Cloud Forest

In Monteverde, the Main Event is always a visit to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This astonishing place is home to a high-altitude tropical rainforest, well, actually, cloud forest.  The forest along the high ridge that forms the continental divide in Costa Rica is almost perpetually bathed in cloud, and all that moisture supports a verdant ecosystem of plants and insects and animals.  (The very name monte verde means green mountain in Spanish, well-noted by our friends from Vermont, which of course derives from the French vert mont.) At this time of year, the stiff trade winds blow off the Caribbean sea and over the tropical lowlands of eastern Costa Rica; when they rise to this ridge at 1500m they cool and clouds form. Almost immediately they evaporate within a kilometer of the ridge, so the village of Santa Elena (where all the people live) is nearly always sunny. We were chilly and damp in the cloud forest, then later warm and sunburned down at the house.

Richard Guindon, at right, was our guide for the day.

We caught the morning bus as it passed by the Cheese Factory near the Hooke residence. This being a school day, the bus was packed with children riding up the mountain from town to the Monteverde Friends School (more on that in the next blog post). We walked through the forest for about two hours, stopping frequently while our guide, Ricardo Guindon, told us about the plants, insects, animals, and forest ecosystem, as well as the history of the reserve. This area was largely unsettled before 1950, when a group of Quakers left the U.S. to found a new community in peace-loving Costa Rica. They built dairy farms throughout the town that is now Santa Elena.  They recognized the importance of the cloud forest as a source of water, and conserved many pristine areas in the watershed. George Powell, a biologist, recognized the biodiversity value of this region and, working with a local man Wilford Guindon, formed a non-profit and began to acquire land that forms this reserve.  Our guide Ricardo is Wilford’s son, and told many stories about his childhood play in the forest, and driving cattle along the trails to the pasture on the eastern slopes. After childhood, he has been leading forest tours for nearly 20 years and is encyclopedic in his knowledge of the place.

Andy and Mara face into the trade winds.

It was chilly and misty, with clouds condensing on the canopy overhead; thus we walked through a steady dripping drizzle all morning. We reached the far side of the reserve, at La Ventana (the window), a platform on a narrow section of the ridge – the continental divide! – that on a clear day allows you to see the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.  This being the cloud forest, of course, it is almost never clear. The kids found the stiff breeze of the trade winds to be exhilarating.

Family photo at La Ventana, along the continental divide.
A spider monkey in the canopy.

On the way back out we were excited to see Spider Monkeys browsing fruits high in the canopy, and a toucanette bird close enough to see really well. Curiously, the spider monkeys have evolved to lose their thumbs, but have prehensile tails that make them very agile in the treetops.

The sun broke through, as the warming day started to evaporate the clouds closer to the ridgeline.

A violet sabrewing hummingbird.

We enjoyed lunch at a picnic table next to a hummingbird feeder, with its gloriously colorful visitors. I took many dozen photos and got just a few keepers. The violet sabrewing was our favorite.

Waterfall in the cloud forest.

After lunch most of us walked back into the forest to visit this stunning two-level waterfall. Along the way we spotted a hummingbird in its nest alongside the trail, and at the same spot, we watched a pair of spotted woodcreepers building a nest right above the trail.

For the photos, see the Monteverde nature gallery, starting on page 2.

Andy helps Chocolate Bob to grind the roasted cocoa beans.

Late afternoon we went to the Chocolate Tour at Café Caburé, close to the Hooke residence. “Chocolate Bob” is a Massachussetts native and former biologist, who lives here with his Argentinian wife. She runs the restaurant (café) and makes wonderful chocolate desserts.  He took up chocolate making, and gave us a fascinating tour of how it works. Starting with the cocoa beans, which he buys after they are fermented at the farm, he demonstrated all the steps in producing chocolate. The kids got to help and we all had opportunities to taste it at various stages. Wonderful!

For the photos, see the Monteverde other gallery, starting on page 3.

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