4 years ago we attended some meetings for the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shimon Peres hosted a conference in conjunction with the meetings which showcased, amongst other things, new technologies for the brain. One of them helped the blind to read. After 5 minutes of training with the new technology while blindfolded I was able to read a message typed on a computer screen. It read: Wow! This is Amazing!
Today I had a similar experience - seeing things while technically blind. That would be the night walk in Refugio Vida Silvestre, located deep within the cloud forest of Monteverde. Our walk was led by Koky. Leading the blind, he amazed us by picking out living things, from the teeniest creepy crawly insects to agile kinkajou's with huge eyes to a pretty big two-toed sloth just hanging out. At night. In the jungle. Where it is dark even in the daytime. Wow! This is Amazing!
To reach Monteverde, we had two choices. Drive around Lago Arenal. 136 km. the long way around the lake lasting anywhere from 3 hours to the 5 hours it took us.
Or, the short cut over the mountain pass and across the lake. This is an unknown distance but about 7.5 hours in duration and includes transportation by taxi, horseback, boat and taxi. We'd have done this but couldn't figure out how to get the Tucson Hyundai rent a vehicle on top of a horse.
Either way, there are great views. One of them on our route consisted of yellow and orange hand painted signs every kilometre or so leading us to the German Bakery in the little town of Arenal saying things like "Stop for coffee", etc. The best one: "Stop and paint your own sign".
The road was windy but paved all the way to Tileran (about 2/3 of the way around the lake) and then gave over to windy and not paved all the rest of the way. At one point, not satisfied with merely not paved windy roads, we were seduced by a sign saying "Waterfall" with a picture of a horse. We turned off the windy unpaved road onto a much narrower windy pothole and rutted and rock filled road and followed it for a few kilometers in search of the waterfall. Or at least a horse. Nada.
We gave our tummies and tushies a break from the bouncing around and stopped for a typico lunch at Restaurante el Trapiche in..... who the hell knows - none of the little villages have names! But the people were very nice and had no problem with the ducks coming into the place from the little pond outside so they could play with the cats inside. Arrozo con pollo is clearly becoming my favourite meal.
It was good that we had a filling lunch so that we could get back into the car for the last 30 km. or so on the REALLY windy and unpaved path that climbed up and up to Monteverde and our home for the next 3 nights at Hidden Canopy Treehouses Boutique Hotel. This place is the ultimate B & B - brilliant & beautiful.
Our hostess Jenny King (kingkajou as her 'ex' used to call her) bought just over 13 acres of land here with a bungalow 10 years ago for $285,000 USD. The land alone is now worth 10 times the price. Never mind the 5 treehouses (ours is called Rivendell - a la "Lord of the Rings" - a perfect description) or the main house where we take our breakfast and hang out.
Jenny grew up on Long Island. She isn't Jewish but all her friends were. Most of them were gay, including the first love of her life, Greg. She runs the joint with her paramour Gary (love of her life after Greg and at least one other guy who is now her aforementioned 'ex').
Gary spent time behind bars for protesting laws in Santa Cruz, CA against homeless people. He was sentenced to house arrest. He chose to go to prison instead as he couldn't bear the irony of being sentenced to house arrest for championing rights for the homeless.
Jenny gave up the software developer life in Santa Cruz, CA a dozen years ago and started building Hidden Canopy. Each treehouse room is an octagonal shape supported on towers on top of the canopy so, as you will see from the accompanying photos, we are literally looking down over the treetops from the surround sound floor to ceiling windows and across to the Gulf of Nicoya and the Pacific Ocean. The koi pond and waterfall in our private lower patio area make for a lovely backdrop adding to the wind in the treetops and the birdsongs.
Trip Advisor calls this place a "once in a lifetime experience". Correct.
Which brings me to Koky and his brother Roy, the guides who work with Jenny and her guests. They know the cloud forest like the back of their hands. Here is how a night walk goes:
1. Walk in the dark about 10 metres. Koky shines his flashlight up into the treetops directly onto a bird. He tells us the name of the bird as well as the name of all it's family and a bit about it's history. For example: "This bird is called Jorge. His mother is Juanita and his father is Pedro. They are farmers who live not far from here". That sort of thing.
2. Koky asks for your toy. By this, he means your camera (preferably iPhone). Rather than you futzing about for 10 minutes trying to zoom in and actually focus on the bird only to end up with fuzzy photos of mostly dark nothingness, he simultaneously, smoothly, efficiently, and in about 10 seconds:
a. Nestles his flashlight into the crook of his neck so that it maintains a continuous unwavering straight beam of light onto the intended subject;
b. Selects the exactly correct setting on your toy; and
c. Hands your toy back complete with about 4 incredible photos of the subject matter at hand.
d. For good measure, and just for fun, his brother Roy brought along a night scope tripod and every once in awhile the aforementioned magic would take place using the iPhone paired with the scope.
As a result, you will think that me & Miguel are amazing photographers based on some of the accompanying photos. Koky said it was okay to say that we took them but, in reality, we just supplied the toys.
And then there was the tarantula. While my mujere (which apparently means 'my woman' and not 'my wife' as I first thought the first 10 times I referred to her that way but then I kind of liked that so I just keep using it until she figures out what it means, too).
Let me start that paragraph again, without getting sidetracked....
And then there was the tarantula. While my mujere was not exactly thrilled about the idea of a night walk through the jungle, she put on a brave face (and covered herself head to toe - and I mean head to toe - to avoid a bat flying into her). Until the tarantula. Koky told us it was inside it's hole and he took a twig to make vibrations to coax it to come out and take a look around.
Before that, however, he told us to be very still. We thought, inevitably, that the reason was to avoid the critter attacking the source of movement. It turns out that if we moved we'd scare it back into it's hole. Knowing that she held the ace card (she could always jump around and make it go away) my wife put her face right down close to the tarantula hole and was simply enthralled with its beauty.
Okay, I made that last part up. She hid behind Koky figuring (accurately) that he'd actually protect her as opposed to me who would likely go shrieking into the night jungle to protect myself.
Still, she looked at that tarantula like a trooper and I could only see her visibly shudder a couple of times while watching it's every move. This was repeated pretty much every few minutes as Koky honed in on (in no particular order) a green pit viper hanging off a tree limb overhead, bats swooping around, and a neon green luminous scorpion hanging off the side of a tree, amongst other things that could kill you in Costa Rica.
The little frogs huddled on leaves were pretty cute, mind you.
Wow! This is amazing!