Into the Mountains

I am now back in San Jose again, after a few days in the cloud forests of Monteverde.

The Monteverde region is, I think, the best of Costa Rica. It is tropical, but rather temperate, and were I ever going to retire here with intended permanence, it would be a likely candidate for my new residence. It has several appealling characteristics: Cool and comfortable, fewer mosquitoes, and many varieties of interesting birds. As you travel on the bus from San Jose (a five hour journey on winding, cliffside gravel roads), you notice the gradual decrease in the use of residential razor wire and window bars the further you get, and in Monteverde, there is almost none of this, suggesting a lower degree of crime.

I was in Monteverde for two full days and spent most of the time hiking. There are a number of cloud forest reserves in the area, much of it created through private initiative, rather than government (including one that is funded through the contributions of schoolchildren around the world). On the first day, I hiked in the Santa Elena Reserve, a total of about 25km. The second day, I hiked in the Bosque Nuboso Reserve, another 15km or so. Today, my legs are stiff.

On this, my third trip to Costa Rica, I finally spotted not just one, but three of the Resplendant Quetzals that had eluded me on previous visits. This is a brightly-coloured bird with very long (two feet) tail covert feathers. I also managed to spot another bird that is very easy to hear – it has a call that sounds like an ear-splitting metallic ping followed by bell-like whistling or chiming noises – called the Three-wattled Bellbird. Other spottings included:

  • Emerald Toucanet
  • Violet Sabrewing
  • Blue-crowned Motmot
  • Gray-throated Leaftosser
  • Black Guan
  • American Swallow-tailed Kite
  • Long-billed Starthroat
  • Buff-throated Foliage Gleaner
  • Slaty-backed Nightingale Thrush
  • Yellow-faced Grassquit

I even managed some pictures (though not of high quality) of the Quetzals and Bellbird, but I won´t be able to post them until I am back in Puerto Viejo.

Hostels tend to have a reputation for being places to meet interesting people from around the world, often who are liberal in their worldviews. I suppose this is because one frequently meets a lot of Europeans. When one meets Americans, they are usually either of the progressive, justice-minded variety, or simply keep quiet.

On this occasion, however, there are a number of young Americans of noticeably different temperament. The first clue was the guy playing pool while wearing a t-shirt that says “Texans for Bush”. At first I thought this an adolescent colloquialism suggesting an erotic preference, but the presence of stripes and stars discouraged this theory. Then, I heard his friend, sitting at an internet terminal reading a letter from someone in Iraq, making jokes about the bombing of “ragheads”, and all doubt was removed. The hostel had been invaded by Republicans.

Don´t they know that there is a Holiday Inn just up the street? It´s even next to a Denny´s, that all-American repository of plasticised, greasy ptomaine. After much beer swilling, burping, and lewd stares at decent, probably anti-Bush European lasses, they took their mountain of beer cans to their room and played country music on a a guitar. Lucky me – my room was right next to theirs. Fortunately, they weren´t IN my room, or I might have had to head off to the Holiday Inn myself. I, mercifully, had three lads from the US in my room, but one was a Nebraska democrat (a slight improvement), and the others were foreign students from India and Korea. The disapprobation was unanimous.

Today at 5:00, I am departing for San Cristobal for a couple of days of meditation in another cool, mountain area. Perhaps a little spiritual disengagement will make me feel more charitable toward the suffering fools that would lead us all to fascist damnation. But I hope not.

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