A place to share words and pics. Mostly bikes, but my photog eye does wander.

Bikes let the good times roll. In solitude or with friends. For a half hour or 8 hours. Pedals become the gears that turn the earth as the sun seems to track their motion, day after day. Miles become food, and you're hungry. The bike stops being a vehicle, or toy, or transportation and becomes an extension of will, allowing you to journey beyond the pain of self into the realm of almighty, joyous nature, she that feeds our souls. Pedal yourself into the maw of creation. Pedal yourself silly.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Costa Rica! San Jose to Monteverde Cloud Forest

The time had finally come. We'd been planning a vacation based around the thorough research of J, and we were finally taking off. I knew little of Costa Rica, other than Central America, Jungle, Hot and Beach but was really excited for what lay ahead. A little Lonely Planet reading got me up to date on the history of the region and some Three Sheets got me up to snuff on the drinks. J. laid out an overview for our travels. We'd first go straight to the Cloud Forest of Monteverde where we'd do some zip-lining, and night hiking, then off to Arenal Volcano and the town of La Fortuna for two days, where we'd enjoy a day hike, hot springs and touring around town checking out all the local Sodas. After La Fortuna, we were off for the Caribbean coast and the beach town of Puerto Viejo, where we'd ride bikes around town, eat good food, throw down a few Imperiales y Cuba Libres, take a chocolate tour and pet some monkeys. We only had reservations for our first stop and the shuttle to get there. The rest we'd play by ear, depending on what we really wanted to do. We spent eight days total and Costa Rica delivered.

We took off at a leisurely hour of 7pm, which meant we'd be flying overnight. We got in at 6am, but had to wait for the shuttle at 9am, then it was 3.5 hours over half pavement and half dirt road up into the mountains to Monteverde and our BnB, Camino Verde. We were bouncing all over the place on the dirt road! I was excited to be in a new country as I got to dust off my Spanish getting a taxi from the airport to the pick-up point, Mi Casona. We were pretty hungry and of all things, next door was a Denny's playing early 80's hits of Cindy Lauper and Def Lepard. The only way I could tell it was another country was that there were more rice and beans on the menu and outside everything was green. Really, really green.

But I knew this was coming. Costa Rica isn't your super exotic getaway, where you leave all things familiar, but to some minor extent, home in a jungle setting. With some Spanish, I felt at ease, like I was at the jobsite, where I learned and spoke most of my Spanish. There were many an American influence: a Denny's (or any other US chain you can think of), paying in dollars, imported music, American clothes, etc. But that was fine. We just needed to get away for a bit and as long as you're not in San Jose, you don't see too much of the American Culture Machine. The whole trip still felt like a getaway.

We soon made out way out of Alejuela, where the Juan Santamaria International Airport is located, and started climbing through the mountains. There aren't any interstates as we know them, just a bunch of two lane roads used by cars and semis as you worked your way away from San Jose.

I couldn't help but be jealous of where these mountain bikes might be going, although the jungle seemed like a terribly stuffy place to ride, I'm sure there are a few good spots. With all the rain they get, trail maintenance must be a nonstop endeavor. We might be an hour outside of San Jose here, heading towards the Pacific coast.

There is a great hotel-hotel shuttle service in Costa Rica, Interbus. They're little vans that carry eight people max, and take you from your hotel to the next, and we never paid more than $50 each. However, even though coast to coast is probably only 200 miles, don't expect to get anywhere too fast, roads are either dirt and/or super bouncy. They don't have interstates as we know them, so you'll share cross-country routes with semi's, hauling cargo. The good thing is that the roads are lined with these little snack shops, or Sodas. Always with comida tipica (beans, rice, meat) there were other options at times like fried rice and sandwiches. The construction was always open air.

Some other travelers spotted this guy hanging on top of the roof of the first Soda we stopped at. So if restaurants are called sodas, what are sodas called? The answer: Gaseosas. Ingenious, I know.

.....and all we did was stop the van and take a picture as we drove over one of the numerous little "Puentes Angostos".

The greenness of the terrain was striking, coming from the desert. The impending force of all the life here was palpable. The trees look like aveoli in the lungs. The air was fresh. The sky was clear. I felt invigorated being out of the bounds of the city, as I usually do on my bike. In places like this I feel peace, not inside cities. They make me feel like I'm living in some sort of cancerous growth that feeds on the surrounding countryside. This, this is landscape that feeds more than your belly.

