Cloud Forest/ Coffee House (Costa Rica #4)

[For this fourth and final post directly relating to a recent trip to Costa Rica, I’m departing from a previous chronological narrative and incorporating a thematic approach including cloud-forest hikes and patio meditations. I hope that you’ve enjoyed the tour….]

to Hermida’s…

Our cabin at Hermida’s Coffee House and farm near the Santa Elena and Monteverde cloud forests of north-central Costa Rica offered an exciting springboard into the wild. Our first mountain road ascent to the village of Santa Elena gave our rented SUV a flat tire (not surprising since I’d noted that the tires had already seen many country miles as we began the journey). My wife and I taught our daughter how to safely change a tire on a sketchy highland road, while my attention was often distracted wondrously by noisy flocks of parakeets, parrots and chachalacas.

to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest…

While enjoying an afternoon beer and pretzel break at a brewery in Santa Elena, we reflected on Costa Rica’s modest infrastructure with regard to tourism. Santa Elena and adjacent Monteverde are among the most visited sites in Costa Rica and yet the bustling villages seem quaint, without the tinhorn chaos and the neon glitter of so many Western tourist traps. It’s as if the towns have worked to keep their authenticity and roots while saying to the visitor, yeah, our roads might be rough and our sodas (small town eateries) unimposing, but wait till you see what our woods contain…

the insect-eater, Dutchman’s Pipe…
a 3-inch hummer…
ants work hard to attain this size!

Our nights at the rustic Coffee House provided relaxation after hours of hiking on the higher ground of the Cordilleran cloud forest. A Mottled Owl hooted just beyond our porchlight in the rain; I thought about the insectivorous blooms of Dutchman’s Pipe, ostensibly the country’s largest flower, trapping bugs outside of our doorway. The malodorous plant will trap an insect one day but release it on the following day with pollen for another flower. I scribbled notes about our forest hikes, and wondered how those hikes would compare to investigations in days to come: to the national parks at Juan Castro Blanco and Tapanti, to Guayabo National Monument, to the archaeological sites and ancient churches, and to our stays at Grecia and Orosi…

Arenal Volcano, viewed from Blanco Nat’l Park, about 25 miles distant…
ribbon falls, Juan Castro Blanco Nat’l Park…

We chose to hike the Santa Elena cloud forest rather than the popular Monteverde site for the simple reason that it would be less crowded. Indeed, the 8.4-kilometer hike was like being gifted our own private jungle to explore. Again, I looked to birds as my gateway to the lush green forest, to the overhead bromeliads and orchids on the boughs. A Black Guan, a life bird for me, perched beside the trail, relaxed and apparently unafraid, its blue beak and red eyes as memorable to observers as the post-hike ice-cream savored in a Monteverde shop. That afternoon we also visited a forest gulley where a large Ficus tree had fallen and bridged the banks of a stream, its roots reaching downward from the trunk like tentacles anchored to the flow.

Black Guan…
ruins from oldest CR church, 16th century A.D.
Franklins on the fallen Ficus…

The coming days would bring numerous stops and wonderful diversions, but I want to end my Costa Rican narrative (for now) at Santa Elena/Monteverde. This cloud-forest country shares an interesting parallel with the Osa Peninsula and its wondrous Corcovado National Park in that it also contains about 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity, a fact I’m still trying to wrap my scattered brain around.

El Poeta making sense of it…

One sun-drenched morning in Monteverde we enjoyed our locally-produced coffee while observing Keel-billed Toucans, Silver-throated Tanagers, and Collared Redstarts. I listened to the tolling EENK! notes of an unseen Three-wattled Bellbird, a unique canopy dweller and one of the loudest birds in all creation. And then there was The Hummingbird Gallery– on the wooded edge of town…

Blue-gray Tanager…
Violet-ear Hummingbird…

In most of the wild or rural locations in Costa Rica I found that if you sit or stand patiently in one place and keep your senses on alert, the birds or other wildlife will appear as if by magic from the lush surroundings. On the patio of a small business like The Hummingbird Gallery, however, you can walk right into a hive of ongoing activity. Bananaquits and (especially) hummingbirds were zooming around the hanging feeders and almost begging for observation. These bejeweled avian creatures, hovering or flying in any direction (almost like the sharpest of human minds) had names like hermit, mountain-gem, and emerald– a sampling of the 50 hummingbird species to be found in Costa Rica, the small country with a giant heart.

female Purple-throated Mountain-gem, w/ Bananaquit & bee…
greetings from Rio Orosi!
a mountain-gem…

My favorite of the hummers might have been the Violet Sabrewing, a large 6-inch creature with a dazzling violet hue and a white-tipped tail. All of the birds were beautiful in their own way and, in this case, almost as remarkable to a first-time visitor as the iconic Resplendent Quetzals that had opened our eyes at a first stop in the mountains of Costa Rica.

