Thursday, 2 February 2017

Costa Rica 2: San Gerardo cloud forest

From San Jose, we went up up up and then down into San Gerardo de Dota, a little village high in the cloud forest.  The highway passes through the enticingly named Cerro de la Muerte - the Summit of Death - where earlier travelers froze or starved on their way to San Jose, and we wondered if the same fate would befall us as we tried to flag down a bus when we left later in the week.  The "down" part of the trip from San Jose is a 9km road from the highway down into the village.  We have a lot of dodgy roads in the mountains in BC, but this one beat them all, with incredibly steep grades on a narrow dirt surface, sheer drops on the one side, and, of course, horses, motorcycles, cars, vans, buses and trucks going both ways (though fortunately only a few of them in this remote area).  The valley has some agriculture - apples, watermelons and pasture - but much of it and the surrounding slopes has been preserved.  Tourists, especially the bird-watching variety, are the mainstay of the economy, with several nice lodges.  The resplendent quetzal is king here- it is definitely in the top 10 of beautiful birds of the world. An entire nearby national park is named for it and troops of tourists stake out the favourite avocado trees at 5:30 every morning, but the oak/palm/fern tree cloud forest is a spectacular ecosystem in its own right.

This is a view through the treetops and across the valley.  Mornings are clear and cold (not quite frosty, but close), then fog rolls up from the humid coast or down from the colder peaks every afternoon, but we always managed to be either above or below it.  I was perched on a gravel pile on the side of a small road to draw this view.  Sure enough, when I was halfway through, a work crew showed up with a truck and shovels and started excavating right under me.  I had to rush the painting part before my perch collapsed.  The workers were polite to the crazy gringo on their gravel pile - there are lots of birders around, so they've seen stranger things.

Steep terrain and lots of moisture means many waterfalls.  Getting to this one required walking beneath an enormous boulder that looked to be precariously perched on two very small boulders.  It was covered in trees, vines and general foliage. I'm sure it's been there for thousands of years, but I still couldn't get myself to stand under it to draw, so I sat on another boulder that I figured was out of the fall path.  And I drew very quickly.
Savegre Lodge, where we stayed, has wood-burning fireplaces in the rooms, which you need at night, and a big open fire in the lounge.  It was cozy, but a bit odd to be in the tropics huddling around a fire.  Of course, we were longing for that a few days later when we were 2700m lower and 27C hotter...


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