Travel Shots: Central American Turf

Beach behind, jungle ahead.
To get to the Costa Rican rain forest, we rode for eight hours on a cramped, sweaty bus made for people under 5’2.”  Sore and cranky, we unloaded in the underwhelming town of Santa Elena.
Although only 5 kilometers from the nearest rain forest, Santa Elena is a dry, dusty town void of character.  It is a place where low-quality, over-priced restaurants and tourist shops with identical inventories compete for leases and everyone speaks English–just brimming with local flavor.
Eager to get out of Santa Elena and see the jungle, Katie and I scheduled a canopy zip-line tour.  Two hours later, we had our hard hats buckled, and our belts strapped at uncomfortable and unflattering angles. Katie was a natural, but I needed a few warm up runs.  The zip line “guides” were no help with their mischievous pranks.  From all corners of the world, each guide came to Costa Rica to work/play on the zip lines all day.

But as it turns out, taking groups of  uncoordinated tourists on the same metal wires ten times a day gets boring quickly.  To entertain themselves, the boys would do flips onto the zip line, ride upside down, or pretend to hit you.  Even though our guides were bored, and probably mocking us in a modgepodge of languages, Katie and I had a howling good time (once I learned how to use the brake).
Between zip lines, we hiked through the forest, pointed at plants that seemed like they’d be important to botanists, and watched for wildlife.  We heard the howler monkeys, then we saw them!  The two monkeys were hooting and hollering, chatting away while climbing in and out of our sight.
After 16 zip lines and a “superman” finale, Katie and I retired our flight gear and headed back to Santa Elena to eat pizza and sleep.
The next morning, we took advantage of the hostel’s free “buffet” breakfast, packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, laced up our sneakers and set off for the Waterfalls.  The walk was a lot longer–and steeper–than we expected.   The hike that we estimated would be 10 miles round trip, easily became 15 miles with a few wrong turns.
On the way, we passed fields and forests, and took many wrong turns.  At one point, we walked down a dirt road in the general direction of the waterfalls and were stopped by the foaming mouth and burning eyes of a vicious guard dog.  For a little guy, he had a big attitude.

We backed away cautiously, only to encounter two more dogs in our path.  Katie kept a tenacious grip on my arm–the only thing that kept me from running.  We stood there shaking, trying to back away calmly.  The angry dogs followed us until we got to the main road.  With the little monsters out of sight, I laughed nervously while my eyes roamed the road for a taxi.

No taxis passed, but we did come across a man walking with his horse.  He said that we were getting close, and had only a few more kilometers to go.   We walked over streams and through woods until we came to a sign for the waterfalls.  Three more miles.  Damn it.
Finally, we reached the San Luis waterfalls.  The falls seemed to pour straight out of the sky.  Far from snapping jaws and private property, Katie and I relaxed (or rather, fumbled) on the rocks and swam in the icy spring water.   The respite would have been lovely if we didn’t have the 8 mile-uphill trek back to ponder.
On our last day in Santa Elena, Katie and I got up early to lead the line of tourists to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve.  In this forest, we followed scrawling trails in search of elusive quetzals, waterfalls, and hanging bridges.
Since we skimped on the tour guide, we missed out on most of the wildlife, but we found a few lizards and many a picturesque landscape on our own.
Hanging bridge across the continental divide
Are we in the jungle or the secret garden?
Katie, finding her roots.  Si que huevos!
Between seas and trees, Katie and I had a great time exploring Latin America together.  We are planning our next trip, post-grad school–time and resources allowing.  Anyone up for a little ramble through Southeast Asia?

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Kate Springer

Freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong. Contributor at CNN, Forbes Travel Guide, BBC Travel, Fodor's Travel Guide, superfuture, Tatler, and more.

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