7:00 AM saw us back with Cristian, who was going to lead us on a tour of the Monteverde Biological Reserve. He seated us beside the baby seat in his minivan and we drove to pick up a handful of other tour-takers, getting to the park in time to visit the hummingbird garden before feeding time. Cristian filled up the feeders with sugar water and hungry hummingbirds came to sit on our fingers for breakfast.

This was pretty much the expression on Nadja’s face for every nature tour in Costa Rica:

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We spent about 2 1/2 hours on the trails in the park, Cristian using his fancy scope to spot wildlife and help us take pictures. One odd thing about this tour was the emphasis on finding a quetzal – a relatively rare sight. The paths were crowded with tours, and the guides offered each other tips: quetzal seen flying in one place, quetzal call heard in another place. I got myself just as whipped up into the quetzal-hunting frenzy as the rest of the tourists, but I also thought: everything I’m seeing here is rare to me, in the sense of never having seen it before. I did eventually get to view a female quetzal through Cristian’s scope, but I was just as impressed by the spider monkeys and the glass-winged butterfly and the orchids the size of an apple seed.


That's an orchid!

That’s an orchid!

Monteverde Biological Reserve takes up about 25,730 acres of protected land, and only 5% of it is open to the public. There is a mind-blowing range of biodiversity there: 400 species of birds, 100 species of mammals, 1200 species of amphibians, and 2500 species of plants.

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See the snake?

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

After taking the super easy public bus back to Santa Elena, we had a “comida tipica” lunch, arroz con pollo for Nadja and casado for me. Casado is beans, rice, salad or cooked veggies (in this case chayote), plantains, fresh fruit, and whatever meat is on hand (usually chicken or fish, but I always got it vegetariano and I didn’t ever leave hungry). You eat it with salsa lizano, the sweet-tart-spicy Costa Rican bottled sauce that sits on every table in the land. I’m already worried the craving for salsa lizano is going to haunt me, the way that pizza I had in Bonefro, Italy, 13 years ago, still haunts me.

On the walk back to the hotel, my hiking boots departed this life. I had worn those things for 5 years, for 3 days of backpacking in the Grand Canyon and on countless hikes all over California, Arizona and the Northwest. But they just did not fit anymore. The bruises finally became intolerable after that long day in Monteverde, and there was no way I could ever put them on again. I am ashamed to admit that I still hauled those boots all the way to Manual Antonio two days later to abandon them at our hostel because I didn’t want Cristian to have to deal with them at the Rainbow Valley Lodge.