Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Night Hike Through Jungle and Afterwards - Monday 3-23-2009

By the time we finish booking, it’s almost time to leave for the tour. I head back to the hotel to grab my fleece. At 6:00PM the bus drops me, Ricardo, Fernando, and eight other tourists off at the Preserva Santa Elena, the Santa Elena Wildlife Preserve. Our guide, Christian, greets us, asks us to introduce ourselves, and then hands us flashlights. Besides me and my Portuguese friends, the group comprises a pair of Swiss girls, a pair of college kids from Detroit, an Israeli couple and two Englishmen. I snap pictures of the rainforest, dark green against a sky that moves quickly from blue to purple to grey. Moss covered trees tower above us as we follow a marked trail into the preserve. The forest is so thick that the trail becomes impassable without flashlights well before sunset. Christian points out animals as we come across them. Early, we see a rat-like creature the size of a small dog, a raccoon, a squirrel and white-faced monkeys stunned by the light we shine on them. The evening darkens and I point out the yellow glow of fireflies. Christian tells me that those are click beetles, flying beetles with a bioluminescence similar to that of fireflies. Click beetles glow for ten to fifteen seconds, whereas fireflies flash for a few seconds at a time. A click beetle lands on my sleeve. Christian pulls it off and gently places it on an open page of his guidebook. We gather around to see the two gently glowing yellow spots on the beetle’s body. The beetle then takes to the air with a loud “click,” disappearing into the night. We walk deeper into the preserve, and now the vast canopy of trees above is just abstract black shapes blocking out the grey, moonless sky. At ground level, the trail is clear but our flashlights barely pierce the thick forest surrounding the trail, our light blocked and diffused by countless leaves, branches, fallen logs, and massive trunks. Click beetles glowing yellow and fireflies flashing white flit across the trail ahead of us and then vanish into the woods. I marvel at how tree trunks can surpass several feet in diameter, and grow several hundred feet tall.

High in the trees, the wind alternately whispers and howls. Branches bend in the gusts, and then straighten in the stillness. Stars twinkle in and out of sight, hidden and then restored by the moving boughs. On the trail, the air is cool, damp and calm, moved only slightly by errant breezes. Crickets, cicadas, and the occasional songbird break the silence. Christian points our attention to a green viper high in the trees. Its venom liquefies the innards of the snake’s victims and can easily kill a man, he tells us. Further on, the trail opens into a clearing and I get my first good look of Monteverde’s sky. I openly remark to Ricardo at how many more stars I can see here than in Los Angeles. Stars I have never before seen lay scattered like diamonds on dark grey velvet. Even familiar stars glow white or red with unfamiliar intensity. Light grey clouds move quickly across the sky, carried by strong winds. With difficulty I locate Orion and the Big Dipper, hidden against a backdrop of stars I could never see in Los Angeles’ light polluted skies.

The night walk ends too quickly. The bus drops everyone off in Santa Elena. Ricardo, Fernando and I eat dinner at the Tree House CafĂ©, a second-story restaurant with a live tree growing through the floor to the second story. A live salsa band plays in the bar area. Taylor, an American girl from Georgia who is traveling with her friend and whom we met on the bus, walks over to say hello. The food is good – I have the Tree House Special which is pretty much Spanish paella – but expensive. ($5000 colones, or $10). After dinner, Ricardo, Fernando, and I find Taylor near the bar. We all sit order, drinks (my Corona was a needlessly pricey $5) and enjoy the night. We move to Bar Restaurante Amigos, half block away and 150 feet down a dirt road. The bar feels warehouse-sized, with a dance floor taking up roughly half the space. Strobe lights, and laser lights compliment the pounding hip-hop, reggaeton, and latin music. American college students on Spring Break and younger locals occupy half the tables, while the other half sit empty. Few people dance. We order another round of drinks (my Corona was $3.50 here, which still seems expensive since beer was $1 at the restaurant at Costa Rica Backpackers). I teach Taylor a few salsa moves and we all chat some more. About 11:45PM, I bid everyone good night and walk the one mile uphill to Manakin Lodge, enjoying the cool, dry night air the whole way.


  1. congratulations for the blog, it's perfect n it's so nice to read your view of our trip together, all the best my friend. Ricardo

  2. Thanks Ricardo! I'm trying to write stuff about Southern California but home isn't nearly as exotic as Costa Rica was. I'll just have to fly to Portugal and write about your home, I guess.