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Getting There - Aneel's Travelogue

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To Monteverde Monteverde, Costa Rica, Monday, 20 January 2014 6:19am

Today was a half-travel day, starting with a "Jeep-Boat-Jeep" trip from the Arenal area to the Monteverde area. Though Arenal and Monteverde are quite close, as the bird flies (about 11 miles!), it's a three hour plus bus ride between the two. You have to go around Lake Arenal, an artificial lake created to generate hydroelectric power, and even if it weren't there, there's a lot of very steep terrain. Since both are popular tourist destinations, there's a shuttle service between the two, which used to be served by Jeeps on both sides and a boat across the lake, but is now popular enough that the Jeeps have been replaced by tourist minibuses.

This is perhaps not the best idea. The land transportation was originally a Jeep for a good reason: the roads on the Monteverde side are steep, twisty mountain roads, and are largely unpaved. After severals days of rain and heavy minibus traffic, they're deep mud in many spots. The first sign of trouble came when the minibus in front of ours couldn't make it around a curve up the hill from us. It tried a second time by reversing (sliding almost as much as rolling) down to a cross street and getting a running start... and failed. Eventually, a 4x4 SUV helped tow it around the corner, with the back of the SUV full of people to help weigh it down for traction. Then it was our turn. We got the SUV tow for our first attempt, so we had no problem making it up the hill and around the corner. We continued on for another ten minutes or so, and then our minibus got stuck trying to make another steep turn.

To make matters worse, when the driver attempted to reverse to try again, the minibus slid into the ditch on the side of the road. We were thoroughly stuck. One of the minibus's tires wasn't even on the ground anymore, and the side of the bus was leaning against the side of the hill that the road had been cut through. The drivers of the minibuses started making some cell phone calls, while the passengers got out to look around. It turns out that the 4x4 SUV had been called again, but that it had a problem with one of its tires and had to change it. When it eventually arrived, it tried to tow the minibus forward out of the ditch to no avail. Towing it backwards was more productive: they were able to get it to a point where all of the minibus's wheels were touching the ground. It only took a few more attempts to get it fully back on the main part of the road and around the corner.

We arrived in Santa Elena about and hour and a half later than we'd planned, so our first priority was to get some food. Stella's Bakery solved that problem with a tasty soup and one of the best quiches I've had.

Our next stop was a few yards away at the Bat Jungle. The "Jungle" provided a lot of information about bats in general and the bats of Costa Rica in particular. Even though I've been to a number of bat exhibits and bat sites, I learned some new facts on the tour. The Jungle itself is a large darkened room with a glass barrier separating the visitors from an area where seven different species of bats fly around. There's an audio processor that pitch-shifts the bats' noises lower so that they're in the human auditory range, so you can hear them chirping at each other as they argue about who a particular perch or piece of fruit belongs to. We timed it so that we were there at a feeding time, so we got to watch the bats land on fruit cups and select their favorite morsel and then fly off with fruits in their mouths. Once they were perched again, they used their wing claws to hold the food while they ate it (bat wings are anatomically analogous to human hands, and they have an opposable digit that they can use for grasping). In addition to the fruit bats, the display contained "hummingbats", which are nectar eaters who hover near flowers and use their long tongues to drink. We got to see some of those eating out of hummingbird feeders.

In the evening we went for a night walking tour in a nearby forest, which turned out to focus on sleeping birds and large spiders. Birds asleep on branches are pretty comical. They puff out their feathers to keep the heat in (like a down jacket), so they look like little feathery spheres. We saw several species asleep. We also saw several tarantulas in hollow logs and the crevices in strangler fig trees, a garden spider that had built a large web nest, and a golden spider that was weaving a web across the path (Adrienne almost found it with her face, but stopped just in time).

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