We wake up and head to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve in the Montaverde region of the country. On the road there, we see moist forest transform to rice, banana, and palm oil plantations. It is truly a harrowing sight to see the most diverse ecosystem stripped down to a monoculture for pure economic and industrial efficiency. The housing and working conditions for the imported Nicaraguan labor is also horrendous.
Our caravan drives into Santa Elena. We stop and eat at a small bakery. There is a high gringo presence here, as a result of the tourist industry. I find walking amongst the gringos to be boring and left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Where are the Ticos? I can only imagine the culture shock when we return to the US. Most people here discuss their plans for going on ATV tours or zip lining. This is disappointing, as it has driven the commercialization of this fantastic area, overdevelopment, leading to infrastructure problems and deforestation, and does not provide any real appreciation for the natural world here. It is nothing more than a cheap thrill for these people. That is not to say that ecotourism cannot be a positive force in protecting the environment. This model, however, is not sustainable.
We meet Israel, our guide to Aula Global. He is a stout man with bright, flashing eyes. We drive to the parking lot a few miles from the cabins at which we will be staying. I pack extra fruit and milk in my pack. Just as we begin the trek, we see a small orchid. It is white and very pretty. It is, however, quite different than the large orchids you see in florist shops. Unfortunately, the rain begins as we disembark down the trail. Soon, it is absolutely torrential. I pray that my trash bag lined backpack will keep my clothes dry. Despite the rain, I am having a fantastic time. This is an experience that I will likely never forget: walking in the cloud forest during a torrential rain storm. Crossing the foot wide fallen tree bridges over fast flowing rivers, climbing over steep muddy embankments, and hiking down muddy slot canyons gives me unexpected pleasure. Interesting little mud stalagmites form as a result of the falling rain, much like the limestone pinnacles in Madagascar. We finally reach our cabin. It is spacious with a ladder leading up to a bunk. It is a fantastic spot. We unload the food. I am amazed at how much we brought, but I suppose that is what it takes to feed 21 people for three days. Also, I find that my clothes are all dry.
Unfortunately, we discover that there is no running water to the cabin. The faucet which pumps water from the river must have clogged with sediment. So, Noah and I go stumbling through the dark with a 20 gallon bin. We find a stream and fill it up using a cup. As the water level slowly rises, we wonder how we are going to carry this back to the cabin. We pick up the huge weight and groan under the strain. We slowly plod up the slick, muddy trail with our heavy, precious cargo, carrying it like the Ark of the Covenant. The water spilling as we trip and slip over roots drenches us more than the rain, chilling us to the bone. We continue our journey slipping and sliding in the mud and the pitch black darkness until, after a nearly hour-long ordeal, we reach the cabin. Ricardo cooks up some rice and pesto and green beans with garlic. It is very filling and quite tasty. Exhausted, we quickly fall asleep on our sleeping pads.