we'd be starting from right after work] to Monteverde.  All we saw was that a direct bus existed from San Ramon, so figured we'd just head into the town and go from there.

We debated about stopping for lunch at a small restaurant, or /soda/, that we always pass on our walk to the Hogarcito, but decided we could wait until we got into San Ramon- a wise decision we'd realize later.  We made it to the bus station in San Ramon around noon, and ambled over to the dollar store where our "informer" works [<- a nice lady who's helped us out in terms of bus schedules at least three separate times.  We've come to feel so thankful for her, we legit discussed bringing her a flower that day.  Maybe it was better that we forgot to...].  But when I asked her about the direct bus to Monteverde, she looked very confused and shook her head.  No, there was no direct bus to Monteverde.  You had to catch a bus to Puntarenas first, and then find one to the cloud forest.  Lindsay and I thanked her, and made our way to the other bus station to catch the 2.5 hour bus ride to Puntarenas.  Figures it wouldn't be as easy as a "direct bus."

We took the 12:35pm [which showed up closer to 1:00pm] to Puntarenas, getting in around 3:00pm.  This is where our decision not to grab lunch in Palmares proved itself to be a life-saver: there were no more buses from Puntarenas to Monteverde on Friday.  What?  How does saving 20 minutes by not having lunch make a lack of buses any better?  Here's how: while there was no bus to Monteverde itself, there was a bus leaving at 3:15pm to Liberia, and we were assured that the driver could drop us off at the entrance to Monteverde- whatever that meant.  Had we sat down and gotten a real lunch, we would've had to spend the night in Puntarenas.  So yay for not eating!

Another traveler also happened to be in our exact situation [a guy who's social skills had severely regressed thanks to just coming from 8 weeks of volunteering in the jungle...], so the three of us boarded the bus to Liberia.  An hour into the ride, the bus pulled over beside a gas station, and we were informed this was the entrance to Monteverde.  Huh?  Extremely confused, we exited the bus and were immediately enshrouded in the dust cloud the bus left behind.  We walked over to the store inside the gas station and asked the lady behind the counter how to get from there to Monteverde.  She assured us a bus would arrive at 5:15pm, and we'd just have to flag it down.  That gave us an hour to wait at the gas station, which we passed by becoming friends with the clerk [a motherly Nicaraguan named Maritza], and encountering yet another backpacker trying to get to Monteverde- Nonny, a volunteer in Nicaragua who was in Costa Rica to renew her visa.

So darkness begins to fall, 5:15pm comes and goes, and we've yet to catch a bus to Monteverde.  We're sure we didn't miss it because a few locals are also waiting by the gas station, and just as Lindsay's on the verge of a panic attack- an empty tourism van drives by, backs up, and the guy inside says he'll take us to Monteverde for $4 each.  We're so relieved to have a ride there that we just nod and climb in- turns out we payed $2 less than if we'd caught the public bus, anyway.  It turned out to be a good thing we were in a small van, since the road was quite pockmarked by potholes, the street was scarily narrow, and [most noteworthy] the weather was terrible.  By terrible I mean it was sleeting and windy and cold.  But for Costa Rica, where even in the rainy season there's only precipitation a few times a week for a couple hours, the cold and the wind felt extremely foreign.  [Lindsay later remarked it was almost refreshing to experience something other than heat and sun.  Not sure if I agree, but I know what she means.]

We were dropped off in the center of town around 7:00pm, and said goodbye to Weirdo and Nonny [though we'd convinced Nonny to sign up for the same zip line tour as us, so we planned on seeing her again], as we'd all booked different hostels.  Our hostel turned out to be small and sort of dumpy, but the wifi worked, an adorable fluffball of a dog lived there, and the guy who ran the place was totally awesome and into having a good time [he offered us shots even before we'd checked in...].  Plus, we'd find out later that the free breakfast was an amazing smorgasbord of food.  

While grabbing dinner at a nearby restaurant [having braved the wind/rain to get there], Lindsay and I developed our new favorite time-passing game to play [trying to name all 50 states, and then their correct capitals.  You may scoff now, but I dare you to try.  We've tried it on other Americans, and most people can only make it to the low 40's before giving up], and then raced back to the hostel.  We were content to just relax, seeing as we had to be up early tomorrow, but not having some sort of fun on a weekend in a hostel is pretty much impossible.  The five other guests plus the host and Lindsay and I ended up playing some card games, and then Alonso [the person in charge of the hostel] suggested we go out to a bar in town.  It wasn't an extremely appealing offer, but Lindsay and I figured we'd be stuck videotaping a little kids' dance recital the next night, so we might as well.  

