Looking back, I have mixed feelings about my experience in Monteverde the sixth week I was here. I thought it was a beautiful area, but it didn't have much that was within walking distance or budget-friendly. Monteverde is most known for its cloud forest biological reserve and for having the longest zip line in Latin America. That's what really brings tourists, the forest, the zip line, and bungee jumping. I got to do some pretty cool things, like hike in the cloud forest and go to an orchid garden, but the amount of time I stayed there was way too long considering I didn't bungee jump or go zip lining. I did some zip lining when I went canyoning in Arenal, so I was not about to pay $50 to do it here. Or the $60 to go bungee jumping. If I really wanted to do it, I probably would have, but I'm glad I didn't, because I would have done it more out of obligation, and financially speaking, it wasn't the best use of my money.
Friday, November 6
I left to the bus station not long after my Friday Spanish class ended for the day. Not wanting to stand like I did for the ride to Puerto Viejo, I made it to the bus station early, but unfortunately, I had to wait about an hour before the ticket vendor came back from lunch. I did get a seat, thankfully, and prepared myself for the 4 1/2 hour long bus ride. It was a bit inconvenient, because the bus didn't leave until 2:30pm and I had waited since around 12:30pm, but it was whatever. The bus only comes and leaves twice per day, once at 6:30am and once at 2:30pm. When I arrived in Monteverde, confused, I walked ten minutes in the wrong direction of my hostel until I finally went into a hotel and asked the front desk how to get to my hostel. I turned around, went down the giant hill I had just ascended, and finally got to my hostel. It was dark, so I was thankful that I found it quickly. Because it had rained earlier, the credit card machine wasn't working, so I had to walk a couple blocks to an ATM to pull out cash to pay the remainder of my balance. The hostel was pretty chill. It offered free breakfast, free coffee and tea, wifi, and the rooms weren't bad at all. They consisted of two bunk beds and a shared bathroom. I was okay with that for around $10 a night. Tired, I decided not to get dinner, and went straight to bed. I had planned to go hiking in the cloud forest the next day, and knew I would have to get up early for that, so I passed out, looking forward to the next day.
Saturday, November 7
I started off the morning enjoying the free breakfast provided by the hostel. And when they say free breakfast, they are not talking about some continental style thing -- they are talking about homemade plates of food and a separate plate just for fruit. I scarfed down the delicious food quickly and headed to the bus stop to go to the cloud forest, which was conveniently located right outside of my hostel.
My first adventure for the day was hiking in the cloud forest. Because it was a biological reserve with many trails, I figured I'd spend the whole day there, but that is not what happened. I arrived at the information desk to get my ticket, speaking Spanish as I should be. The man at the desk was very nice and complemented my Spanish skills. He highlighted the longest route he could find after I told him I'd like to stay there as long as I could. The route was supposed to take five hours, and near the end, provide me with a trail to see a waterfall. Ecstatic and happy to be in my hiking element, I set off on my journey. I saw a lot of nature, in terms of plants and trees, but not much wildlife. This is because most of the wildlife live in the canopy level of the forest, which makes sense. Regardless, the temperature was in the sixties, which was so refreshing. The path took me on various trails with varying levels of difficulty. There were several viewing points, a hanging bridge, and a waterfall along the path. Despite the fact it was supposed to take five hours, it took me about two and a half hours. Being 10:30am when I finished and not knowing what to do the rest of the day, I was disappointed, since I had planned to remain in the forest the whole day, I headed into the souvenir shop to wait for the return bus. I bought a postcard to send to the little girl I tutor at the Bridge Project and a gift for my brother. I boarded the bus and headed back to Santa Elena, the town that I was staying in.
I returned to my hostel and relaxed for a little while. I decided that I should go explore the town, since it wasn't that big and because I didn't know what else to do. I ended up running into some girls from my program, so I hung out with them and browsed the shops. We ended up going into a large souvenir shop where I purchased a couple of items. When they were ready to head back to their hostel, we parted ways and talked about meeting up for dinner. We didn't end up meeting, due to a lack of wifi on their end, but that was cool, and I ended up eating casado at one of the restaurants. They seated me at a table for four, which I found hilarious, but the food was good nonetheless. I headed back to my hostel to contemplate the rest of the evening.
That evening, bored while trying to maintain wifi, I managed to drop my phone off of my bed. Mind you, I had the top bunk. Never having damaged my phone before, I didn't worry, until I saw the screen. It was cracked. Of all the times I dropped it, it took a bunk bed to actually do some damage. I was pretty unhappy after that occurred. It pretty much ruined my evening, until I got a new roommate.
One thing that is really cool about hostels in particular is that you can meet people from all over the world. That weekend, I had done that. The first night, I roomed with a pair from Switzerland and a dude from Ireland. They were pretty chill, especially the Irish guy. I briefly chatted with him the night before about his travels and how he was planning on going zip lining and bungee jumping. The next night, I roomed with the pair again and a dude from Panama. We talked for a long time, and the next day, about his travels, and what Panama is like, and what he thought of Costa Rica. He was really chill too!
Sunday, November 8
My day started off early, jumping out of bed to eat the free breakfast and packing up my things. Unlike most hostels, whose check out time is around 11am, this hostel had a checkout time of 9:30am. Considering the earliest bus wasn't until 2:30pm, I was not very happy about this. I walked around the entire day with all of my belongings; though not much, they were bulky, and I was not a fan of that. Unlike the bulk of travelers who visit only to zip line or bungee jump, I thought my time would be better spent exploring to find cheaper and less touristy options and not spending $60+. Nothing wrong with doing the longest zip line in Latin America, but I couldn't justify it to myself, especially since it wasn't something I was yearning to do. But that decision didn't leave me with many options. Because of the few options that were affordable and did not require a reservation, I decided to wander to find what I could do for the next several hours.
|"bailarinas de oro"|
The first place I stopped by was an orchid garden right near my hostel. I paid the entrance and a guide walked me through the garden, giving his tour in Spanish as I had requested. I was so proud of myself for understanding the tour in its entirety! Back to the garden -- I learned so much about orchids that I would never have learned otherwise, like how to tell which orchids are natural and not created, how to tell a flower is an orchid, things that are interesting but not really talked about in regular conversation. I learned that most orchids are actually small, very small, and reside on the tops or bottoms of leaves. Hate to break it to ya, but most orchids in the US are not natural; they're likely hybrids and you wouldn't really find them in nature. I also had the opportunity to see the smallest orchid in the world, which you need a magnifying glass to see, and it also happens to be native to Monteverde and only found there.
|hybrid; not natural|
After wandering a while longer, I stopped into the herpentarium, which houses snakes, turtles, and frogs. Though it was great to learn about these animals and about their presence in Costa Rica, it felt like I was at a zoo, and zoo's aren't as great as they appear. Nonetheless, I got to see some pretty cool frogs, including one that is essentially invisible since it is see-though, some chill turtles, and some creepy snakes.
My last stop, after hours of wandering around the familiar with nothing left to do, was at a cheap restaurant where I ate a hamburger and fries. It was the cheapest restaurant there and I was so exhausted that I wasn't all that concerned that it wasn't traditional Costa Rican food. I had attempted to go to another restaurant earlier that advertised paninis, but as soon as I got the menu and saw that the food started at $12, and small beverages started at $4, I left right away; I felt kind of bad, but the prices were ridiculous for a traveler on a budget.
Note to future travelers: Santa Elena is tiny, and there is not much within walking distance, though there are many things to do if you have transportation and reservations. Also, know that there are only two buses each day, one at 6:30am and one at 2:30pm, so you could be stuck wandering waiting for the bus if you choose the later one with no actual plan for the day.