Sky Walking and Misfires With Zip-lining

After visiting Arenal volcano, our holiday continued in high-gear as we headed to Monteverde. For those unfamiliar with Costa Rica, Monteverde is perhaps best known for its “cloud forest” (complete with zip lines) and its coffee plantations. It is an actual “cloud forest” that sits more than 4,600 feet above sea level. If you’ve never heard of one, that’s probably because cloud forests are rare indeed; covering roughly one-percent of the globe. As such, don’t visit Costa Rica and miss this unique and magical experience. The high altitude creates an almost constant supply of clouds and moisture.

It also feels cold, for one because you’re ascending from significantly warmer parts of Costa Rica. But also because—as anyone who’s familiar with San Francisco could tell you—combined damp and cool bites deeper than cold. For this part of your trip, I recommend layers. I spent my two days wrapped in a long sleeve fleece and north face jacket to fight bone chills.

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Monteverde and the Cloud Forest. copying right: Stamps on My Passport

 

Sky Walk – Suspension Bridges

Monteverde’s most popular attraction is its hanging/suspension bridges. There are six bridges covering a mile and half of trails above the forest floor. You can take the tour with a local guide, or as in our case, use your own guide. Climbing them is not strenuous but, be forewarned it’s not for anyone who has a difficulty with heights. Some of these suspension bridges are up, well, in the clouds.

The highest bridge is almost a thousand feet up in the air. Add to this the fact that any well-made bridge is designed to move and give. But even for people comfortable with heights, the swaying is most unnerving if one’s not used to it. Once you get the courage to step three feet out, that point where you can’t jump back on to land, the bridge moves and requires a more conscious control of balance and shifting weight. It’s gentle, but my mind clearly communicated to my body with a shot of adrenaline that this was not normal.

Once mastering how to cross the bridges, I quickly learned suspension bridges are also very sensitive to other people, and how they move. The moment I got used to the swaying motion, someone else stepped out, disrupting my balance, timing and method of gently walking across the bridge. It felt like a combination of someone interrupting a private conversation, with an element of someone almost shoving you into oncoming traffic. The feeling really did a number on me, but without knowing it I would later realize that this was excellent preparation for hiking in Nepal. These are baby bridges compared to what they’ve got going on in the Everest Region.

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The Hanging Bridges up almost 1,000 above the ground. Image copyright: Stamps on my Passport

 

Zip-lining

Also known as “canopy tours,” these are another popular attraction in Monteverde. The Yooner and I had agreed to do this together, talked about it throughout our travels, and signed-up to go at the same time. What happens next varies, depending upon whose version you believe. If you ask me, what started as a bad headache for me morphed into an epic migraine after wandering across the suspension bridges—I submit it was worsened by the surge of adrenaline. After throwing up in the bathroom, I decided to forego tandem zipping, leaving her to zip solo. Or, as she argues “with some strangers legs wrapped around her hips.”

I knew she was disappointed but like any good travel partner (and friend), outwardly she kept a stiff upper lip and took it like a champ. Interestingly, it wasn’t until the summer of 2014 when she confessed how deeply annoyed she was (and remains so to this day). I think of it as a good way to “make up” for running scared from a few butterflies. (Yes, you should be reading that with sarcasm.)

I’m sure there is a life lesson here but how do you make amends for an unplanned migraine? Or more to the point, the life lesson is someone else’s blog fodder. Despite –or maybe in spite of– our different memories of zip lining we remain close friends. Thank goodness because Costa Rica would have been boring without the Yooner along for the rest of the trip.

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Multiple trips and continents and yep, still friends! Image copyright: Stamps on my Passport

 

Know Before You Go: Costa Rica

I don’t care what they say, January and February are the cruelest months. It’s cold and dark. That’s in addition to it snowing, sleeting or whatever combination of weather misery Mother Nature can conjure up.

As if the weather isn’t bad enough, January especially brings a “back to reality” slap in the face. The holidays are over. The “slow(ish)” days at work are bygone, no exchanging gifts and everyone’s losing, or lost the spirit. To combat this reality, I’ve chosen to reminisce about, and/or plan a trip to, Costa Rica.

People often say a country “has everything” and Costa Rica is no exception. However, it’s one of those rare places that really delivers everything promised. You can lounge on beaches, learn to surf, or geek out on nature (the country features 10 nationally protected areas ranging from volcanoes to rain forests).

Given Costa Rica’s Central America location, the weather in this country is usually perfect (60’s, 70s, 80s). It’s certainly warmer than North American in January/February. In case you are considering a visit to the country, first think about what you want your trip to include in terms of sites and activities.

After a little research, I decided I wanted to see Arenal (the Volcano), Monteverde (the rainforest/cloud forest area), and Manuel Antonio National Park. Basically, I wanted to bask in the glory of nature. I wasn’t confident in my ability to drive around the country on my own so I booked a semi-private trip with Adventure Smith Explorations. (I checked their website while writing this and it doesn’t look like they offer this option any more. It’s unfortunate, because the tour was excellent. Despite this, I recommend the Company for guided trips. The booking process was easy, the trip was as described, our guide and driver in Costa Rica were absolutely fantastic.)

If Costa Rica is on your “bucket list” or “must visit” list, here are three points to keep in mind.

Three Things You Should Know Before You Go

  1. English is not universally spoken, especially outside of major cities like San Jose. Don’t be the jackass that gets annoyed because people speak Spanish. Buy a book of phrases, do Rosetta Stone, whatever but figure out a few key words and you’ll be fine. I managed to get us through two weeks of Costa Rica on three years of High School Spanish. (Yes, Señora Schneck, I should have studied harder. You were right)
  2. The weather changes fast and often. Anyone who’s ever traveled around the San Francisco area knows that you have to dress in layers because there are dozens of microclimates within miles of each other. This is especially true if you are traveling inland, around the rainforest and cloud forest. Even if your agenda only includes a day in this area, don’t be fooled. Do yourself a favor and pack a sweater and a rain jacket, and dry bags. Because “perfect weather” doesn’t always mean sunshine and song birds.
  3. Costa Rica is bug friendly. As anywhere in Central America, there were termites, ants and cockroaches in nearly every hotel we stay at—that’s not a cleanliness thing, that’s a part of life on the equator. While we weren’t staying at the Ritz, neither were we slumming it, or staying in hostels. Costa Ricans seem to have a larger tolerance for bugs than I do. If you don’t like bugs, brace yourself and above all bring mosquito repellant. My personal favorite is Burt’s Bees because it doesn’t stink.
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Exploring the Costa Rican rain forest with our guide and driver.

 

Where do you go to escape winter?

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