Santa Elena – High in the clouds

The one thing we didn’t want to do on our drive north from Orosi Valley to Santa Elena was have to drive through downtown San Jose.  The thing that we did do on our drive from Orosi Valley to Santa Elena was drive through downtown San Jose.  Costa Rica’s resistance to road signs brought upon this unwanted detour – there aren’t any, anywhere!

San Jose is a dump – simple as that.  It’s busy, really busy.  People everywhere, walking out in front of you and displaying no concern for self-preservation.  Cars all over the place paying no adherence to any road rules nor commonsense and the city itself is based on a one-way grid system, which is bloody confusing.  Oh, and we didn’t have a decent map.  Luckily for us, the world’s best navigator was sitting beside me and we finally managed to escape the madness and continue to the mountains.

Once we were on the open road it took about four hours to get from San Jose to Santa Elena.  Three hours of this was on a pretty decent road for Costa Rica standards and the last hour was on a pot-holed, dirt road, which made for a bumpy finale.   We knew the roads were going to be bad heading into Santa Elena so we were anxious to get there before it got dark.  Lucky for us we arrived just before that time.

The town itself is set high amidst the cloud forest (don’t get confused with a rain forest – there are differences, not particularly exciting differences but differences) and offers plenty of hiking, wildlife spotting and rain – plenty of rain.

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We had four nights here and the plan was to do some walks and a zip-line, which is basically throwing yourself off a platform, secured by a wire and harness, flying through the air at pace and hopefully landing on another platform and so on for about 15 platforms.  All of this is done many metres above the forest canopy.  Obviously with Callum being of a reserved nature this particular activity was not high on his wish list of things to do in Costa Rica.  I was also quick to volunteer to stay with him while Trina and Dominic booked in for the experience.  Unfortunately the weather turned on us and they had to close the zip line (not sure if Trina was disappointed or happy about that!)  We did manage a cable car ride up through the clouds following a decent four-kilometer walk over some hanging bridges.  Five bridges in total and of varying heights and lengths kept two boys enthused and entertained.

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Still on the walking theme, we did about a five-kilomtere hike to a waterfall through the Monteverde National Park, where we were rewarded with a rare spotting of a Queztal bird.  The Quetzal is quintessential Costa Rica and a real find.  The walk itself was nice and easy with some well-maintained walkways so the boys managed without too much complaining about another walk through another forest, blah, blah, blah.

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The highlight from our visit to Santa Elena was a night walk.  It was only a short walk but through pretty dense forest and only supported by flashlights, which the boys loved.  Immediately we were treated to a sloth sighting, not one but two.  As a rule, sloths sleep for 20 hours each day so it’s rare to see them moving but we were lucky enough to see them active and indeed watch one of them scale a phone line immediately above us.  We also encountered a couple of vipers (much to Dominic’s delight who is now snake mad), some scorpions and a tarantula.  It was a great adventure in pitch darkness.

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So far throughout our travels we have been lucky with the weather but the days spent at Santa Elena were wet, not that we were surprised as our research had pre-warned us of average weather in the area, so that restricted our activities somewhat.  It was ok though as we did achieve most of what we wanted to do plus got to spend some time with the boys and their schoolwork.  We’ll have another chance at zip-lining at our next stop, La Fortuna.

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