Superman Comes to Monteverde

Friday, January 08, 2010

When our adventure last ended, we were winding our way up the green mountains from Tamarindo to Monteverde, Sloane, Shaun, Johnny, Jez, and myself, in Sloane’s aptly named Green Machine. We arrived at 2:30 PM to find the wind howling and the temperature already too cool for shorts and a t-shirt. The hostel we’d been recommended, Vista de la Golfa, was full (they had a few cabins left but she wasn’t recommending them in this wind and on top of this kindness the lady there called a couple other hostels for us) and we had a spot at Hostal El Pueblo just up the gravel road. These hostels are short on common area meetings but we already had a group of five so this was no problem, and our $10/bed cost included a free make-your-own breakfast. A quick change to warmer gear and we were off to the taco stand for a very cheap (by Costa Rica standards) couple of tacos for dinner. Then, with little else to do here and a whole evening to wait before sleep was an option, we made our way to the Amigos Bar.

Now I hadn’t had a single drink in 2010, which wasn’t that big a feat considering it was only one week in, but I guess this was my first beer of the year and in Costa Rica, an Imperial. Not great but not bad. My second, Pilsen, was much better. The bartender, who we all wound up calling Jeffe (boss), was a pretty funny guy and took good care of us but then that wasn’t hard. Aside from the Americans watching college football in the back the place was pretty empty. Jez and I went to get a few things done while the others searched out another bar, but one thing I didn’t bank on was FINALLY finding a piano. A piano that was in tune and which the owner of the shop insisted I play after noticing me gingerly pressing a few notes. While I don’t especially like to show off or play with an audience (at least not sans band) I did anyway. Sometimes you have to suffer for art. And I’m not sure whether it’s kosher to include smileys in a blog post to indicate the tongue-in-cheek of the last sentence, but rest assured it’s there. I shook the rust out of my fingers and played for a good 30 minutes before getting up figuring I’d pre-empt being booted out.

We met up again with the rest of the gang who had determined – incorrectly, I might add – that Amigos was the only bar in town. Au contraire, we would discover the next day that there was at least one more (and I think maybe two) and it had karaoke. Perhaps we dodged a bullet. Back to the bar and Sloane made it his personal mission to have me off my feet. Guaro, which is a local Costa Rican spirit of some variety, and Fresca was the drink of choice (Phil and Jez may deserve credit for this invention) and they were being called (at least by me) Costa Libres. Costa, incidentally, is the Spanish word for Coast and the Greek word for Dean. Well, Constantine actually, but that is the root of my name at any rate. Moving on, we all wound up dancing – there were a couple groups of girls sufficiently entertained by our movements to dance with us – and it’s not that I dance better with some drinks, it’s that I don’t care when I’ve had them which doesn’t seem to have the life-ending consequences I attach to bad dancing when more clear-headed. In fact, we had fun in this sleepy little town, even partying with the hostel owner’s sister for a while.

Had I known in advance, I probably would have gone to sleep much earlier. But I think it’s quite possible that Hostal El Pueblo has the best beds in Central America. It was cold and windy outside on the mountain, but they not only had soft mattresses that you melted into, but nice warm blankets to cover you up. Waking up at 9 to get the included breakfast hardly felt worth leaving my warm cocoon but I did get up and made myself a fried egg sandwich. The others staggered up a little later and by 10:30 we were packed up, checked out, and in the shuttle for Extremo Ziplining, which was basically the reason we’d come up here in the first place. Well, that and the Costa Libres, apparently. I should emphasize that I’m not really that excited by ziplining, maybe because I don’t really worry too much about mechanical failure on such things and so a lot of the risk or fear is gone. It’s not that it can’t happen, it’s that the odds of it happening on a fixed set of equipment when I’m the one riding are really, really low. Things that scare me tend to be where my own stupidity or human error in general is a larger factor.

So I didn’t go in with any expectations, aside from the fact that everyone I met said I MUST do the ziplining here. Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. This IS the best thing I did in Costa Rica (at least at the time of writing), I had so much fun and did even get scared (like adrenaline rush scared) not once but twice. It starts with a couple mild zips which are more in line with what I had experienced elsewhere. And then you go tandem and zip from one hilltop to another, high above the valley floor below. There was a bit of mist and light cloud in the air which also led to some spectacular rainbows beneath us. Nevermind the fear, it was worth it for the scenery. You can spend all day climbing a mountain to get to a viewpoint and never get the kind of perspective you do in the air between mountain tops. The only unfortunate part is you have to enjoy it quickly. A little later I had my first scare. It was a relatively short zip line, maybe only 100m or so, but quite steep. The lady in front of me, a local, told me that last time she was here her sister had slammed into the tree at the bottom and had to be taken to a hospital. The guide then said to brake the whole way.

And then it was my turn. I did indeed brake the whole way. Or I tried to. It didn’t seem to make a difference, I kept going faster and faster. I put my other hand behind me and tried two-hand braking. Still nothing was happening except for my gloves warming up. The end – and that big tree – were coming at me too fast. Then I noticed something on the line before that and knew I was going to hit it at speed. There was no way I was stopping. And I did hit it, cringing as I expected the impact to be messy. Maybe I’d fly off the track, maybe I’d be jerked to a stop abruptly and thrown forward into the line, I didn’t know. It turned out it was just a brake. Apparently they’d upgraded since the last incident and I came to a quick stop on the platform just fine. Whew. A few more panoramic crossings and it was time for the second rush: the tarzan swing. This one you climb out on a very rickety platform (one person at a time) say 10-15 m above a platform below, step off, and plummet downwards. Just when you think something has gone wrong the rope (which is tied to a branch in a distant tree) catches and you go swinging out high above the ground like a mad man. It doesn’t matter how many people go before you, your adrenaline is pumping when you finally get off the swing.

The final event was the Superman. Here, you fly across the valley back to the main station on a line that is just over 1km long, suspended from your back and feet (to keep you straight) and flying like Superman did. As a boy, I watched the old 1960s Superman TV show. Since then, I’ve always imagined that if I could fly, it would be something like that: arms stretched out in front of you, looking forward at oncoming terrain or down at people, cities, and countryside below. Well. This is as close as you could possibly get and I finally lived out that childhood fantasy, arching my neck back to look at the mountain coming towards me, then putting my head down to look straight below at green fields and cattle, then twisting to look over my left arm sideways, always scanning for injustice. I found none here, just a great day out and a lot of fun. And I realized that I had forgotten to ask how to brake on this one. Obviously, you can’t put your hands on the rope as they would be in front of the pulleys and any braking would send them flying in to be chewed up. Luckily this was toward the end and I didn’t think on it too long before their braking device did all the work for me.

The shuttle took forever to come and I was worried I would miss my jeep-boat-jeep to La Fortuna but thankfully they were waiting for me when we arrived back at the hostel at 2:30, 1.5 hours after we were told we’d return. I said a hurried goodbye to the guys (who were heading towards San Jose) and jumped in my ‘jeep’, a minibus for La Fortuna. The reason for this trip is twofold. Firstly, it is pretty affordable ($25), secondly it saves backtracking down the mountain and going all the way around. Instead you meander down into a deadend valley through all sorts of rural mountainous splendour at which point you hop on a boat across a beautiful lake to the other side where you make your way up, around the base of Arenal (a very active volcano), and to the town of La Fortuna. On the trip I met a very pretty girl from Helsinki named Anna, a recently graduated Australian electrical engineer name James, and a professional pianist from San Jose that was heading up to play some of the resorts in La Fortuna. This was my kind of crowd.

Monteverde Photos

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