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Costa Rica Journey – Day 7

We walked more hanging bridges today. Took some pictures looking down into the cloud forest. Foliage is so thick you cannot see the bottom. I can hear the water running in the rivers below, however. Crossing the longest and highest bridge, our group was entertained by a family of howler monkeys. We clustered together in the bridge’s center pointing fingers and cameras, pressing toward the center, sagging the bridge. As other groups came across, they stopped, too. I thought what a howl there would be when the monkeys witnessed our demise at the breaking of the bridge.

Walking through the forest we were introduced to the strangular tree. Its seed is planted in the upper branches of a tree by a bird’s droppings. To get nutrients, the new planting sends shoots down to the ground below. Over time these shoots grow thick like a tree trunk. Wrapping around its host tree, it eventually strangles it. The amount of time it takes to do’er in depends on the hardness of the wood. A soft wooded tree will die sooner than a hard one. When the host tree dies and decays, left is a lovely hollow pillar that lets the sun through and houses critters.

There is a small frog unique to this Monteverde cloud forest called the Golden Frog. It was plentiful and prized because it had chosen this place to live its life. As the earth has warmed, the clouds are lifting above the mountains. The forest is dryer with fewer puddles for the tadpoles to live its delicate life. The Golden Frog has not been seen for 12 years and is believed to be extinct.

The dance of the avacado tree and the quetzal: The avacado tree of Monteverde has a yummy berry that the quetzal is especially drawn to. She hovers the tree like a humming bird and plucks the berry, a much smaller fruit than that of the avacado we are used to in the grocery stores of the U.S. Immediately she swallows the berry whole and its stomach juices dissolve the flesh around the seed. Then she regurgitates it, spits the naked seed out to drop on the ground. Without this cleaning away of the avacado flesh, the seed would not germinate. Without the hungry indulgence of the quetzal, the tree would leave. Without the generosity of the avacado tree, the quetzal would fade from the earth like the golden frog.

Back at the hotel…I taught three women how to play “13” a card game that Bernie and I always play when we travel. It was great fun. They took copious notes so they could remember the game when they get back home to the children in their lives.

Costa Rica Journey – Day 6

Packed up early to leave Arenal. We had to pack wet socks and underwear that I had washed early yesterday and hung on chairs on our little porch. Not the least bit dry. I used a hair dryer to get one pair of socks usable.

Later, in Montevideo:

We had a lovely boat ride across the man-created lake below Arenal. The boat’s motor flooded, much to the embarrassment of our captain. Richard, husband to Frances who fell yesterday came to the rescue. Not sure he actually fixed it but we all lauded his accomplishment the rest of our trip.

Across the lake, we boarded a van that had pieces of itself shaking and jiving below the back seat. Every rock and hole…and there were many…was felt. We were glad to arrive at our destination without the back end dropping in the road.

Don Juan Coffee Plantation:

Toured the Coffee plantation, learned a lot about harvesting coffee from seed to plant, about separating the outer layers and drying the inner seed. Can’t wait to tell Mark, our local coffee roaster back home. We were honored to meet Don Juan, the founder. He is a short little man with a caballero hat and mustache. Classic. It was a hoot getting a picture of him between our two Italian giants Nico and Joe. Mr. Juan’s hat came up to about their waists.

We toured butterfly gardens in Montevideo. Learned about spiders and bugs of all kinds.  Learned that when the monarch migrates, it takes several generations as butterflies stop and reproduce along their route. They are gypsies, you might say…..The Blue Morpho butterly is a rich blue on the inside that shows when it is open, but dark with a round marking that looks like an eye on the underside when it is closed…..A favorite is the glass winged butterfly which has tranparent wings. The males eat from a purple flower and give off a scent that attracts females. The stronger the scent, the stronger the attraction. So the trick is to really get doused up with the flower’s purfume…..Learned more about the leaf-cutter ants, which we’d seen on our walks. I mentioned  to our lecturer the movie “A Bug’s Life”. She guide saidc that the movie is amazingly correct in its representation of bugs. I was impressed big time…..Bernie and I were interested in a plant called a Dutchman’s Pipe. It catches flies and traps them. They fly around inside madly loosening the flower’s pollen. Then they are let free to get trapped again by another. Not real bright but a hek of a way to keep flies occupied and out of your kitchen.

