Week Seventeen – Culture, creepy crawlies, Quakers and clouds

My, oh my, we have been busy.  I think that having a date when we have to leave CR is throwing me into overdrive to see and do everything that I wanted to before that date.  It’s a little crazy since I’ve always been known for my moderation, right?

But, let’s start at the beginning (a very good place to start).  Last week, we journeyed with our Spanish teacher Nidia and her daughter Denise to the Bribripa reserve in Salitre to spend an afternoon learning more about their traditional culture (www.redindigena.net/bribripa). They told me more about medicinal plants, which was great, but we also learned about ways of processing corn and rice, rituals and ceremonies, ate a meal there and watched some rather embarrassed looking teenagers perform traditional dances.  To grind the corn into meal they use a large roundish stone and roll it back and forth over a flat-stone table.  This goes on for an hour to make a large bowl of meal.  The woman who was working with it when we got there was about 80 years old and she was doing just fine.  When I sat down to try I could barely move the thing!  If it was up to me to do this work to feed my family; they would all die of starvation.  I could probably do what she was doing for five minutes before my arms would just fall off completely.

The weekend was stormy and dark and I spent most of it writing, going through and classifying pictures and packing for the upcoming week.  Monday morning we picked up a rental car and drove up and up and up to Monteverde.  Mondeverde was kinda surreal.  First of all, it looks like Jasper AB – the same misty cool weather with the cute tourist-trap mountain town in the middle.  Second, most people speak at least some English.  In the beginning, I thought this was just a response to the tourists, but then later you realize that the entire town was actually founded by Quakers from Alabama who moved here in 1950 rather than fight in the war.  And what did the Quakers do (11 families at first) once they created this dirt road up the mountain and settled in?  They made cheese.  I’m not making this up; we toured the Monteverde cheese factory and saw for ourselves.  Mmm…conscientious objection never tasted so good.

Of course, the real draw to Mondeverde is the cloud forest.  The name comes from the height of the forest which is often literally in the clouds, meaning you tend to get wet, but the plants are really healthy.  We went on the Sky Walk and Natural History tour which takes you across a series of suspension bridges that allow you to walk through the forest and then look down on the canopy, providing a totally different point of view than you get anywhere else.  Our guide was fantastic, but I felt a little sorry for him at times.  You see, usually on these things the guides will ask questions or point things out in the forest and everyone in the group is awed and amazed.  But unfortunately for this guy, my Creature Card reading, Discover channel watching kids have done a few of these things by now, and proceeded to answer all questions, show examples in their wildlife brochures and generally talk his ear off until he declared that they should just guide the tour.  Which they then did.

The rainforest tours are necessary for my work but after that our trip to Monteverde was kinda like a gift to the kids.  We went to the Ranarium (frog pond) where we observed the beautiful and bright poison dart frogs and other species unique to the rainforest.  Ezra was armed with his Amphibians and Reptiles book, and about half-way through this tour as well, the guide handed his flashlight over to Hannah and told the kids they could teach it.  Where is the fine line between being a smart, precocious kid and being an insufferable know-it-all?  I’m sure my parents would both say that this is poetic justice.  From there we went to the Serpentarium, home to tons of snakes and a few toads, lizards and turtles as well.  This was Ezra’s favourite, hands down.  I held a Giant Cane Toad: these are the ugly suckers that have a hallucinogenic affect if you lick them.  I don’t remember what happened after that, but I’m told I was very happy.  (Kidding!  Happily Holistic in no way approves of toad licking. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

The next day we went on the cheese tour, then to the Mariposario (butterfly garden).  We’ve been to other butterfly gardens in CR, but this one was more of an insect exhibit with exotic species of bugs that you hope to never see anywhere else.  The kids held giant cockroaches and petted an elephant beetle and all sorts of other creepy creatures, before we went into the gardens.  Here, I discovered exactly where my ‘Yes Man’ philosophy ends; it ends with touching cockroaches.  Just can’t do it.  In the gardens we were able to release butterflies that had just opened from their chrysalis that morning into their new habitat.  It was pretty cool to let these creatures crawl up on your hand, then spread their wings and fly for the first time.  That evening, we went on a Night tour, where a guide takes you through the forest trails in the dark with flashlights, allowing you to see nocturnal wildlife.  We saw bats, coatis, agoutis, porcupines, sloths, birds roosting for the night, and the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in my life; an orange kneed tarantula that would have made Hercules himself jump up on a table and shriek like a little girl.

Elephant Beetle Bug

On the way home we made a stop in San Luis to visit an organic family-run coffee farm.  The extra caffeine and good company provided by the family helped immensely as we drove back to San Isidro. After these exhausting few days, we are back in our apartment, worn-out but happy.  Oh, and we have about 700 new pictures that you’ll have to suffer through later.  Hope you like cockroaches.

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