Green Violet-ears…
Violet Sabrewing…
waterfall @ Blanco National Park…

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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22 Responses to Cloud Forest/ Coffee House (Costa Rica #4)

  1. Brent says:

    Your series here does a great job of capturing the wonder of this place! I’ve stopped several times while reading your posts to marvel at the astonishing diversity of plants and birds, and I’ve loved seeing your great pictures. Here, I specifically wanted to comment on the Dutchman’s Pipe photograph: As you’ve captured it, it looks like a nightmarishly gaped mouth ringed with razor sharp teeth. Cool stuff!

    • Brent, Thanks for coming along with us here & sharing your comments. Indeed, I wouldn’t want to be a night-flying insect coming into range of a Dutchman’s Pipe. There’s enough danger out there without being drawn in by a thing of… beauty.

  2. Howdy. Costa Rica, I imagine, hasn’t been paved over and built upon to the degree that so many nations have. Flora and fauna can flourish there.

  3. Don T says:

    Such a great adventure. Thank you for sharing.

  4. loydtruss says:

    I thought I was into bird watching until following along on this adventure you and the family have taken.
    The bird images are my favorite. I’ve seen very few Hummingbirds this year around our house; they must all be in Costa Rico! Thanks for sharing

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    “The small country with a giant heart” is simply a beautiful way to describe CR, and I’m sure that they would appreciate your love for their country. I can’t imagine that being there wouldn’t be anything other than a perpetual waking dream. Thank you, Walt (and Leighanne and Alyssa) for taking your readers along with you on this magical, once-in-a-lifetime trip. I’ve forwarded every post to my daughter who has enjoyed them immensely and longs to return someday.

    • Much appreciated, Bob, and thanks for forwarding to your daughter! We hope she has an opportunity to re-visit CR someday. I’ve enjoyed trying to share some of these experiences, and I see their kinship to your “perpetual waking dream,” which can have an edginess to it, of course… like “do I want to go back to sleep, or forward to a cup of coffee” idea. Overall, a pleasure.

  6. Amazing trip RTR! Was great to see both of you (RTR and Mrs. RTR) at the SRS meeting. Harry and I went on a short hike on the Vanaimes trail afterward. It’s relative flat at the start but then going down the mountainside proved hard on my old knees. Was a great waterfall along the way down. Spotted a vehicle at Mine Hole.The knees took a couple of days to recover (just a little sore). Ah, all those hummingbirds! Guess I’d make sure those ants didn’t take a nibble of the toes? Thanks for sharing your trip! Heading back home this morning to return in early October. UB (3rd attempt[pt to leave this comment – weird?!)

    • Glad you made it through, UB, and all the best for your return trip. I’ll have to study the topo map & see which trail is the Vanaimes that you guys took. I still need to imprint that territory on the old brainpan. After the meeting in SR I fished lower Slate for a bit & saw very little, missed a couple of rises then retreated to Mahogany Ridge for a couple of drinks with my other half. As for the CR ants, you should have seen Leighanne’s ankle after one of those little red characters took a bite from it!

  7. Happy to have what’s left!

  8. So many hummers and other gorgeous birds! Beautiful, Walt.

  9. Jet Eliot says:

    Costa Rica is an absolutely enchanting place on earth, and you have done a spectacular job of sharing that in your series, Walt. I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of these posts. Fun seeing the Franklins on the fallen ficus, shows the level of high adventure all three of you had here. The hikes, waterfalls, mountains, forests, rivers and seasides, mammals and reptiles are all such a joy in CR. But for me, a birder, it’s the birds that are the purest and most heavenly part of CR. I am so very glad you got to see so many glorious birds on your trip. A violet sabrewing, all the hummers, resplendent quetzals, tanagers and toucans…amazing. Great black guan too! Thanks for taking the time to share your adventure.

    • Jet, it’s been a pleasure, and I thank you whole-heartedly not only for deeply appreciating the series but also for being an inspiration, through your birding/travel/writing expertise, for our little journey through Costa Rica!

  10. plaidcamper says:

    Walt, I’ve enjoyed these CR reports enormously – what a place to explore, and what a delight to read your thoughts/meditations on the bewildering array of biodiversity to be found there. Clouds and coffee – a pretty good combo!

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