Saturday, March 4, 2017

Costa Rican Cloud Forest

This winter my wife and I took a trip to Costa Rica to get away from the cold weather and celebrate our anniversary. Our flights to San Jose went well with no delays. It is nice to go south and get to such a different environment without an exceedingly long flight. It was actually shorter to get to San Jose, Costa Rica than San Jose, California for us.

We arrived late in the evening and had decided to stay in San Jose. After getting our luggage, some money, a local SIM card for my phone, and checking in with the tour company, we exited customs to a large crowd welcoming visitors. We found our driver for the night. He was a the back of the crowd and we kept making eye contact as we progressed through the throngs and found some space.

One of the very nice things we found in Costa Rica was the infrastructure for tourists. We were able to easily arrange transfers so we were able to skip renting a car. It made moving from one location to another easy and relaxing and there was really only one time we might have missed having a car. But we got a bus that time with minimal waiting so it wasn't bad at all. Our first driver was Rudy; he was very friendly and informative for the 30 minute drive to the hotel. The Central Valley, made up of three cities, is home to nearly half of the country's 5 million inhabitants. Outside here the biggest population centers you will find are towns. Even at night traffic was heavy. Apparently it is horrible during the day; especially since they are currently replacing a major bridge between San Jose and the airport.

Our hotel the first night was Grano de Oro. They greeted us with a cold fruit drink in a champagne glass (something we would find at two of the other three places we stayed). The room was comfortable and we immediately tucked in for the night.

In the morning we could hear a bird calling outside our window and water running. When we left the room to get breakfast we discovered the source of the water noise: an indoor fountain. The hallways were full of tropical plants and there were several open-air courtyards, including the seating area of the restaurant. I had the standard Costa Rican fare of casado: rice, beans, fried plantains, and fruit. There were many fruit juices to choose from including a couple of fruits we were familiar with. I think we both had mango.

Chestnut-Collared Sparrow (not from the restaurant but Villa Blanca)

While sitting there eating we had our first Costa Rican bird; a chestnut-collared sparrow. Luckily, we had studied up (more on that in a later post) and could easily identify it. Number 1 of 194 species I would see there. A walk around the block picked up three more species.

As we walked to the lobby to check out we met our driver for the next leg. This was the first of several cases of good timing of us showing up just as our driver appeared. We had heard a lot of "Tico time," but only once did we have to wait for someone to show up.

Our next stop was Villa Blanca in the Los Angeles Cloud Forest near San Ramon.  Again we were met with drinks. Our cabin wasn't quite ready so we had a short walk around and had lunch. At lunch we saw a green hermit hummingbird, flying around the outdoor seats. The view from up here was amazing. And the cabins had fireplaces for the cool, damp nights.

Clouds moving in at Villa Blanca

Enjoying some simple warmth

Being in the cloud forest, most evenings the clouds start moving in around 5-6 pm. And when it comes, it comes quickly. Below are two views of the chapel on the property seen just as the fog starts gathering and then about 10 minutes later.

Next up will be the wonderful birding that we did at Villa Blanca.
Pura Vida.

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