The hint is in the name ….’cloud’. We shoukd have been better prepared, but it was a bright sunny day when we left our lovely hotel and headed into central San Jose. The traffic is horrendous and I have to say it is not a city of enormous charm and architectural merit. There are, however, some interesting museums we hope at some point to visit. In the centre we picked up Arnoldo who works with Heiner at the University and is a botanist.
The route to the cloud forest seemed devious to put it mildly. We went through numerous barrios of varying prosperity before beginning a steady climb up the side of mountain.
We were heading for the Braulio Carrillo National Park and in particular the Barva Volcano sector. The road became steeper and the houses more Alpine in design as we wound our way up and up. Eventually we came to the park gates where we parked, used the loos and started our 3km walk to the Barva Volcano Lake. By now it was drizzling heavily and it felt distinctly cold. We were at over 9,000 feet and even in the tropics it can get quite cool at that altitude on a sunless day. The path climbed up through the cloud forest and Arnoldo stopped to show us various plants and explain their importance to the ecosystem.
Although Costa Rica only has 0.2% of the world’s land area it has something like 5% of all the world’s species. We passed gigantic oaks with enormous acorns and stopped to look at the range of bromeliads on the trunks an branches of trees.
And the rain became heavier as we climbed. The path was good in places, but very boggy in others and several members of the group got wet feet. Finally we branched off to the right and climbed a little before descending to a beautiful crater lake some 230 foot in diameter. The far shore was just visible through the mist and rain. Occasionally a chill breeze blew across the lake to our shelter and we all shivered.
Heiner had had brought some cookies and Cassava (Yuca) crisps and we greedily wolfed them down. Arnoldo fed us with the flowers from a plant which were quite tasty but hardly sustaining. When we were told it was time to head back we set off with a spring in our step back down the mountain side. The descent was completed a lot faster than the climb of course and soon we were back in the coach pleading with Gatto to put the heater on.
The cloud forest is noted for its range of wildlife, Jaguars, leopards, tapirs, monkeys, deer, etc. . We saw a few birds including a couple of humming birds. To be honest we saw more wildlife in the last hotel’s grounds! Still it was good to walk through the forest and see its complexity and for me it was satisfying to realise that what I have taught for the past 38 years actually was true!
On the way down, we stopped at a local restaurant and warmed ourselves with coffee and hot chocolate before tucking in to plates of …..you’ve guessed it…rice and beans with cheese, plantain and for some a range of meats. Still cold we huddled in the bus as it trundled through the heavy traffic back to our hotel. A hot shower and some clean clothes and we shall be ready to hit the town for a light supper.
As Arnoldo told us viewing the cloud forest is largely a matter of luck. If you can get there very early on a sunny day it can be wonderful, but equally you may see as little as we did. Never mind it was an unforgettable experience one way or another!