Looking back onto the road we've driven up. Long way to go to get to the Cloud Forest.

Sure, it looks like a shot from out of the airplane, but this is from the shuttle van.
We arrived at about 12:30 at Camino Verde, and got our room. Doesn't look like much, but was very nice and well priced. Roughly $34 per night.

They had a nice viewing area for sitting and.....viewing.

We got a private room which had plenty of space for us. Camino Verde was one of our favorite spots that we stayed in. There were lots of other travelers that came though that we could chat with, and the breakfasts were good and filling. Usually pancakes with fruit, or huevos fritos con toast. There were lots of French speaking Canadians that came through. They just seem to love Costa Rica. We also ran into someone from Scottsdale. Small world, eh?

We were well hungry, and lucky for us, next door was Soda La Amistad. They had wonderful Casados there, which is the typical rice, beans, meat, salad, potato plate. Casado actually means "married man". So I guess its the food of the hitched. The Veggie casados were good as well.
Here's my casado con pollo. The surprise of the plate? The fried plantain at the top right. Meaty, but not too banana-y. I must have eaten a dozen versions of the Casado while I was there.

Our first stop was to CASEM, a local artwork cooperative to buy some trinkets.

After dropping some coin at CASEM, we heading over to the local cheese factory (Monteverde was founded by Quakers that left the US after refusing to fight in the Vietnam War). We missed the last tour, and I don't think I ever tried the sliced cheese we bought while there. It was a few days until we found a refrigerator. We did spy this cool foot bridge though, so we stopped by to investigate.

I found this, the first of many spider webs, between the planks of the bridge. Artistic shot of the day.

This shot seems to me that it could be taken from Amish country in Ohio or Pennsylvania. Yeah, it felt familiar here a bit.
We turned around after the Cheese factory and walked back towards town. It was probably a good 2-3 miles, but we were having fun checking out the sights.

Its the call of the jungle.

Getting closer to the center of town, we heard music and smelled food. A local fair! We had to check it out. I got some sweet pinchos, which are meat skewers, and also some empanadas, fair style. We then watched the locals try to kick over cans with a soccer ball to win a bottle of liquor and were amazed at the courage of the folks getting on the twirly Ferris wheel.

Getting towards the center of town after the fair, clouds came rolling in, showing us why it was the Cloud Forest.
Monteverde in the mist.

We got into the Ranario, or frog sanctuary, at dusk, which turns out to be a good time since that's when frogs do frog things.
Frog doing frog things.

Here's the iconic Red-Eye Tree Frog that represents Costa Rica on hats, magnets, beach towels and post cards.
The Ranario also had a nice collection of bugs stuck on boards. Well preserved, some were pretty wild.
Our day ended with a brisk walk in the rain. We left the Ranario, and were but ten minutes form our place, when the sky opened up, and it was dark. I knew where to go, but as I came to an intersection, I decided to check the map to ensure my sureness, when, as I no more than opened the last fold of our little city map, the electricity goes out. Now we're hanging under an eave of a store, when the owner comes out, "No tiene miedo." "Pues, no tengo miedo! Solo estoy un poco perdido." "No, no, no, yo tengo miedo!" "I'm scared!" she says, and runs to her car. I thought she was telling me not to be scared - Spanish still a bit rusty. I think it was just a ruse to leave work early. I ask her some quick directions, she give's me ones that are contrary to what I'm thinking, but follow them anyway. Ten minutes later, we turn around. Yeah, we were practically standing under our BnB, but who'd figure locals didn't know where anything is!? I guess they're a little like Indians, so willing to help out and get you on your way, they'll make it up just to ensure you get going!

We made it back and got ready for the next day - Zip-lining! I was looking forward to that for a while, and J. was still deliberating if she contained the proper amount of courage to take on the challenge. The 200ft Tarzan swing is what had my attention....and stomach. Our first day in Costa Rica was done, and a success.


  1. Great write-up! Enjoyed reading about your guys adventure!

  2. How cool!! I must say I'm a bit envious of your trip, I've heard about and now have seen so many wonderful places down there.