Here we are at the Hotel Montana Monteverde. Built on the side of a mountain, the trails between rooms and lodge are steep and confusing. Everytime I have gone up to the lodge, I end up in a different area of the resort, not sure how I got there. The most dissappointing part is there is no coffee maker in the room. The best part is that we have a lovely porch looking over a valley and we can see the Gulf of Nicola in the distance. We set our socks and underwear out to dry.

Costa Rican Journey – Day 5

As our fourth day came to an end, I worried that my tender feet would prevent me from the long walk on our agenda today…the famous “hanging bridges”.  But this morning the old arches feel fine.

It is amazing to be in a country where caring for its natural wonders is a national value. We see it in the  motels which encourage conservation of water and recycling. There are little notes on the walls reminding us to turn off the lights when we leave (most require us to use our room key to turn the lights on in the first place). We are encouraged to hang our towels for reuse, to not let the water run while brushing teeth. There are refillable dipensers for soap, shampoo, and rinse in the showers. There are recycling bins all around. It makes me stop to wonder what it means to have a national value. Do we in the United States have national values…values that we hold together in some sort of mutual understanding. If there are such values, what do they look like in practice? This morning I am finding it hard to come up with any. We are so individualistic, I think.

Later afternoon:

We walked six hanging bridges today. They are sturdy steel, strong with sides that feel quite safe. The path we walked between bridges was protected from mud-sliding by blocks that made the walk very uneven. I had to watch my feet all the time to keep from breaking an ankle which made it hard to pay attention to the natural wonders.  We wound through lush forest full of trees hundreds of years old and plants so large you could climb aboard and take a nap. We saw birds, a sloth and monkeys. Then we saw a little animal related to the racoon. A bunch of them huddled in an area near the end of our walk where there was a dump for them to scavange. One of our women took a tumble, so distracted was she by the sight of them. She will have a few bruises, but hopefully okay.

Back at our hotel room, more like a patio home. I saw a worker that appeared to be cutting grass using a machette. Unbelievable.


Costa Rica Journey – Day 4

Last evening:

There is a learning center here at Selva Verda Lodge dedicated to promoting protecting the earth. They educate children in the area and invite people from around the world to sponsor children to complete their education. They also do work for the lodge such as teaching dancing and having cooking workshops. A woman named Hazel told us her story and the story of her village. She demonstrated cheese making which she makes from the milk of her cows and sells. We purchased items made by the local women’s group from their little store for our grandchildren.

In the evening a very lively couple taught us typical Costa Rican dances including Salsa and Maringa. Our group laughed, danced and acted quite goofy.  A nice community builder.

This morning we went white water rafting on the Sarapique River. Our guides were adorable Costa Rican young men with great humor. We began with serious lecture on safety, then once we launched, we were encouraging us to “attack” our fellows in other rafts. There was much laughing and foolishness which kept my mind off the terror I felt at times. We kept from falling out of the raft by shoving one foot under the seat in front of us and the other crammed under our own. This held me in place but I wasn’t sure how my feet would hold up. We stopped for a snack on a rocky shore where our leaders treated us to pineapple and watermelon. Later we purchased a DVD of our excursion including the looks of terror on the elderfaces.

A long drive to a new, very swank hotel and spa with hot springs, a pool, golf, etc. I don’t know if I will try the spa, but the hot springs for sure. My feet will love it. The ride over was educational. Our guide Mario is very knowledgable. And we are getting to know our fellow travelers for better or for worse.

The name of the hotel is the Arenal Springs Resort and Spa. Located at the foot of the Arenal volcano. I am sitting on our small private patio looking right at the valcanoe. A dark cloud sits on the top like a Russian fur cap. Sunset time.

Following are the words on a card left in this hotel for the guests:


In ancient times there was a prayer for “The stranger within our gates.” Because this hotel is an establishement dedicated to serve our guests, and not merely a money making enterprise, we hope that God will grant you peace and rest while you remain under our roof. May this room and this hotel be your second home. May those you love be near you in your thoughts and dreams. Even though we may not get to know you well, we hope that you will be as comfortable and as happy as if you were in your own home. May the business that brought you our way prosper. May every call you make and every message you receive increases your happiness. When you depart, may you have a safe and pleasant trip. We are all travlelers. From “Birth  til death” we travel between eternities. May these days you spend with us be pleasant for you, profitable for society. Helpful for those you meet, and a joy for those who know and love you well…these are our wishes for you.

