Cloud Forest to Hot Volcano
On our last day in the cloud forest we were treated to a very special surprise during breakfast. The guided tour groups were beginning to form outside our rooms when we heard some commotion. Someone had spotted a quetzal not too far inside the trails. Several members of our group quickly left our breakfast behind to try and capture a glimpse of the ever elusive flagship bird that is at the heart of the luscious Monteverde protected cloud forest, which we were so lucky to have as our backyard for these past few days. Sure enough, as we entered the trails the distinctive high pitch call of the quetzal could be heard up in the canopy. The beautiful green and red could be seen clearly from the ground, and the distinctive protruding tail feathers only added to its majestic presence. For the members of the group who have not yet seen the prized bird, it was certainly a treat at just five minutes before we were supposed to leave Monteverde. But the last morning in the cloud forest did not stop giving there, right when the quetzal flew off, a white nose coati came crawling up a log just feet away from the trail. As a relative of the raccoon, but with a longer nose and tail, it is one of the larger animals in Monteverde, and it was unbelievable to have seen two of the largest and most sought after animals in our last minutes in the cloud forest.
With all the commotion during breakfast, our departure from Monteverde got pushed back to 8:30. The ride to Arenal was beautiful and bumpy, like most of our time in the van. We approached the volcano from the far side of the lake that sat below it. Lake Arenal is an artificial lake that was created by a dam with intent on creating hydroelectric power for the rest of the country. Although the lake displaced the original town of Arenal, the hydroelectric power generated was considered successful by once providing electricity to over 70% of the country. Now only consisting of less than 50% of Costa Rica’s power source, the area is still very important in producing electricity as there is the nearby Miravalles Volcano Geothermic plant, and a wind farm on top of the mountain range that we drove by.
Before getting to the hotel, we stopped at a German bakery in Nuevo Arenal (the town that was relocated when the lake was created). And although the volcano was in our sights, we had to drive for about an hour around the lake (the long way) before reaching Lavas Tacotal, our hotel for the night. With such a great view of the Volcano, it was hard to believe that its last major eruption was just eight years ago. And with small amounts of lava flowing up until 2010, it was amazing to see the smoke plume from the crater whenever the clouds would lift. Arenal Volcano got its biggest headlines in 1968 when the enormous eruption wiped out three villages and killed 87 people. For about the next 40 years it was considered the longest continuous lava flow in the world
Arenal from our hotel
Arenal from the Baldi hot springs
After lunch we made an ATM stop in the nearby town of La Fortuna before heading to the hot springs. The entire area seemed to be geared towards tourism, as the amount of signs in English is but one of the indicators of the importance of tourism. However, since the Volcano has been considered dormant since 2010, the government is worried that tourists will stop coming to the area. But if they knew how great these hot springs are, there would be no shortage of tourists. Many group members thought the hot springs to be a bubbly hole in the ground. We were surprised to find a resort built around the naturally hot water running from the Volcano into many different pools and waterfalls. With the addition of three intense waterslides, poolside bars, and Nadal playing in the French Open on the flat screen, our couple hours there went by rather fast.
~ Chris Lawrence
Last night a few of us went down the road to where there were some bat feeders. We were able to see numerous bats going to and from the feeders. It was a bit startling when the bats would fly right by your head, but it was a very unique and enjoyable experience.
At 8:15am this morning the entire group left for a hike through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. We were able to see many interesting plants, such as the elephant ear plant and natural bamboo, as well as many different types of birds. We hiked for about an hour and a half until we came to the continental divide. The continental divide separates the watersheds for the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. Though it was muddy, it was a nice hike.
The Continental Divide
Later in the afternoon, 8 members of group went to Monteverde Extremo, which offered several different activities, while the rest of the group stayed behind to relax. At Monteverde Extremo, we took part in bungee jumping and a canopy tour.
All 8 who went to Monteverde Extremo took the canopy tour, which was 4km and lasted around 3 hours. The tour included 15 cables, 24 platforms, 196 ft Tarzan wing, a 98 ft rappel, and a waterfall view. Everybody seemed to really enjoy the tour. It was amazing to be able to zip line in between mountains and be able to see for miles around you. On several occasions we were able to see the Pacific Ocean. We weren’t ready for all the hiking needed for the tour, but it was a great opportunity and we had a great time.
Five members of the group went bungee jumping, which is the highest bungee jump in Latin-America. The jump was 469 ft and was surrounded by beautiful scenery. Many of us were nervous, but it was such a thrilling experience. We all enjoyed bungee jumping and it was definitely worth any anxiety.
To wrap up the night several of us went outside to feed and try to hold a tarantula.
~ Selena Hamilton
June 1st: Today, we went as a group to visit a coffee farm in Monteverde at 9:00 a.m. Our guide at the coffee farm was a guy named Alejandro and he is one of the main people in charge of the coffee farm. The coffee farm was at a lower elevation than where we are staying. Therefore, the temperature was a few degrees hotter and it was a little humid with a slight breeze. Alejandro started off our tour by telling us the history behind coffee.
Alejandro Garcia, co-founder, Thrive Farmers.
Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia first by accident in 828 AD. It was known as a Muslim drink at first until it spread outside of the Muslim area. There are three different coffee plants: Robusta, Arabica, and Coffea Liverica. Brazil is the biggest exporter of coffee followed by Costa Rica. Arabica is the most popular type of coffee and it is grown in 56 different countries. It is a very picky crop, but it’s the best cup of coffee.
According to Alejandro, there are five important things for growing Arabica coffee. The elevation must be 3000 feet or higher, precipitation of at least 88 inches per year, good drainage systems and soil, and at least six hours of sunlight a day. It is important that the temperature is stable year round to have efficient coffee. Coffee is considered to be an appetite suppressor. The coffee plants were six to eight feet tall. They are planted in pairs because they will produce more beans. However, you can’t plant more than two together because the plants will then compete for the nutrients and other important things needed to grow. A little white flower grows on these coffee plants and they have a smell. They reminded me of a honeysuckle. Also, the trumpet flower (Bromzais) is connected to the coffee plants. These are used to help pollinate the garden. They were pinkish in color and they are for the bees. It’s a cycle of five years to produce coffee.
After we walked around the coffee farm and looked at the coffee plants, we ate lunch on top of the mountain. It was a beautiful view. We were given the chance to squeeze some sugarcane after lunch. The sugarcane was put into a grinder and it turned the sugarcane into a liquid that you could drink. I found this to be pretty interesting! Next, we left the coffee farm and went to Alejandro’s coffee shop in the town of Santa Elena. The coffee shop was called the Common Cup and we were given samples of the coffee and espresso shots to try. I think this was the group’s favorite part of the expedition. We saw the machine used for roasting coffee beans and were able to see how it works. The beans are green at first and they turn a blackish/brown after they are roasted and this is how you can find them in the store. I think our group had a great time touring the coffee farm and going to the coffee shop. It was extremely informative and we learned a lot about coffee farming!
~ Carah Reid
Visit Thrive Farmers at: http://www.thrivefarmers.com