November 12th, 2009 – by: Johnb42
Spent my first night in Costa Rica in Liberia , a cattle town not too far from the border . Seemed to be hit by a wave of over-tiredness when I arrived ... think the exertions of the past few days on Ometepe have caught up on me, so all I could manage was a quick walk into the main plaza (past the rather horrendously designed church) to grab some food and then I went back to the hotel with the aim to crash out pretty early. Back at the hotel it was amusing to see that the town's saturday night karaoke was evidently in full swing ... resulting in possibly some of the worst karaoke singing performances I've ever heard - they all seemed to be taking it so seriously and there didn't even seem to be that much drinking going on as an excuse. One girl's performance of Angels by Robbie Williams (with the lyrics in Spanish) was quite ear-splittingly appalling .
.. but that was then surpassed by a truly extraordinary rendition of a romantic ballad from a man dressed in smart black trousers & shoes coupled with a white string vest and gold medallion ... by this point it was all getting a bit too much so I retired for an early night. Sunday morning I was still feeling really lethargic so I decided I would skip a possible trip to a nearby national park where there are mud pools and get the bus straight onwards to Monteverde. The bus trip was a bit of a saga and took most of the day . After about an hour and a half or so from Liberia I had to get the bus to stop at a junction on the main highway towards Puntarenas and then try to get to another place nearby called Las Juntas ...luckily there was a collectivo taxi available pretty quickly. Then I had to wait for three hours in Las Juntas for the one and only bus to Santa Elena , which then took another 2 hours but that was through some really stunning scenery that made all the waiting worthwhile.
This area around Monteverde & Santa Elena is outstandingly scenic but very touristy and even staying in a hostel, you seem to meet many more people here who are just on holiday in Costa Rica for a relatively short time rather than on the backpacker trail. Santa Elena town where I'am staying seems to consist of a supermarket , a bank , a number of expensive (by latin american levels) restaurants and the "information centre" places and hotels/hostels which are selling hard the various tours and activities at the not very cheap prices. So anyway I took the hit to the wallet and signed up for a couple of activities which were both really great so at least worth the money in the end. On Monday I got up at 5:30 am to get the earliest bus to the Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve which is one of Costa Rica's top attractions & the reason why the area has become a renowned tourist centre.
Joined up with a guided tour to do a nature trail walk in the reserve and it turned out to be a great experience as we saw howler monkeys , quetzals , toucans , various other birds and a number of creepy-crawlies as well as enjoying the "pristine cloudforest" setting. After the guided part was over I spent several further hours hiking around the different park trails (there are 13km of them) by myself but with significantly less success in spotting animal or birdlife so the tour guide was definitely worth it.
Having spent Monday under the cloud forest canopy walking around in rather genteel fashion , Tuesday saw me get up above it in a far more adrenalin-pumped style as I joined up with the "Extremo Canopy" tour , which basically consists of whizzing around on a harness tied to a pulley up on zip wires / aerial runways high (up to 450 feet) above the forest canopy.
The views really are truly amazing on the longest zip wires (there are four which are really long - 1275 feet , 1410 feet , 1800 feet and 2250 feet) and they throw in a couple of other exciting features - the "Rappel" (where you are dropped 90 feet vertically on a rope) & arguably the most adrenaline-charged bit of all the enormous "Tarzan Swing" where you drop off a high platform on a very long rope and swing around in the trees until they try & catch you on a makeshift rubber contraption. It was all great fun and I really enjoyed the experience so another not so cheap activity that was worth the money. Planning to move on to Fortuna on Wednesday , which will be my base for seeing yet another volcano , Arenal , which is supposed to be one of the most active & spectacular, as well as Lake Arenal.