Cloud Forests - Costa Rica

Dear friends and family,

As mentioned in the last post, we are staying at a small, but beautiful B&B, Belcruz, in the Monteverde hills. Belcruz has a little restaurant up near the road and then you hike down and up again to get to your cabin. The surrounding area is quite beautiful.

This is outside our cabin.

The next day we got up early, as usual, and met our guide, Cristian, at the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. We chose this park as it is owned by the local community, supports the local high school and also gets very good reviews.

I had my nose up about 4 inches away from this walking stick and still couldn't see it. Cristian had to point it out to me.

Even up this close, it is still pretty hard to see. It looks as if it is made of small sprouting twigs and is covered in moss.

The dense, lush green canopy covering and shading the cloud forest. Again, the struggle to reach some sunlight.

We got really interested in the insect munchie patterns in leaves.

Cristian said this happened when the leave was still curled up and hadn't unfurled yet. The caterpillar or beetle ate through all the layers.

Same here, but it created a different pattern.

Look at me! Pollinate me! With all the layers upon layers of plants, you've got to attract attention.

And you also want to make sure at least one of your berries survives and finds its way to a patch of fertile soil.

This plant is feeding a number of caterpillars, and they looked like Monarchs to us.

Another caterpillar; no idea.

A tarantula which has come out of its nest to investigate the little rustling noises Cristian was making to impersonate an insect.

The cloud forest seems to be even more lush than the rain forest. It's higher in altitude and is often surrounded in mist and clouds. Not today; it's sunny and clear.

Cristian said this was a type of wild coffee.

Super exciting. We saw a Quetzal. We are fortunate to have Cristian's guiding services all to ourselves. This is a French couple we ran into; everyone is excited to spot the Quetzal.

Some people go out "birding" on multiple occasions and never see one.

Along with his absolutely splendid feathers, he's also got a funny little beady eye and a narrow head.

Double blessed. We saw a Three-Wattled Bell bird, named such because it has a ringing almost metallic call. It doesn't sound like any bird we've ever heard. It has 2 wattles which look like a Fu Manchu mustache and one at the top of its beak which also hangs down and must get in its way. It makes its distinctive ringing sound almost continually.

Most of the time his mouth seems to be wide open, as he is busy making his metallic, ringing call.

A rare glimpse of MAN in the forest.

Trees are rarely left to themselves; they always seem to have dozens of plants, vines, mosses growing on them. The air plants and other bromeliads and mosses blow through the air and anchor wherever they can. Sometimes they’re dropped by birds or insects. Some trees have every inch of space covered by mosses and other parasitic plants. The trees shed their bark in an attempt to rid themselves of these parasites, but sometimes it’s not enough or not fast enough and the tree dies.

Here is a tree which has fallen over for whatever reasons. It is now serving as a planter for dozens of plants.

And here is a vine, hanging from a dead tree limb, with a large grouping of bromeliads and other plants which have managed to root onto the end of the vine. We saw clusters of bromeliads clinging to the ends of long vines, looking like marvelous chandeliers.

All in all, a sweaty business.

These beautiful mushrooms were covered with ants shortly after this. The soldier ants scurrying through the forest are looking for insects Cristian said. The alarmed insects rise into the air, if they have wings, and Cristian knew that little birds would soon show up, looking for the insects. Sure enough, the sweet-looking ant eating birds soon appeared flitting around and catching the insects.

Speaking of mosquitoes, there really aren’t very many in Costa Rica. One of our guides said this is because there are so many birds and bats that the mosquitoes are eaten. It could be. A very good reason to try to preserve our bird population and bell your cat, speaking as someone who hates mosquitoes and loves most birds. Cats eat up to 3.7 billion birds every year in the United States.

Look closely to see the antbird above; it's a small brown and white bird in about the middle of the photo. I believe it is the Bicolored Antbird. Cristian was excited as he had never seen one before. He keeps a record of all birds he has spotted.

Meanwhile, he was quite anxious that we not get swarmed by the soldier ants. Cristian, our guide, warned us repeatedly not to get in their way. A French woman, staying at our B&B, had red welts covering her legs. We assumed they were mosquito bites, but she told us that no, they were from soldier ants. They had covered her legs and were biting her before she realized it. She said the bites were extremely itchy. 

Our guide Cristian grew up in the Monteverde area. He is our B&B owner’s son in law. His high school helps to care for the Sant Elena Cloud Forest Preserve. He came to love the cloud forest and is thrilled to be able to be a guide full time. I think like many excellent nature guides he is so in tune with the forest that he picks up on sounds and clues that the average person would never hear or see. He was able to find birds and pin point them in his scope, where we could barely find them after he had set up and focused his scope. He was a really skilled and gifted guide; we felt so lucky to have him and also that there were only two of us in our group. Also he spent 5 hours with us, instead of the advertised 3 or 3 and a half. All of our guides showed great patience. Pura vida.

Were there any downsides to Costa Rica? Yes, very hot weather (so much closer to the equator) and bland food. The food was surprisingly unseasoned and very plain. 

The best food we had was at a Peruvian restaurant in San Jose. We were amused because the tv was playing a travel station and 90% of the images were showing trips to Antartica and other very snowy places.

The next morning we flew to Mexico City where we made up for the bland, boring food diet in Costa Rica. Really, some of the best food ever can be found in Mexico's capital city. 


Era and Don