Travelogue – Into the Cloud Forest

Every road seems to come back to the Pan American Highway eventually.  Our trip from Flamingo Beach to Villa Blanca Cloud Reserve and Hotel was no different.  We checked out early, as the drive was over 4 hours.  We decided to take it straight with no stops.

Not All Costa Rican Food Is Good

We stopped for fresh pipas frio (cold coconut) and were on our way.  The road was fairly straight,  going through meadows and pastures where the real costa Ricans work.  At one turn in the road we saw a line of tables by the side of the highway with baked goods.  The patrons appeared to be of darker skin, likely native indians (indigininos).  While I filled up with gas for the push into the mountains, Rose purchased a sampling of bread and pastries.

As I said, not all Costa Rican food is good.  Every meal hereto had been good, delicious or exceptional.  The pastries Rose purchased (a treacle tart and a sweet cheese shaped like an empenada) looked delicious.  The crusts were thin and crisp.  The contents were sweet, but not overly sweet.  But something was wrong, really wrong with these pastries.  There was a foul aftertaste that Rose didn’t seem to notice, but prevented me from taking more than a single bite of each pastry.  It took me a while to figure the source of the taste since it was like nothing I had ever tasted in the world; rather it was more like something I had smelled on several occasions in the Alps, in Vermont, on a farm in Holland.  It smelled like cow dung.  And then I realized, it smelled like cow dung because the oven used to cook the pastries was likely made of adobe mud and fueled with dry cow dung.  Needless to say this was the one and only meal we threw out.  So much for trying ALL of the local food — not all Costa Rican food is good.

Into the Clouds.

We turned off the Pan American highway in San Ramon and returned to a narrow road we had previously traversed en route to Arenal Volcano.  This time, after traversing the hill tops, we turned off onto a single lane semi-paved road — or  should I say plunged, as the initial entrance  was a steep drop off to the “country  road” we were on.  At last, we hit the potholes that we had been warned about. Every few hundred meters there was another major pothole, the kind that required a full stop as we respectively turned, climbed, and plunged along the ride of the hills and into the Clouds … yes, the Cloud.

This was the district of Las Angelos (the angels).  We were inside a cloud much of the 9 km of twisting roads to our final destination, the Villa Blanca Cloud Reserve.  Villa Blanca (the “White House”) was owned  by a  former president of Costa Rica, who turned it over to the country as a reserve, stocked with naturalists, and a center of eco-tourisme.

The narrow road to the Villa Blanca was lined with living fences.  Imagine, you are in a rain forest (a  cloud forest rains intermittently, but is humid and cloudy most of the time). Dead wood rots very quickly; concrete is expensive; and  metal rusts.  The solution is a particular species of tree which has a single small growth on top and no branches.  These trees are spaced a few yards apart and barbed wire is attached to them.  It is perfect for ranches in the Cloud Forest.  All you need to  do is periodically prune the trees; no paint, no preservative, and you don’t even have to dig in the fence posts.  I suspect the life span of such a fence is near on 40 years.  These living fences are all over Costa Rica.

However, don’t expect the cows to obey the rules about fences.  The area farmers regularly walk the cows down  the road, stopping all traffic, or even let them graze on the grass besides the road at night.  We had an  encounter with such a cow who decided that our headlights were an opportunity to wander into the center of the road.  We actually thought he would charge our car.  Thankfully, better sense (or laziness) overtook him and he moved off to the side.

Frogs in the Night

We decided to try another night tour of the jungle.  In Arenal, we had been in a tropical rain forest. At Villa Blanca, we were in a cool cloud forest, temperatures in the 60s and 70s fahrenheit.  Armed with LCD flashlights we headed out, adventuring in the dark on steep mountain trails.  Like Danaus Eco-Center, we were searching for frogs.  Sadly a heavy downpour at the start of our tour had sent many of those little peepers scurrying  for cover.

The tour guide was informative, but it seems that the guidees, my fellow guests and myself, were better at spotting frogs and wildlife than Roy, our guide.  It seemed like a bust (“seen that, done that, another frog”) until someone spotted a snake in the tree tops.  It was a green vine snake, commonly called the spaghetti snake.  Highlighted with our flashlight it glided across the thin branches and leaves with death-defying dexterity.  Its head would stretch out several feet off the end of a branch, suspended 50  feet above the  jungle floor and then glide across the void to land on another branch.  It seemed to be gliding towards us (following the light) several yards over our heads.  It was an eery experience.

Organic Food in the Clouds

We returned to the hotel ready to eat.  Villa Blanca grows or raises most of the food on the premises using organic farming techniques.  They also have an extensive wine list … and a captive audience.  We were their captives for two nights, in luxory accomodations.  No one, in their right mind would venture down that single lane, pot hole ridden road to a restaurant in San Ramon at night.  We didn’t (at least the first night).  Rather, I  had a t-bone steak and Rose had fresh soup. The Argentinian Malbec wine was rich and hearty.  The vegetables were delicately cooked.