Travelogue – Monkeys At Last

Sweet Nectar For Some – Sugar Water for Others

We awoke in the mist at 5:30 and put on a pot of Cafe Britt coffee.  We were leaving on a 6:00 am bird watching tour. Guess what? It was raining again, a cool wet rain and mist that you can feel in your bones, in your clothes, and everywhere.  Our perky young guide warned us that the birds didn’t like to fly in the rain, but she was nevertheless hopeful.  I knew why.  She had stacked the deck.

Our first stop in the jungle was the hummingbird station, and 6:15 AM was feeding time.  There were 4 bird feeders on a wire and a hotel employee filling them with fresh sugar water.  Shortly thereafter a raft of hummingbirds swept in, fearless of human contact, aiming for that sugar water; known to them as “nectar”.  A few interesting facts which we learned later that afternoon: (1) a hummingbird’s wings flap 98 times a second; (2) a hummingbird eats twice its weight in nectar and insects every day; (3) hummingbirds are territorial and will fight over food; (4) a hummingbird’s heart can beat 1,000 times a minute; and only 130 times a minute when it is at rest.  Something else, they are exquisitely beautiful and amazing flyers who can hover in mid-air.

The rest of the trip was a little plodding.  We did go on some paths that were closed to guests except accompanied by guides; but most of the birds stayed hidden.  You could hear them, but not see them.  We emerged in a clearing at last and were greeted by birds we could see — a sparrow.  We saw a few others, but I could not remember their names; the hummingbirds were cool.

Onto The Peace Lodge & Waterfall Gardens

La Pax turned out to be a zoo, but an absolutely amazing zoo.  It had an aviary with friendly tropical birds (all rescued) — including a single legged duck and very hungry toucans (think Fruit Loops).  There was a monkey cage with glass viewing areas and a cat house with pumas, ocelots and jaguars.  We visited a butterfly garden with monarchs and a indiginous blue morph butterfly. Down the hill was a Casita, turn of the century coffee plantation house. But what was amazing was the hummingbird garden.  Where Villa Blanca had four feeders, here there were two dozen feeders at La Paz.  The hummingbirds were careening around everywhere, hovering just inches in front of you, no cages.  And then there were snakes and orchid garden.

La Paz also included waterfall gardens – five waterfalls in a single course with the tallest plunging 120 feet.  You descend on a trail of steps to the edges of a white creek and then on metal stairs on the edge of a cliff as you follow the course of the river over the cataracts.  Standing at the base of the largest cataract you are all but soaked by the spray.  Signs guide you out to the shuttle bus for the climb back in the comfort of a small bus.  After all our other hikes, it seemed  too easy.

Where Angels Fear to Tread

The return trip to Villa Blanca started uneventfully, except for one thing.  In the morning  our car had failed to start, and we had gotten a jump start from one of the hotel employees.  We had been warned the problem might recur again.  And true to our adventure, when I started the car at 5 PM for the 2 hour drive back to  Villa Blanca, the car would not start.  Luckily a bus driver offered us a jump start and the car engine turned on.

With night descending (it sets at 6 PM in the tropics on the equator) we decided NOT to stop on the road back and proceed straight (well the roads were windy and hilly) back to the hotel.  I had suggested gently to Rose that we leave at 4 PM, but she saw a “fern trail” through the jungle and wanted to stretch her feet.  That put our projected arrival back at Villa Blanc at 7:15-7:30 PM — over an hour after sunset.  The fern trail was beautiful and secluded — up and down, well paved with stone, but a new cloud forest experience.  I don’t regret the walk, but I knew, I would regret the time.

The sun set as we finally re-entered the Pan-American Highway.  Highway lines seem optional, particularly since so much of that highway was under construction.  In the pitch dark, I found a truck (a large target) and followed it.  We exited at San Ramon for the approach to our hotel.  Surprisingly, the road here was better marked at night.  There were street lights, and even reflectors embedded on the sides of the road.  They say the Lord gives and the Lord taketh.  As we ascended into the mountains from the valley of San Ramon, the fog descended.  Rather, we ascended into the fog; into the clouds.  Visibility decreased, but I could still make out the road.  At least we were moving at a reasonable pace.

The GPS signaled a turn off ahead — the single lane, pot-hole ridden, curvy mountainous road to Villa Blanca was just off to the left, down a void.  As I turned, my headlights hit the cloud — no road to be seen, though the GPS said it was there.  Slowly I edged off the main road and at last my headlights revealed a road below the swirling white cloud.  My slow pace changed to a crawl; I could have walked faster, and certainly the cantoring horse at Alberto’s ranch in Arenal could have easily passed me.  It was just Rose, me and my Hyundai.  We inched along the road.  At that speed we had ample warning of the potholes; dark black voids in the middle of the road.  Often our headlights disappeared in the swirl of white as we centered on the road, knowing it was somewhere, hopefully in front of us.

Rose tracked each curve on the GPS.  We were in the clouds.  It is funny that when we picture heaven in the movies, we see angels in the clouds, hovering at the pearly gates amidstly fluffy white substance.  What they don’t realize, and what we realized on this trip, is that if heaven were in the clouds, it would resemble Villa Blanca Cloud Forest — cold, wet, damp and with limited visibility.  We proceeded very slowly, using the white living fences on the side as our guide when we couldn’t see the road.

At one point, I spotted a cow on the road.  He wasn’t just on the road, but in the middle of the road.  I waited for him to pass.  Instead, he just started moving directly towards our car.  I had no desire to hit  a cow or damage our vehicle.  But when he started directly towards us, I tried the only weapon in our arsenal, our horn.  So there on a dark country road in the middle of nowhere, I was honking at a cow.  Finally, a dog came out and moved the cow out of the way.

Finally back at Villa Blanca, I had earned my drink … a Guara sour (similar to a Pisco Sour, popular in Peru).  We  weren’t particularly hungry, but decided to sample the local deserts.  While Rose called our car rental company about a replacement car, I checked on business and world news.