How’s that for hospitality?

Costa Rica Pilgrimage – Day 3

Day three in Costa Rica

It is 5:37 am. We began the day with a walk in the rain forest. While taking a boat ride on the Sarapiqui River, I took notes of the wildlife and the teachings of our leader, Mario.  I note:

Swallows flying over the water grabbing insect snacks…A black vulture and a turkey vulture, more common in Costa Rica……Iguanas with redish comb along its back and striped black and gold tail. The male hangs out in the tree tops attracting females that come in droves of 20 to 39, his harem. Then they go lay their eggs in the sand. The male turns completely orange when in heat and is very visible. The female turns dark brown like the sand where she lays her eggs…..The Anhinga is a snake bird without much oil on his feathers. Makes it better for diving than other water birds like our loon. They stab the fish with their sharp beek, come up out of the water, toss the fish in the air and catch it in their open mouth and swallow it whole…..Longhorn bats press against the dark bark of a tree and are almost impossible to see…..The flycatcher has a breast of bright yellow like a lemon…..Jesus Christ Lizard – bright green with little turquoise spots, can “walk on water”…..Black turtle sitting on a branch with its head held high…..A green ibis….. Capach is a cotton wood tree whose insides were once used to stuff pillows and life-jackets…..Three howler monkeys, way up in a tree’s branches. Only the males howl for territory or fear or for breeding. They are tranquil, live on leaves and fruit. They live in troups of 10-25 led by the alpha male…..Bees- most bees in Costa Rica are stingers, some African killer bees have come to Costa Rica and are moving north, now in Texas.

Mimicry is camouflage an animal uses to attract its food or to prevent being food for another.

Later poem:

Not an emerald lizard nor a honey bee

Not a golden hot iguana nor the howler monkey

Not the iguana, the snake nor the green ibis

Not the long nosed bat nor the spotted sand piper

Not, not, none of these escape the eyes of the Great Beholder.

Not the woman with hair of Medusa nor the Italian planner

Not the meteorologist nor the nurse practitioner

Not the social worker nor the teacher

Not the chemical engineer nor the artist from the north

Not, not, none of these escape the eye of the Great Beholder.

Costa Rica Pilgrimage – Day 2

Second Day in Costa Rica:

Our travel day is behind us. Bernie slept for most of the flight time. I did not. I busied myself with reading, working puzzles, watching a movie.

We met one of our sojourners on the plane, a woman a little younger or near my age, a black activist with dreadlocks, outgoing personality. Clearly full of passion for justice. I told her about my connection with the Quakers and she told me she has worked with AFSC (American Friends Service Committee).

This morning we met our tour guide, Mario Carbello, and had a lecture by a chemistry professor from the University…Therman Thomas. He told the story of Costa Rica via sports and coffee…he was humorous and very informative. I wish I had taken notes. Then we visited the Gold Museum in downtown San Jose. Very interesting tour and history of the early indigineous people. We boarded our van and traveled to Sarapique and checked into the Selva Verde Lodge.

I know I am in the rainforest because of the humidity. I wonder how sleep will go tonight with no air conditioning and open screened windows. On our veranda there are two comfortable wood chairs and a hamock. I could sleep on the hamock but suspect mosquitoes will visit tonight. We’ve been warned about snakes across the path after dark. “Don’t jump over the snakes,” our guide warned. It appears that the snakes have the right-of-way.

This is a lovely place. We will want to take pictures of flowers. So exquisite to this northern Minnesota person. I love the fact that Costa Ricans care so about their land. All act like true natives, true lovers of the land.

To get here we drove through mountains that form a ring around San Jose, through a “cloud forest”, where there was thick, thick foliage hugging the cliffs on either side of the road. Occasional we’d see a spring trickling through the rocks. We saw one plant that had leaves like our rhubarb but even larger.  You could almost lay on them. “They are very poisonous” one sojourner told me.

Now sitting here, I could almost fall asleep. An insect approaches. Hark! Could it be a mosquito? So tiny! Let me tell you about your Minnesota cousin. He could eat your children.