Costa Rica: Part Um – Four? SLOTHS!

The next day, Wednesday, was our cloud forest excursion day! We were picked up from our hotel at 7:20 and taken to a meeting point to board our bus. Imagine our delight to see that Marc, our amazing volcano guide, was to be our guide today as well! And also imagine how astounded we were when he spoke to us in an undertone before we boarded the bus, saying, “I remembered you had problems with feeling sick in the back seats, so I reserved the front seats of the bus for you.” And sure enough, when we boarded, the driver whisked “reserved” signs off the front seats for us!

It was a long drive to the state forest, but Marc talked much of the way. Some of what he discussed we had learned from him the day before, but some was new. Both he and the driver kept an eagle eye out for interesting things to point out along the way, so we weren’t totally surprised when the driver suddenly veered off and stopped by the side of the road. There was a sloth snoozing in a tree right beside the road, and he wasn’t very high up! So we all poured out of the bus to have a good look at him! He was very good natured about it, lifting his head to see what was going on, then just ignoring us and returning to the Very Important Sloth Business of sleeping. I got a couple great photos of his face, but what really intrigued both Stephen and me was how silky and soft his fur looked. There was a slight breeze and his long fur was rippling and lifting. Right there, ladies and gentlemen, there’s my trip! I saw what I came to see. I must have looked absolutely delighted, because Marc tapped me on the shoulder and said quietly, “That one’s just for you!”

Sloth duly admired and photographed, we all climbed back on the bus. “All” refers to 19 people, and the “bus” refers to a 20 passenger Toyota extended van, air-conditioned and very comfortable. That’s one thing we noticed about Costa Rica – they have very nice cars. I don’t think we noticed any beat up junk heaps anywhere. I suspect they have to keep their cars in good condition to deal with some of the roads. Most of the main roads are nicely paved, but secondary roads are rocky. Not gravel, rocks. As in, very bumpy.

The first stop on this tour was a butterfly garden. If you’ve been to any butterfly conservatory, you’ve been to them all. Pretty flowers, humid, brilliant butterflies, hatching cocoons. Next stop, lunch.

Yes. Lunch. The stereotypical “traditional Costa Rican fare” that we’d managed to avoid the previous day. We had our choice of pork or chicken with boiled guava root and vegetables, preceded by salad and followed by a piece of carrot cake.

Following lunch we visited a hummingbird garden. They claimed to have something like 35 varieties of hummingbirds, but I guess only about four were on the menu that day. One was absolutely stunning though, a rich royal shade of purple, and I was desperately trying to get a good photo of him. As I stood there, camera trained on the feeder, the lady beside me suddenly gasped and stepped aside. I looked down to see a coati making his way between us, heading for the syrup puddled beneath the feeder. Completely oblivious to the tourists, he began slurping up the sweet liquid off the ground. Hummingbirds forgotten, all tourists aimed their cameras at the coati and began snapping! Afterwards, Stephen and I were laughing so hard, remembering how we’d nearly crawled through the undergrowth the previous day trying to photograph the coatis in the rain forest, when all we had to do was wait for the nearly tame one to wander in today!

Next up was the main event, the suspended bridges through the cloud forest. It’s called the cloud forest because it’s high enough that generally you are actually walking in the clouds, and it is quite wet. This day however was a bright sunny day and the cloud cover was much higher than usual, so we were warm and dry. I’m not sure how to describe what we saw, it was so beautiful, but I’ll try. Picture any images you’ve ever seen of the rain forest and intensify the shades of green. Now imagine layers of vegetation. You are looking down on the tree tops, and beneath them you see the tops of smaller trees, and beneath those are the shrubs and the forest floor. Sometimes you can hear water running, but you are hard pressed to see the river or stream below through the leaves. I was surprised that there weren’t more flowers; I had pictured it as brilliantly coloured with vibrant flowers, but that wasn’t the case. Several trees were covered in white flowers, and we saw some orchids, but green was the overwhelming colour of the day. It was simply beautiful and well worth the long drive to get there – and back.

There were eight suspension bridges of varying lengths, constructed of steel, and relatively motion free. Having said that, I also admit that I felt safest walking with at least one hand brushing the steel railing at the side. Connecting the bridges were  pathways of brick and concrete. What amazed us was that all of the materials for construction of the paths and bridges had to be brought in by hand, including the steel girders and massive rolls of wire cables! There was no way to get trucks or excavation machinery in there. Even getting to the site by bus was challenging, given the size and condition of the roads! Marc told us everything was brought in from the road by wheelbarrow!

The final event of the day was a tour of a coffee plantation. Truthfully, I could have done without this part. The cloud forest was the highlight of the tour for me, and I would have been happier to have had the day end on that high note. However, we dutifully tagged along and saw coffee plants in various stages of growth, picked coffee beans off the plants, saw how they are harvested, sorted and roasted. And the highlight for some was the tasting of several different kinds and roasts of Costa Rican coffee. Amusingly, as we trekked around the plantation our guide suddenly stopped and pointed out a sloth sleeping in a tree at the edge of a field. Now, the fields are planted on hillsides, so trying to get close enough to really see the sloth would have been quite an exercise, so I chose to keep my memories of the gently rippling sloth fur from earlier as my main sloth sighting.

We arrived back at our hotel at nearly 9 pm, tired and hungry, but happy and delighted that the day had been so wonderful. After a delicious dinner at the buffet, we checked briefly on Orion from our balcony, then fell into bed to sleep soundly till morning, when it was time to prepare for our sailing trip on the Pacific Ocean!

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