The bar we went to was sort of a weird situation because 1) you had to pay to get in [the first time I've come across that in Costa Rica- luckily, Alonso was nice enough to pay for Lindsay and I], and 2) there was a live band playing Latin music, but barely anyone was dancing, Tico or not.  Luckily, Lindsay and I always bring the party ;). But actually.  After hanging off to the side for a bit, we were both invited by Ticos to go dance, and after that I never left the dance floor- just swapped one partner for another.  Eventually everyone had had enough of dancing, though, so we snuck downstairs for a quick game of [terrible] pool, and then headed back to the hostel and hit the hay.

Into the Jungle...
Saturday morning Lindsay and I awoke to our alarm blaring at 6:15am.  We were getting picked up at 7:00am for our tour, so we wanted to give ourselves enough tine to wake up.  Unfortunately, the day didn't look promising.  Especially not for zip lining.  We'd been hoping that the wind and rain would've died down overnight, but no such luck- it was just as nasty and wet and gray as when we'd arrived.  After much debating about whether zip lining in these conditions would be worth it [we already knew it was going to be miserable, but the question was whether the tour would be cool enough to outweigh the misery or not], we decide to just go for it- we had come all this way to zip line, after all.

We were picked up by one if our guides, grabbed Nonny at her hostel, and headed out to the forest.  After being suited up in harnesses, gloves, and helmets, we signed our waivers and were off!  The two guides showed the three of us [the only people on our tour] to a huge Tarzan swing first, which swung you through a clearing out over the tree tops- extremely exhilarating.  Then we began the actual zip lining.  There were 15 cables we zipped on, as well as a huge fig tree we descended and then climbed up through.  Zip lining was fun, and even in the not-so-great weather, the views were amazing.  However, besides the first and last few cables [one of which the wind was so strong it stopped me 15 feet from the ending platform, and I had to pull myself the rest of the way], zip lining itself wasn't all that exciting.  I guess I was just expecting something a bit more adrenaline-inducing.  We had a good time, though.  And luckily the weather eased up throughout our time in the tree tops, until eventually we could see bits of blue sky and the rain had pretty much stopped.  The tour took about two hours, and afterwards we thanked our guides, stopped by the bus station to buy tickets to San Jose on the 2:00pm bus, and headed back to the hostel.

...And Out to the Town
We spent the time between the tour and catching our bus chowing down on our hostel's free breakfast [bananas, chocolate cereal, peanut butter, bread, and coffee- what more could you ask for?], visiting the local ice cream shop, and checking out a souvenir store.  Eventually we said goodbye to Alonso and Nonny, and walked over to catch our bus.  The ride took four hours to get to the highway leading to San Jose.  Remember, we were supposed to be back around 5:00pm to help set up and then attend this dance recital.  We figured we probably wouldn't make it in time to set up, but we could definitely be there to help clean up around 9:00pm, no problem, right?  Not quite....

We would've made it, had it not been for a bridge that was down.  Thanks to being unable to continue on its normal route, our bus turned off the road we were familiar with [and where our sketchy highway stop is located] and instead headed to downtown San Jose.  As soon as we realized where we were headed, we knew we were screwed.  Going into San Jose was an hour more bus ride in itself, not to mention the amount of time we'd have to wait at the bus station to then catch another hour-long bus back to Atenas.  Grrr.  We got into the capital around 7:00pm, and [thanks to being escorted by a kind, young, paramedic-to-be] made it to our bus station only to learn that we had an hour and a half to wait before the next bus to Atenas.  We sat in the creepy station trying not to fall asleep [by trying to name the state capitals, actually], and finally hopped on the 8:30pm bus home.  Needless to say, we arrived well after the dance recital ended....  We're sorry, Tina!

A Day in Atenas
Sunday, November 8th was the only entire weekend day Lindsay and I spent together in town.  It was actually quite relaxing to wake up and not have to do... anything.  No volunteering, no bus rides :to miss:, no nothing.  We spent out free day just chilling in the morning, venturing out for iced coffee (her) and scalding hot coffee (me), and then she accompanied me to the grocery store [ohmygodilovethoseplaces] so I could buy ingredients for the chicken & wild rice soup I was making. <- I'd brought wild rice down as a present for my host family, but seeing as they didn't even know it existed, I offered to make them a meal with it.

The soup took me four hours to make.  I attribute this to 1) I hadn't cooked in over two months, 2) I'd never actually made the soup before, and 3) only one burner worked on the stove.  But by 7:00pm there was piping hot soup ready, and while it didn't look or taste anything like what my mom makes at home [oh the joys of eyeballing measurements and improvising ingredients], it was still deemed "rico" by my host family, so I guess it was successful.  Or they just were kind enough not to hurt my feelings....

Yep, the weekend of zip lining and soup.  Pura vida.

xoxo, Cleome

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