Although our departure from Costa Rica was not until noon on Saturday, I decided it was risky to make the 3-hour drive from Monteverde to the airport on Saturday morning itself. There are few roads from Monteverde, all dirt, and only one that is realistically passable. (On our trip in 2004 we took a back road down from Monteverde and it was an unbelievably hairy trip.) Any sort of snag or snafu could happen to the road or the vehicle. So we called up Sergio and scheduled a return taxi for Friday afternoon. That left just the morning to capture one last exploration of Monteverde.
Kathy had also won – at the Friends School fundraising auction – a horseback-riding tour for two. So Pam, Mara and John headed off with Jim and Laurie and their two girls for a horseback outing through the pastural hills on the west side of Santa Elena, while Andy and I walked back to Bajo del Tigre in hopes that we might visit those trails again, this time in the daylight. It was another beautiful sunny day, and we had kilometers of trail all to ourselves. We followed the numbered self-guided nature trail, with the guidebook explaining the plant and animal life, history, and ecology of this non-profit forest reserve originally founded by Swedish schoolchildren (really!). Andy’s good eyes spotted a pair of black guan, huge turkey-sized birds up in the canopy.
Our final Monteverde meal (thanks Laurie!) was beans and rice and fresh salad, wonderful with the Costa Rican Lizano salsa that makes everything taste good – meant the end of a fantastic few days at Casa Hooke and with the our newfound friends, aka Jim & Laurie and their daughters. After a few fond farewells we were off again with Sergio, this time to be guided by his son Ricardo. There was a delay because the main road out this direction was being re-graded, and a couple of hours later another delay because the coastal highway was in use for a women’s bicycle race (circumnavigating Costa Rica). These are the kind of unexpected delays that triggered my instinct to move us close to the airport a day early.
We arrived in Alajuela, a small city next to the San Jose airport, about an hour before sunset, and quickly headed out to explore. The central park was only two blocks from the hotel, and was bustling with people relaxing on this late Friday afternoon. Next to the square was a large Catholic church, preparing for Friday mass. Just down the road was the central market, a large indoor series of stalls selling everything from meat and fish to vegetables and herbal remedies to cell-phone accessories. I always feel these markets are a great place to get a sense of the local culture. This one was busy with customers on their way home from work, buying the necessities for a weekend with family. As the sun set, the market and most other shops started closing, rattling their heavy-duty gates into place. Even our hotel had such a gate across the entrance at all times, making me a bit uneasy about the nature of this town after dark. We found a friendly Tex-mex restaurant nearby and settled in for chimichanga and nachos.
Overall, it was a great week. Costa Rica is a beautiful place filled with friendly people. We learned a little about a tropical ecosystem, sustainable farming, chocolate production, and a different culture; we spent time with old friends and made new friends; we got sunburned and ate good food; and we had a lot of fun.