Saturday, March 28, 2009

Monkeys on the Roof and Wisconsin Girls Make the Best Pancakes - Friday 3-27-2009

Other than taking pictures of a family of monkeys in the trees outside my window, I do little until the evening. At about 5:30PM I follow the paved road outside of Manakin Lodge east, away from Santa Elena and towards the Monteverde Preseve. The cool evening air is welcome a respite from today’s heat. The road bends left a half mile on, and I see rainforest, ranch land, and grass land all the way to the ocean. I sit on a small rock next to the road for several minutes, just enjoying the view. Continuing, the road turns to gravel. I spot four early twenty-somethings walk down the road from Hotel Belmar on my left. I continue on and soon the forest rises tall on either side of the road. A few cars pass me. On my right I see a worn wooden sign with “waterfall” and “night tours” painted on it. Curious, I turn and follow the dirt road down. An SUV passes me. I come to the end of the path, seeing only a small house, the parked SUV, and an information shack with an “Open” sign on it. Turning back, a light-skinned Costa Rican meets me partway up the dirt road. He tells me they are closed for the day and that I should come back in the morning. This is the Monteverde Waterfall, not the more famous San Juan Waterfall; that is another several kilometers east on the gravel road. This waterfall, however is 30 meters high, has a trail with climbing ropes to better navigate my way to the waterfall, two natural pools for swimming, and costs only $8 per person. While the man tells me this, a small boy runs up the path and wraps his arms around the man’s legs, greeting him with a loud “Papi!” I thank the man for the information and ask his name. “Simon,” he says. I shake his hand and introduce myself. “Mucho gusto,” Simon says and I continue my walk.

I walk east along the gravel road and arrive at what a large wooden sign proclaims to be the center of Monteverde. To my left rises a small hill upon which is built Hotel El Bosque, a large hotel with a chocolate shop, an Argentine restaurant, and a live bat exhibit. Ahead of me to my right is Tramonti, an authentic Italian restaurant my guidebook recommends. I walk past and look inside. I see five staff members, no customers, and many nicely-set but empty tables. Walking on, I pass Stella's Bakery, empty despite a recommendation from my guidebook. Further on, a small hotel, the three story artists cooperateive with a large sign that reads CASEMCOOP, and a small grocery store attached to the small hotel. I walk further. A group of twenty-something Americans pass me from behind. I ask them what lies ahead and they say the Quaker cheese factory that made Monteverde a real town is another fifteen minutes ahead. The evening is darkening; passing cars are now using their headlights. I turn back. I have walked about three miles.

Thirty minutes later, the sky is black and I have returned to Manakin Lodge. I walk up to my room, grab my laptop, walk down to the dining area and begin writing. Five minutes later, the Wisconsin girls enter the kitchen. One comes out and asks if the Internet is up. “No,” I say. “I’m just writing my blog in Word for posting tomorrow.” She tells me her friends are making pancakes from scratch for dinner. I get up and walk to the kitchen. Sure enough, they are cracking eggs and mixing batter in a big bowl. They ask if I would like some for dinner. I put my laptop down, sit at the kitchen table, and happily say yes.

We sit and talk and they tell me more about living in Wisconsin, and the different towns they’re from (two are from the Madison area, one lives near the Iowa border) and how strange it will be for them to be back in the States with no set plans. One sounds interested in attending college, the other two seem more interested in alternatives. I joke a bit about cheese before it becomes clear to me that they know as much about its varietals and subtleties as friends in San Francisco know about the varietals and subtleties of wine.

Each of the Wisconsin girls takes turns making batter, mixing, and cooking. I feel like I should offer to help, but they have the situation so under control that I feel like I would just get in the way. They offer me the first two pancakes and they are excellent, flavorful from the whole grain flour with just the right amount of sugar. I put butter on my pancakes and wolf them down hungrily. We eat and talk for maybe an hour. When we are all satisfied, they graciously wash my plate and utensils.

I’m glad the Wisconsin girls showed up when they did, and I tell them so. I had a day or two to myself after my Portuguese friends left for Nicaragua. Those days were a bit lonely, especially because Manakin Lodge is a quiet place with only a handful of rooms. Monteverde itself is also much more a highland escape than a tourist center, despite all the tour companies and half-filled hotels. I am learning that I am indeed quite social and that I enjoy being around people, even if I am not necessarily interacting with them. Hanging out with the Wisconsin girls eased my loneliness greatly.

The Wisconsin girls start planning for their departure tomorrow for La Fortuna, near Volcan Arenal. Johnny comes in and advises them on how to get to La Fortuna via the public bus system. They will have to catch the bus at 7:00AM sharp in Santa Elena, travel all day, wait seven hours in a town, the name of which I forget, and finally arrive in La Fortuna around 8:00PM. The trip will cost only several dollars. Tiffany, the Canadian woman who never relinquished the room I booked because she is now staying at Manakin Lodge indefinitely to teach English at the local, suggests they take a taxi-boat-taxi combination that will cost about $20, but allow them to reach La Fortuna by mid-afternoon. I suggest a private shuttle for its convenience, but $35 per person is outside the girls’ budget. They settle on the public bus. We all talk a bit more, then Johnny walks to his room and Tiffany catches the cab she called. I give the Wisconsin girls my email, my blog address, and my sincere wishes they enjoy the last six days in Costa Rica. They retreat to their room to pack for tomorrow’s trip. I retreat to my room to write.

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